Church Abuse Contrition: "It's Only Talk': Barbara Blaine

Socialist Workers Party
December 13, 2009

Barbara Blaine, the Founder and President of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a US support group, issued the following statement in Dublin today.

First we want to commend and thank our wounded but brave, persistent and compassionate Irish brothers and sisters who, like us, have been molested by Catholic clergy and betrayed by Catholic officials. Their courage in reporting the crimes, exposing the cover ups, protecting other kids and healing themselves is truly heroic.

To the extent that some wrong doing has been revealed and some wrong doers have been “outed” and some children have been safeguarded, the credit goes almost entirely to the strong and brave women and men who survived horrific child sex crimes and have become strong enough to help prevent more child sex crimes. We are deeply grateful to them and very proud of them.

And we beg them to learn from our mistakes in the US.

Far too many of us in America thought things might change when Pope John Paul met with US Cardinals. Far too many of us thought the same thing when US bishops met in Dallas in 2002. Far too many of us got our hopes up again when Cardinal Law resigned in Boston. And far too many of us thought things just might get better after Pope Benedict addressed clergy sex crimes on his 2008 trip to the US.

Sadly, honestly, none of these made much difference. Little has changed in the church hierarchy, in the US or, as best we can tell, anywhere.

We felt hopeful when church officials talked about reform. Instead, we should have insisted on reform. We should have remained skeptical and vigilant until we saw actual reform. But far too many of us were mollified far too quickly and far too easily.

Please don’t make the same mistake many of us in America made.

Just days ago, news media in Connecticut revealed that three men reported having been molested by two priests, two of the accusers were quietly paid $20,000, yet both priests remain in active ministry.

Just weeks ago, a newspaper in New Jersey found that a priest who had admitted molested a boy, recanted, was found criminally guilty after a trial, and had been quietly put back into ministry, even though his bishop promised a prosecutor that the priest would never be around kids again.

The bottom line is that despite the criminal prosecutions, the civil lawsuits, the bishops’ apologies, the hierarchy’s pledges and the media’s exposes, precious little has changed regarding clergy sex crimes and cover ups in the US.

So we beg our Irish brothers and sisters in this struggle for children’s safety and victims’ healing – learn from our mistakes. Ignore the apologies, promises, and symbolic gestures. Insist on action, consequences and real reform.

The deliberate, deceitful, reckless, callous and decades-long cover up of horrific and devastating child sex crimes by the Irish church hierarchy has been widely and clearly proven. Let’s talk then about other church officials.

The CDF in Rome knew the Irish government’s inquiry was happening. They could have taken the initiative to contact officials. They did not.

The papal nunciature in Ireland knew the inquiry was happening. The Papal Nuncio could have taken the initiative to contact officials. He did not.

Instead, both waited until they were approached by investigators. And they both refused to respond.

In light of the probe’s horrific findings, both could have taken steps to seek similar investigations throughout Ireland and the world. They have not.

Instead, both offer weak, vague excuses, excuses that protect no children, heal no victims, and comfort no Catholics.

And Vatican officials, from the Pope on down, try to define this crisis as an Irish crisis and a past crisis. It is neither. It’s a world-wide crisis and an on-going crisis.

These attempts to minimize the on-going crisis are shameless spin.

So what should happen now?

First, Catholics should donate elsewhere. In America, we have a saying “When you’re trying to get out of a hole, the first step is to stop digging.” We also say “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” So we ask Irish Catholics to be more generous than ever, especially during tough economic times. But we beg you to donate to groups that help kids, not groups that endanger kids.

Ireland has less than one percent of the world’s Catholics (.35% to be precise). Yet Irish Catholics are the 6th highest donors to Peter's Pence, the annual worldwide collection to support the Vatican. So the ability of Irish Catholics to show, in a tangible and powerful way, their commitment to children’s safety and their outrage to the Vatican is significant.

Second, remember the wisdom of Lord Acton: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And Catholic bishops have virtually absolute power. Until that power is reduced, bishops will keep protecting predators instead of kids.

It’s up to the state to reign in the unhealthy power of bishops. That’s what has started to work in the US.

Lawmakers are slowly relaxing or repealing the archaic, predator-friendly deadlines that prevent victims from exposing predators in court. Some lawmakers are temporarily suspending these deadlines, which help protect kids by identifying child molesters, many of whom have escaped detection, conviction and incarceration for decades because of complicit, self-serving bishops. A few are enacting RICO laws which make it easier for prosecutors to pursue not just the sex offenders, but the higher ups who help the sex offenders. A few are boosting penalties for non-offending co-workers and others who suspect child sexual abuse but keep silent.

We’re not very familiar with Irish laws but we are convinced that any moves like this, moves that increase the involvement of independent professionals in law enforcement and of time-tested civil and criminal justice processes, (and that decrease the involvement of church staff) are extremely helpful.

Third, dismiss any thought of internal church reform. It’s almost a contradiction in terms. Again, please don’t make the mistake so many in the US have made. Please don’t expect an ancient, rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy to reform itself. It can’t.

There’s some talk, for example, about a “re-structuring” of the church in Ireland.

First, keep in mind – it’s only talk. And second, there’s some speculation that any “re-structuring” would simply be a reduction in the number of bishops. That’s not reform, that’s re-shuffling. If an island or continent has 5 kings or 10 kings, it makes little difference. In a kingdom, a king has all the power and is bound to abuse it, like hundreds of bishops have and do.

Three years ago, around the same time Irish government investigators sought information from church officials in Rome and in Ireland about clergy sex crimes and cover ups, Pope Benedict told Irish bishops “It is important to establish the truth of what happened.” In other words, while he publicly professed interest in establishing “the truth,” his staff was helping to hide the truth. Given this, and given the Pope’s troubling track record with abuse and cover up, it’s understandable that millions are skeptical of his pledge to “initiate” any meaningful change.

Finally, keep speaking up. Whether you’re a victim, witness or whistleblower, your silence changes nothing. When you find the strength and courage to come forward, at least there’s a chance for healing, justice, prevention and closure. But when you do nothing, child molesting clerics keep hurting kids and self serving bishops keep helping the child molesting clerics.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 21 years and have more than 9,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is


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