Peterson: Volunteers keeping clergy abuse in spotlight
By Gary Peterson
April 30, 2016
|Melanie Sakoda and Tim Stier, volunteers for Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) hold placards in front of Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light during a recent protest. The placards bear images of priests who worked in the Bay Area and have been named in lawsuits claiming sexual molestation. |
They stood quiet as church mice outside Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light. They spoke only to those passers-by who engaged them. Their presence was their message, and the message is that molestation of children by clergy didn't disappear with the final credits of "Spotlight."
In the past two months, lawsuits filed against the Catholic Church in Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, have accused once-local priests -- the Rev. Emmerich Vogt and the Rev. Milton Eggerling -- of sexual abuse. Vogt's attorney has denied the allegations. Eggerling is deceased.
"Between these two priests, they worked in the Diocese of Oakland, the Diocese of San Francisco and the Diocese of San Jose," said Melanie Sakoda, one of three volunteers from Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which held the half-hour event Tuesday.
The Boston Globe's Spotlight team blew the lid off the Catholic Church's dirty not-so-little secret in a series of stories in 2002. In February, a movie celebrating that journalistic effort won the Academy Award for best picture.
By comparison, Sakoda and her fellow volunteers are more selective and low-key when it comes to whom they spotlight and what they seek.
"We are hoping that the bishops will reach out to the parishes where these priests served and let them know that these lawsuits have been filed," Sakoda said. "So any victims will know that they're not the only ones."
Awareness is the coin of the realm for SNAP, a 25-year-old international organization that offers support to all victims of child molestation. Volunteers want convicted and confessed priests to be entered into a database. (A large, searchable database, which also includes accused priests, can be found at bishop-accountability.org.)
"Bishop-accountability has a list of about 4,400," said SNAP volunteer Tim Lennon. "The church admits there is over 6,000. We're saying there are at least 2,000 predator priests who may still be in ministry for all we know."
Attempts to reach out to the dioceses of Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose to encourage transparency have been, Sakoda said, "an exercise in futility."
In an email Friday, Oakland Diocese spokeswoman Helen Osman said it "continuously encourages survivors of abuse to contact it through its website and on a regular basis in its print publications."
She also noted that the diocese has an ongoing Ministry for Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse. "We would certainly agree with SNAP that it is important for survivors to come forward, and we recognize that it is very difficult for some to do so. Publishing lists of alleged perpetrators hasn't been a particularly effective way of notifying the public or encouraging survivors to come forward, however."
The passion of SNAP volunteers is personal. Sakoda, a Moraga resident, said she witnessed "denial (and) cover-up" related to the abuse of children at a Russian Orthodox church in San Francisco that motivated her to volunteer.
Lennon, of San Francisco, has lived the nightmare, having been molested by a priest when he was 12 and living in Iowa.
"A family friend, the parish priest," Lennon said. "He'd take turns abusing me and another kid. At the time, I couldn't do anything. Now I can. It's my way of fighting back."
The third volunteer, Tim Stier, was a priest for 25 years in the Oakland Diocese. He said he suggested to his bishop to start a dialogue on such issues as "the shortage of priests, about women having more authority in the church, about how gay people are treated."
It didn't happen, so he quit the church. Well, not entirely -- Stier said he has been standing in silent protest outside Christ the Light every Sunday for six years.
Walking away, he said, "was wrenching. But because I got to know some abuse survivors who had been abused by one of my predecessors, it opened my eyes and changed me."
"Spotlight"? Lennon said it makes having difficult conversations a little easier. And there is something to be said for that.
"I got an email from a man 90 years old, saying, 'I was abused as a kid,' " Lennon said. "It's now safe for people to say that, whereas before the movie there was less society support for it."