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  SNAP to Hold Worcester Meeting

Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
January 24, 2003

State leaders of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests will be here next week to kick off a meeting of local victims of clergy sexual abuse.

SNAP will hold a three-hour meeting Tuesday at the Worcester Public Library.

"We need to begin organizing the survivors of sexual abuse by priests in the Worcester diocese and to bring some justice and closure to these people," said Bryan Smith of Hubbardston, who is a leader of a new chapter of SNAP based in Fitchburg.

Mr. Smith earlier this week said he had been sexually abused by the late Rev. Donald J. Rebokus, former headmaster at Holy Name High School. The incidents allegedly occurred at the high school and at St. Mary's rectory in Uxbridge during the mid- to late 1970s. Rev. Rebokus, who died in 1983, had been a chaplain for the Massachusetts State Police and later became pastor of St. Mary's.

The SNAP leader said yesterday that six alleged victims of the late Rev. Norman Jalbert have approached the SNAP organization seeking help. Mr. Smith said the victims, who said they were sexually abused by Rev. Jalbert at a camp he owned in Spencer, are not ready to make their identities known publicly, but the organization is working to help them. Mr. Smith said the incidents are said to have happened when Rev. Jalbert was a guidance counselor at Holy Name, about the same time as Rev. Rebokus was headmaster.

Raymond L. Delisle, diocesan spokesman, said the Office of Healing and Prevention stands ready to offer help and counseling to any victims of deceased priests.

Mr. Smith said the Tuesday meeting will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. and is open to victims of clergy abuse of any religious denomination, their friends and families. People can come for all or part of the meeting.

This will be the first of what is expected to be regularly scheduled meetings at the library.

"Since SNAP meetings have been well attended by Central and Western Massachusetts victims, this is an attempt for SNAP to go where the victims are," said David A. Lewcon of Webster, another SNAP activist.

Mr. Smith said the meeting will have an emphasis on supporting victims of abuse. They will be allowed to share their experiences of abuse but not to bash their church or to preach, Mr. Lewcon said.

Those attending the meeting will be provided a contact list after the meeting so they can find someone to "mentor" them, Mr. Lewcon said. They also will be able to sign up for free telephone and gas cards if they need help in calling people for support or to have enough gas to get to meetings.

SNAP is a national support and advocacy organization for victims of clergy sexual abuse. The group operates a Web site at www.survivorsnetwork.org.

Ann Hagen Webb, New England co-coordinator with William Gately, is expected to attend and talk about the organization, which now has chapters around the United States. The co-coordinators are both mental health professionals and are victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Susan Renehan of Southbridge, a clergy abuse survivor who has been active with SNAP, Speak Truth TO Power, Coalition of Concerned Catholics and other spin-off advocacy groups, also will be working with the area group.

Ms. Renehan puts together what she calls "victim survivor's kits" of free phone cards and gas cards. Voice of the Faithful, a group of lay Catholics and priests, is providing money for the cards.

In other developments: Lawyer David Nickless of Fitchburg said the U.S. Bankruptcy Court is allowing two civil lawsuits to proceed in Worcester Superior Court against the Rev. Raymond P. Messier. Rev. Messier, who last was pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Athol and St. Peter's parish in Petersham, allegedly sexually abused three boys when he was assigned to two parishes in Worcester during the 1970s.

Rev. Messier filed for federal bankruptcy protection in November, a move that halted the two civil suits. Mr. Nickless said the bankruptcy judge has ruled that those suits can go forward with intent of establishing liability. Mr. Nickless, who is representing the alleged victims, said allowing the suits to go forward is not an admission of guilt by the priest.

In what may be a first in Massachusetts clergy sexual abuse suits, lawyer Daniel J. Shea of Houston, Texas, is seeking to admit as evidence the official catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, which speaks to the issue of abuse of children and adolescents by adult authority figures. "I believe I am the first to do this in Massachusetts," he said.

Section 2285 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was issued under the authority of Pope John Paul II in 1992, states: "Connected to incest is any sexual abuse perpetrated by adults or children entrusted to their care. The offense is compounded by the scandalous harm done to the physical and moral integrity of the young, who will remain scarred by it all their lives; and the violation of responsibility for their upbringing."

 
 

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