Bishop's Letter Seeks out Abuse Victims

By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh]
June 9, 2004

The diocese, in turn, called the accusations from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests "inaccurate and irresponsible."

SNAP's criticism comes two weeks after Wuerl sent a letter to more than 1,000 students who attended the Catholic high school in Baden when the former Rev. Jack Hoehl was headmaster from 1971 to 1985. Since 2001, seven former Quigley students have sued the diocese, citing sexual abuse by Hoehl. He resigned from the priesthood in 1988 after Wuerl told him he would not assign him to any ministry.

Wuerl's letter came as a result of meeting with the first of those plaintiffs, Paul J. Dorsch, of Harmony. It announced a toll-free number at the diocese that alumni could call with complaints of abuse.

SNAP criticized Wuerl for not directing victims to police or to a support group such as itself. It also accused the bishop of self-promotion, alleging that he sent out a press release about the Quigley letter. However, the diocese did not send out a press release. Media learned of the letter from alumni who received it.

"Your refusal to inform victims about the need for and availability of independent therapy, and of confidential help though support groups, leads us to wonder if your primary concern is your image, not the well-being of the wounded," said the letter signed by SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy.

"It seems that your persistent unwillingness to urge victims to contact law enforcement is a calculated step to keep abuse secret, and decrease the likelihood of criminal prosecution of dangerous men."

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, diocesan spokesman, said that although SNAP addressed its letter to Wuerl, it was released to the news media before Wuerl had a chance to read it.

"The SNAP press release in the form of a letter displays more anger than accuracy. SNAP appears more interested in grandstanding and public displays, which is why it is a very difficult organization with which to work," said a press release from the diocese.

Although the Quigley letter did not give contact information for the police, "The long-standing public policy of the Diocese of Pittsburgh urges all victims to contact civil authorities," the diocese said. "It also states that the diocese will take all allegations to the appropriate district attorneys."

The SNAP letter and Hoehl's victims claim that he is a family counselor in West Virginia, and that the diocese should somehow address that situation. According to Lengwin, Hoehl cut all ties to the diocese in 1988, they do not keep track of him and that no one has ever contacted the diocese for a job reference.

Lengwin also said that, although Hoehl was removed from ministry because the accusations were credible, the diocese cannot announce that Hoehl committed a crime when Hoehl was never charged or convicted.

Lengwin said SNAP's implication that Wuerl has made criminal prosecution of Hoehl less likely makes no sense. "Bishop Wuerl does not determine criminal persecution. That is the responsibility of civil authorities," he said.

Those responses are not adequate, Clohessy said. Even if the diocese calls the district attorney, "they should know that there are many survivors who will never feel safe calling a church official," he said.

A diocese has a moral obligation to warn the public if a child molester leaves ministry, Clohessy said. "The fact is that they put scores of kids in harm's way and they have a responsibility to help those kids recover and protect the next potential crop of Hoehl victims."

Dorsch had seen the SNAP letter, and said it reflected his own efforts to have additional contacts and other information included in Wuerl's letter.

(Ann Rodgers can be reached at or 412-263-1416.)


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