Priest to Lead Religious Sex Abuse Group

By Kristen Schorsch
Press-Citizen [Iowa]
June 20, 2005

A Tipton priest will take the reins of a new support group for victims of religious sexual abuse.

Called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the group, targeting people in southeast Iowa, will first meet Friday during a sexual abuse conference in Iowa City.

The Rev. David Hitch, of St. Mary's Church in Tipton, said his goals for the group were to facilitate and encourage victims and their families to talk about their abuse. They also will discuss how to hold the church accountable for priest abuse.

"People started hearing that I was a compassionate person who was being an advocate for those who had been abused by priests," said Hitch, 64. "There is a need to have a support group in this area."

His brother, Michael, 51, was abused by their priest during grade school and high school and told Hitch about two years ago of the abuse.

Catholic church surveys show 12,000 people nationwide have been victims of religious sexual abuse, said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, which is based in Chicago and has more than 60 branches across the country.

From 1950 to Feb. 25, 2004, 53 victims have made 60 allegations against 19 priests, according to the Diocese of Davenport.

Steve Theisen, 53, of Hudson, formed the Northeast Iowa SNAP group about a year ago. The group has two to 15 people who attend monthly meetings.

"The important thing is that they make contact with another victim-survivor and are able to talk," said Theisen, who was sexually abused by his fourth-grade teacher, a nun. "It doesn't necessarily have to be in a group setting. The important thing is they know that we're out there. They know they're not alone."

Theisen co-founded the northeast group when he thought there was a demand in the area. He first came out about his childhood abuse about two years ago and used to attend SNAP meetings in Minneapolis.

"I was hesitant to tell my parents because I thought they'd take a lot of guilt and I realized, you know, they were betrayed by the church also," Theisen said. "It wasn't their fault."