SNAP Wants Priest's Name off Scout Chapel

By Margaret Stafford
Associated Press, carried in The Kansas City Star [Kansas City MO]
September 21, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A group of survivors of clergy sexual abuse on Wednesday urged the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and a Boy Scout group to remove the name of a priest accused of sexual abuse from a chapel at a Boy Scout camp.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests asked Bishop Robert Finn and a Boy Scout headquarters in St. Joseph to remove the name of the late Rev. Sylvester Hoppe from the chapel at Camp Geiger in St. Joseph.

The Scouts named the chapel after Hoppe in 1999, in honor of his nearly 75 years of involvement with the organization.

In the last three years, three men have filed lawsuits against the diocese claiming that Hoppe sexually abused them in the 1950s. The diocese settled one lawsuit for $10,000; the other two are still pending. The men claim in the lawsuits that the diocese ignored and covered up reports of abuse by Hoppe, who died in 2002.

SNAP believes other lawsuits against Hoppe are likely, said David Clohessy, the group's national director.

Removing Hoppe's name from the camp would be a simple, inexpensive gesture to show the diocese's support for victims of clergy sexual abuse, Clohessy said in a telephone interview.

"Publicly honoring an accused serial molester severely discourages other victims who are considering reporting these kinds of crimes," he said. "Secondly, it is very, very emotionally hurtful to those who've already been hurt."

Although the camp is owned by the Boy Scouts and the diocese has no authority to change the name, it could encourage the Scouts to take that step, Clohessy said.

"(The diocese) likely knows a great deal about Hoppe's crimes," he said. "We think they have a moral duty to share that information with the Scouts and urge the Scouts to remove his name."

The Rev. Robert Murphy, vicar general of the diocese, issued a statement that did not address SNAP's request, other than noting that the Boy Scouts own and supervise the camp.

Murphy said the diocese regrets any clergy sexual abuse and is ready to help any victims.

"We stand ready to offer our support and our resources for healing to victims and survivors of abuse," Murphy said in the statement. "Despite the inadequacy of words, we express our sincere apologies and encourage any person who has suffered abuse by a priest or diocesan employee to contact us or the civil authorities."

In an interview before the SNAP members arrived Wednesday, the head of the Boy Scout headquarters in St. Joseph said the request would be forwarded to the group's facilities committee for any possible action.

"We take youth protection extremely seriously in the Boy Scouts," said Tom Smotherman, executive of the Pony Express Council of the Boy Scouts. "If Father Hoppe were still alive and these allegations were made against him, we would suspend his membership immediately" while the allegations were investigated.

Smotherman said the issue would likely be decided at an executive board meeting Oct. 24.


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