Relieving Pain of Priest Abuse Isn't Just a SNAP

By Michael Miller
Peoria Journal-Star
October 13, 2007

It doesn't matter how many cups of mints are on the table at a meeting of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or how much coffee is being brewed - the gathering still reeks of pain.

The central Illinois SNAP chapter allowed me to attend a support group meeting recently with certain restrictions about what I reported. A SNAP meeting is similar to a 12-step meeting - a lot of potentially embarrassing, confidential information is shared.

But, also like a 12-step meeting, it's believed that sharing that embarrassing, confidential information helps a victim of sexual abuse by a trusted member of the clergy become a survivor.

The meeting I attended had only two abuse survivors and the father of an abuse victim who didn't make it, committing suicide earlier this year. Chapter chairman Jeff Jones, a former Pekin resident now living in Rockford, said more abuse victims usually show up at the meetings, held on the first Tuesday of each month.

The stories told the rainy night of Oct. 2 in the basement of the Peoria Public Library, though, were enough, especially the account related by the father, who is still grappling with his helplessness in the face of his son's depression after abuse suffered at an Eastern Orthodox Christian seminary.

One of the reasons the meetings are necessary, said Jeff Jones and his brother, Joe, who still lives in Pekin, is that institutions like the Catholic Church have offered little in the way of support apart from paying for counseling. Other than that, the Joneses pointed out, there's been little to no personal contact by church leadership. Diocese of Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky's apologies to victims have come through press statements.

Jeff Jones said that after reporting to the diocese in spring 2002 his alleged abuse at the hands of Walter Breuning, all he received was a two-paragraph, 105-word letter from then-diocesan vicar general and chancellor Monsignor Steven Rohlfs. In the note, Rohlfs offered "my apology as a Catholic and as a priest for whatever (the accused priest) did to you."

Some of the hindrance of communication recently can be attributed to legal action taken last year and this year by the Joneses and other victims. The diocese, like most parties to lawsuits, hesitates to interact with people pursuing litigation against it. Many of those suits, though, have been dismissed due to the statute of limitations on civil suits.

Jeff Jones said the money isn't what he's after.

"I've come to grips with the fact that we're not going to get any

settlement," he said during a break in the meeting. "I'm not driving down from Rockford three hours (to lead monthly SNAP meetings) for the money. I'm here because I care for the people.

"The Catholic Church sure isn't going to do it," he said. "We have to help each other. It's a shame, because it's the very principle they stand for. I don't think if Jesus were here that he would ignore us. I think he would do whatever he could to make this right."

The diocese was contacted, but did not answer questions submitted by e-mail.

At the SNAP meeting, a woman from Dunlap who was not a victim but knows the priest the Joneses said abused them did her best to make it right after they told their stories. She offered two words which Jeff Jones said he doubts he'll ever hear personally from Jenky: "I'm sorry."

MICHAEL MILLER covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call him at 686-3106, or send e-mail to Comments may be published.


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