|SNAP Director Criticizes Jesuit University
By Matt C. Abbott
September 5, 2010
The following is a guest commentary written by David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
Several weeks ago, a Wheeling Jesuit University priest and teacher was arrested in a Washington DC suburb and charged with molesting a girl.
The university's president, Sister Francis Marie Thrailkill, and her public relations staff quickly sent out to area media a shamelessly self-serving news release that shows just how much further Catholic authorities have to go if ever they hope to effective come to grips with the horrific child sex abuse and cover up crisis.
Thrailkill almost tried to pretend she and her colleagues barely know the alleged predator, Father Felix Owino. But instead of working to distance themselves from him, Catholic officials should be working to find and bring forward other potential victims, witnesses and whistleblowers, so that justice can be done.
According to the university's statement, Owino "has no current responsibilities" at Wheeling Jesuit. He "is not expected or return to the school." He "was on summer break" when he was arrested. Owino was allegedly the subject of "no student complaints," the school says. Most recently, he was teaching "on line." He's "not a member of the Jesuits." He is "originally from Kenya."
Can they do anything more to detach themselves from this priest? Why not go one step further and try to reassure worried parents by saying Owino doesn't own any T-shirts or jerseys or jackets with the university logo on them? At the risk of sounding trite, can you imagine Jesus responding like this if one of his apostles had been arrested for a suspected child sex crime?
Adding insult to injury, Thrailkill's news release urges victims to contact school staff. She's dead wrong. Anyone who saw, suspected or suffered Owino's crimes should call police officials, not church or school officials. This is almost always true, but especially when there's already an active criminal investigation.
Those with knowledge or suspicions about Owino's alleged crimes or misdeeds have a Christian and civic duty to step forward, call police, and help the truth surface. Those who employed Owino (both Thrailkill and Wheeling Bishop Michael Bransfield) have a moral obligation to seek out and help others Owino may have hurt. Here's the bottom line: When victims, witnesses and whistleblowers speak up, at least there's a chance that children will be protected, victims will be healed and wrong-doers will be exposed. But when victims, witnesses and whistleblowers stay silent, nothing changes and kids keep getting hurt. And when authorities (in this case, both university and diocesan) focus more on damage control than abuse prevention, the Catholic Church's abuse crisis gets worse, not better.
Just a few short weeks ago, the pope pledged to "do everything possible" to stop future child sex crimes by priests. Somehow, Wheeling Jesuit University's president must not have heard or understood this promise. How else to explain their herculean efforts to duck and dodge and distance themselves from a credibly accused predator, instead of trying to find his victims and help law enforcement investigate him?
(David Clohessy, of St. Louis, is a clergy sex abuse victim and the executive director of SNAP. He can be reached at 314-566-9790 or SNAPclohessy@[no spam]aol.com.)
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