Protest Held outside Diocese of Venice

By Josh Taylor
February 7, 2011

VENICE - A peaceful protest was held in front of the Catholic Diocese of Venice Monday afternoon. Demonstrators were with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP.

They say they're upset over the church's reaction to the arrest of Catholic friar last week. However, the church says the criticism isn't fair because the man accused has nothing to do with them.

There was no yelling, no rah rah chants…just a handful of local residents holding what they say are pictures of victims of abuse at the hands of priests.

Sam Noah says he himself is one of them. "It destroyed me. I was 14 or 15 and I just ran out of that church and I never ever, ever went back."

They say they were there because of the arrest of William Wert -- a friar with the Catholic Order of Carmelites -- in Venice last week. He's facing 10 charges which surround sex acts on a teenager.

"It's difficult and very rare for a child who has been victimized by a clergy member to speak up that soon." Judy Jones represents SNAP. She says they're there to let others know they're not alone. "To reach out to any other victims. I don't know of a child predator that only abuses one. There are statistics that show that in a lifetime they will abuse 50 to 100."

Church officials did not want to go on camera, but did sit down with ABC 7 to go over the protesters' concerns. They say the demonstrators are confused. They say Wert has no affiliation with the Diocese of Venice, saying they had never even heard of him before his arrest.

Jones says if that's the case, the system is broken. "They are the authority of every Catholic organization in their territory. They can allow them in or they can kick them out."

The Diocese says since 2002 they have conducted safe environment training exercises to educate parents, students, volunteers, and church employees to look for signs of abuse. They have also enacted other policies to protect children and vulnerable adults. They say they spent nearly $200,000 last year conducting FBI background checks and that they are doing everything they can.

But again, they point out Wert is not under their authority.

SNAP members say they should still do more. "Take action…to reach out and find victims. Discipline this religious order, the Carmelite religious order, for what they have allowed to happen. How did he get in this Diocese?"

The Diocese says Bishop Frank Dewane called the Carmelite Order Monday and is upset the church was not informed about Wert and his past. Wert was arrested in 2007 in Washington DC and charged with Sexual Misconduct Involving a Minor.

Church officials with the Diocese of Venice say there will be an official comment on the matter in the church bulletin either this weekend or next.

William Wert remains in the Sarasota County Jail with no bond.

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