Survivors of sex abuse by priests pushing Arizona AG to set up hotline for victims

By Nicole Crites
August 7, 2019

[with video]

Arizona sex-abuse survivors are asking Attorney General Mark Brnovich to join 20 other states investigating sex abuse and subsequent cover-ups in the Catholic Church.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, says we cannot trust the Church to self-report.

They want Brnovich to open a new statewide investigation and set up a new hotline for victims of sex abuse.

The AG's team says they do not have original jurisdiction here. But at least three other states -- New York, Colorado and Missouri -- are in the same boat, and are still going after institutions like the Church using fraud, consumer protection and voluntary compliance.

Mary O'Day runs the Phoenix chapter of SNAP.

She is also a survivor.

"A hotline is very important," she said. "We know victims won't report unless they feel safe. And if they don't know where to call or if they get passed around from person to person, and if they think they will have to keep telling their story, they're not going to call."

And the timing is important.

Arizona lawmakers recently extended the statute of limitations to give child sex crime victims until December 2020 to sue their alleged abuser and his or her institution. That's a 16-month window to come forward.

The Attorney General's Office is meeting with SNAP next week, and released a statement, saying in part:

Any potential investigations, criminal or civil, are confidential by law.

We need victims to come forward & report abuse to local law enforcement.

We will do everything within our power to hold predators accountable.

The AG's team says it has been talking about setting up a hotline.

For now, survivors are encouraged to call their Criminal Duty Agent hotline at 602-542-8888.

You can also file an anonymous report online here.

The AG's office says if a victim has already filed a complaint with their county attorney or with local law enforcement, they should make the Attorney General's Office aware of those existing complaints.

The AG's office already has a hotline for senior abuse, military and veteran alerts, and consumer fraud.

SNAP says creating and staffing a hotline to help sex abuse victims, especially with our new statute of limitations extension, is a no-brainer.

O'Day said SNAP understands that the alleged abuser of an adult victim might be dead, but that does not negate the importance of victims coming forward. 

"If people don't report, we don't find out about priests who are still alive, and who may still be in ministry. Or [they're] retired from ministry and they're working with children in another school setting or a sports setting," O'Day explained.

The big picture is what's important, O'Day said. She used an analogy involving a car with a faulty restraint system.

"[The mechanic] goes to the boss and says, 'This has potential to harm people.' So, the boss says, "OK, tonight after closing, let's move that car to Kentucky, but don't tell anybody why,'" O'Day said.

Her scenario continues with somebody in Kentucky getting that car with the faulty restraint system and their child is injured because of it.

"The owner would say, 'We don't know anything about it but we'll check into it, and we'll pay for all your bills as long as you sign this thing that you won't tell anybody what happened or why.'"

It's a vicious cycle.

"If that was happening, people would be screaming for the government to get involved!" she said. "Meantime, our children are still being hurt." 

She acknowledges many of the recent disclosures involve decades-old allegations, but she is still convinced the Diocese is not being fully transparent.

The Phoenix Catholic Diocese and and Maricopa County Attorney's Office point out that the Valley formed one of the first task forces in the country to investigate the Catholic Church in the early 2000s.

Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley secured a landmark settlement in 2003 when then-Bishop Thomas O'Brien issued a public apology, admitting he knowingly moved convicted and accused abusers to unsuspecting parishes.

Six priests were indicted; one was sentenced to 111 years in prison.

The Phoenix Diocese launched a new website saying they've learned from the mistakes of their past and it's now their policy to notify local law enforcement, even if that's a directive the Vatican has refused to enforce.

"SNAP doesn't believe as a whole that the Church will ever fix itself from the inside out. They need the outside pressure. They can't be trusted to take care of the problem."

She believes a single clearinghouse for information is vital.

"We need one number, one place where all the information is gathered and it can't be the Church because the Church still only lets out the information they want to," O'Day said.


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