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SUPPORT GROUPS RESPOND: Survivors of Sexual Molestation by Catholic Priests Come Forward in Wake of Pope's Visit

SUPPORT GROUPS RESPOND: Survivors of Sexual Molestation by Catholic Priests Come Forward in Wake of Pope's Visit

Special to Huntingtonnews.net

As the intense media coverage of Pope Benedict's visit to the United States increases, previously silent survivors are coming out of the shadows, but apparently not to the Church, according to many of them. Triggered by images of Catholic bishops who were complicit in their sexual molestation, the lack of specific focus on their suffering by Pope Benedict XVI in his statements on the plane, and the Pope's refusal to respond to their requests to meet with him, they are turning to each other. Pope Benedict referred to the suffering of the Church and him personally, but not that of the survivors.

"We have seen a significant increase in calls to our office by survivors who have never broken their silence before," says David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). Hot Line 1-877-762-7432

Road to Recovery, another established support group headed by Rev. Robert Hoatson, himself a survivor, is likewise experiencing a higher volume of calls. "We heard from both 'new' survivors who want to begin healing, and current clients who are anxious, panicky, depressed, and outraged."

The national Survivor Support Working Group (SSWG) of Voice of the Faithful released a statement on April 16 acknowledging the "depth and severity" of their suffering. It recognized the highly visual symbolism and ceremony of Catholic liturgies with the built-in potential for flashbacks.

"With full blown and continuous coverage of the papal visit, anxiety within survivors is heightened and we need to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of those who have been sexually assaulted and marginalized by the Catholic Church," said Kristine Ward, Chair of the SSWG. "These contacts are courageous acts and we must recognize their significance with care and concern." The response was immediate and gratifying: "I cannot thank you enough for your words of compassion and support. I didn't think the Pope's visit would affect me. I was wrong.....Thank you for your words, it helps the pain.....thank you, thank you, thank you....." are among the many messages received.

All members of the Steering Committee of SSWG have volunteered to be points of contact to the survivor groups as leaders of SNAP and Road to Recovery juggle media events, travel, and the emotional toll of exclusion during these days of Pope Benedict's visit. Survivor leaders -- national, regional and local -- believe it is their duty to be the face of Christ to their wounded brothers and sisters. Their outreach is largely unacknowledged by church leaders and Catholics in general, who need to appreciate the impact of celebrations at which survivors feel unwelcome.

Pope Benedict could still set an example of leadership by watching an hour with survivor leaders who desire only to tell their stories to him directly and earnestly. The National Review Board criticized U.S. bishops for not meeting with survivors, and the bishops themselves acknowledged that omission.* Survivors need pastoral outreach from the Shepherd who speaks of hope, and ask Pope Benedict respectfully to listen to their truth in humility.

* www.bishop-accountability.org/usccb/causesandcontext/2004-02-27-CC-Report.pdf p. 127 of 158

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Help for the wounded:

Fr. Bob Hoatson (survivor) and Fr. Ken Lasch 862-368-2800
Bob Schwiderski (survivor) 952-471-3422
Lisa Kendzior SSWG 817-773-5907
Kristine Ward SSWG 520-404-2489
SNAP Hot Line: 1-877-762-7432

Contact Information
Kristine Ward, Ohio 937-272-0308
Rev. Robert Hoatson, New York 862-368-2800
Michael Sweatt, Maine 207 831 3791
Steve Sheehan, Massachusetts 617-319-0477
James Jenkins, California 510-599-5173
Marjorie Bean, Massachusetts 781-648-4646
Tom Byrnes, Ohio 216-295-0817
Bob Schwiderski, Minnesota 952-471-3422
Lisa Kendzior, Texas 817-773-5907
Chuck Miller, Maryland 302-234-1519
Frank Douglas, Arizona 520-404-2489
Ed Friedl, Ohio 330-499-6842
Carolyn Disco, New Hampshire 917-620-8172