SNAP Update: Church Officials Pretend to be Powerless About Predator Priests

By David Clohessy

No warnings, no outreach, no way, no how

At best, I’ll seem ungrateful. But I’m not.

At worst, I’ll seem whiny. You decide.

The gap between how the Catholic hierarchy is and ought to be is perhaps most clearly seen in this one simple fact: when it comes to fighting abuse survivors, church officials “pull out all the stops,” but when it comes to seeking out and helping abuse survivors, church officials pretend to be powerless.

When a bishop learns that survivors are pushing for legislative reform to help expose predators, he goes “whole hog,” hiring lobbyists and public relations experts and aggressively mobilizing church staff and members with new conferences, public statements, op-eds, bulletin notices, website pleas, pulpit announcements and direct mail to parishioners’ homes, begging them to push lawmakers to protect the bishop’s interests and block survivors seeking justice.

But when a bishop hears about an abuse case, virtually all of these resources and mechanisms are ignored. Have you ever heard or seen a bishop say “We suspect that Fr. Mike may have molested more than just one girl, so we’re doing everything humanly possible to find and help others he’s hurt.”

Despite having vast power and resources, bishops pretend to be powerless about predator priests.

Look at what Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City did, over the past few months, in my own case. Here in a nutshell, is the background: In 1991, I sued the priest who molested me and three of my brothers. In 1993, I lost (because church officials exploited the statute of limitations).

Last year, I approached Jefferson City church staffers seeking a settlement and concrete steps to warn others about Fr. John Whiteley (now living in Florida) and seek out others whom he might have hurt.

They wrote the check. They refused to do the warnings or the outreach.

So last week, I told a journalist “It is frustrating that the onus for prevention, justice and healing still seems to virtually always fall on the victims.”

In response, one of the bishop’s PR staff, Dan Joyce, said that “unless people self-report, we don’t know who to work with.”

“The only outreach we can do,” he continued, “is provide a welcoming environment and provide a contact.”

Really?

The bishop CAN’T hold a news conference, saying “We’ve learned of a possible predator in our midst. If you saw, suspected or suffered crimes or misdeeds by him, please come forward.” That’s impossible?

The bishop CAN’T send a news release, conveying the same message? That’s impossible?

The bishop CAN’T insist his dozens or hundreds of chancery and parish staff do outreach? That’s impossible?

The bishop CAN’T personally visit parishes where Fr. Whiteley worked, prodding his flock to ask former church-goers “Hey did any of your kids ever spend time around this priest?” That’s impossible?

(I could go on and on. Bishops have MANY ways they can spread the word about predators.)

Now, ready for the old “have your cake and eat it too” piece of this?

The NCR reports “As for the prevention measures, Joyce said when an allegation is found credible the diocese informs the parish communities where the priest was assigned, both through announcements at Mass and bulletin placements. . .”

(In all fairness, sometimes they do this. But often they do not. And it should go without saying that sometimes priests molest kids who are NOT members of their parish or any parish. That’s why we harp on broad PUBLIC warnings, not just selective PARISH warnings.)

But “in the case of Whiteley, Joyce said they have not had an active case to put through that process,” church officials say.

Huh? What on earth is an “active” case? Why does “active” or “inactive” matter? At any point, for any reason, any bishop could simply say “Today, I’m going to be the kind of shepherd Pope Francis talks about. Today, I’m gonna reach out and see if I could find just one other struggling woman or man who was hurt by one of our priests in this diocese.”

(Besides, this case is “inactive?” Really? Whiteley’s alive. I’m alive. Two of my three brothers who were abused by him are alive. Another man, abused by Whiteley in Columbia Missouri, is still alive. And these are just a few of the Whiteley victims I personally know. Bishop Gaydos has no idea how many are out there. And it’s clear that neither he nor his staff wants to know. For the health and survival of the Jefferson City diocese, thank heavens their fundraising approach isn’t the same as their abuse approach: “Sit back and hope the phone doesn’t ring.”)

Joyce offers another excuse why no outreach or warnings will happen.

“This was a highly litigated case that had high publicity at the time,” he said.

So in 2015, Bishop Gaydos’ public relations man says that because my lawsuit got what he considers “high publicity” almost 25 years ago, Jeff City church officials are unwilling to take ANY steps to seek out even one more victim of the man who devastated my family?

The bottom line: I am grateful for the financial settlement. Gaydos could have ignored me but didn’t.

But I’m so sad that, even now, bishops steadfastly refuse to act like the caring shepherds they purport to be.

 

hunter