Representatives of the advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests held a press conference near Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock Oct. 17.
They announced the opening of a SNAP chapter in Arkansas and asked the Diocese of Little Rock to release the names of all priests who have ever served in Arkansas that have been accused of sexual abuse.
This request was also made in an open letter to Msgr. J. Gaston Hebert, diocesan administrator, the same day. The letter was also posted on the organization's Web site http://www.freewebs.com/snapark.
SNAP has held similar press conferences in recent weeks, seeking to compile a list of priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors and "vulnerable adults."
Msgr. Hebert released the following response Oct. 18.
"It is encouraging to see that the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has joined the Diocese of Little Rock in its desire to seek out any possible victims, particularly children and teens, who have been sexually abused by priests or other church employees or volunteers.
"For 19 years the diocese has had a policy covering the sexual abuse of minors, which it has followed scrupulously. Our former bishop, J. Peter Sartain, issued an appeal, dated June 21, 2002, which apologized to anyone who had been sexually abused and called for anyone who had been the victim of sexual misconduct as a minor by a member of the clergy to contact the diocese. That appeal was read from every pulpit in the diocese and printed in the diocesan newspaper.
"The Diocese of Little Rock has been proactive in creating a safe environment for its children and teens through VIRTUS programs: Protecting God's Children for Adults and Touching Safety Program for Children. Every clergyman, employee and volunteer in the diocese is required to participate in these programs. No one is hired by the diocese without a thorough background check and all are required to adhere to the diocesan policies on sexual misconduct.
"There are some statements in the open letter to me from SNAP, dated October 17, 2007, that are misleading. It speaks of the "many victims of clergy sexual abuse in Arkansas" to whom they provide hope and encouragement. SNAP either misstates the case or has more information than the diocese.
"In the John Jay Study conducted in 2002, covering the 52 previous years, it was reported that approximately 540 priests had assignments during that period, and of that number 11 priests were accused of sexual abuse of a minor.
"While any number is too many, 2 to 3 percent of the adult male population in the United States has sexually abused minors, and the 2.2 percent of priests within this diocese would fall within that range.
"I would point out that the figures indicate that no allegations were brought against almost 98 percent of the clergy serving during those years.
"SNAP asks for a list of offending clergy who have been "hidden from the law" (There have been NONE) or "given freedom to abuse again" (which would indicate an implied consent on the part of the diocese for sexual abuse, which has NEVER been the case).
"I will state clearly and categorically that there is no priest active in the diocese who has been accused of sexual misconduct with minors. The priests of our diocese are good men dedicated to the service of God and well trained in how to relate appropriately to minors.
"I repeat the request Bishop Sartain made on June 21, 2002, and repeated in his "Pastoral Report to the People of the Diocese of Little Rock" on February 21, 2004: If anyone in the diocese was the victim of sexual abuse as a minor by a priest, a religious, or anyone acting in the name of the Church, we encourage that person to contact the diocese. Their case will be handled with confidentiality and compassion. Carol Siemon, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, is our victim assistance coordinator and can be reached at 501-664-0340, Ext. 416.
"SNAP and the diocese basically want the same thing: We want children protected, and we do not want pedophiles or ephebophiles in a position to prey upon innocent youth.
"We disagree on the method to obtain this end. The disagreement may stem from a distrust of the Church on SNAP's part based upon its past history in the handling of sexual misconduct cases. In some instances, SNAP's suspicions were well founded. Times have changed. And, frankly, vigilant watchdogs like SNAP helped to provoke those changes. Policies exist and are enforced in this diocese, which will prohibit the mistakes of the past. I will personally make sure that happens.
"As both SNAP and the Diocese of Little Rock wish to protect children and young people from abuse by clergy as well as others, I would propose that we work together to achieve that end. While SNAP nationally has felt a need to prod the Church into action by taking an accusatory stance, perhaps it would be reasonable to sit down and explore possibilities to achieve the end we both desire. I take this opportunity to make that invitation. Let us reason and work together for the good of children.
"Taking away the innocence of a child is despicable. The betrayal of the trust of a child by a priest is horrendous. We are working very hard within the Diocese of Little Rock to make certain that does not happen."
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