Matt C. Abbott
April 21, 2007
SNAP, priest respond to Commonweal Magazine; The controversy over limbo
By Matt C. Abbott

Commonweal Magazine has a featured article titled "Vengeance Time: When Abuse Victims Squander Their Moral Authority," by Mark A. Sargent.

Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, has responded to Mr. Sargent's article in a point-by-point fashion. Because I have not sought permission to reprint the article in my column, readers will have to go to the magazine's Web site to read it. (Click on the link in the first paragraph.)

The following are many of Ms. Blaine's pointed responses to Mr. Sargent's article.

Note that Dudzinski's bishop "outed" him as a predator; SNAP didn't. Yet the author criticizes us, not the bishop. So apparently, according to Mr. Sargent, it's okay for a church official to publicly identify a predator, as long as no one tells that predator's neighbors that he lives nearby. (Often, in cases like this, the main reason the predator was not charged or convicted is because the church hierarchy shielded him from law enforcement.)

No one, not Yakima's bishop, St. Louis' archbishop, the FBI, nor apparently even Mitchell himself, disputes that Mitchell had multiple photos of nude boys on his computer. The existence of the photos and their presence on his computer is not an "allegation." It is a fact.

According to the Associated Press, Mitchell "was suspended during the investigation and sent to a treatment facility in St. Louis for evaluation."

No dioceses have been "bankrupted." Five (out of nearly 200) have sought bankruptcy protection. There's a huge difference.

No diocese is "going under." They are merely reorganizing with the goal of keeping dirty secrets hidden. Each has sought bankruptcy protection on the eve of potentially very embarrassing civil trials at which the bishop and his top staff would have to testify. They'd be forced, in open court, to take the oath, face tough questions, and disclose (usually for the first time) how much they knew about and how little they did about pedophile priests. Bishops are terrified of this. (Such questioning exposed Cardinal Law's duplicity and led to his resignation.) That's why these five bishops rushed into bankruptcy court.

In each of the five cases, the diocese continues to operate with "business as usual."

The archdiocese will emerge virtually unscathed, at least financially. Payments to 175 claimants will be covered by $52 million from church insurers and a $40 million loan. No parish properties will be sold. No church leaders will be forced to testify publicly about their behind-the-scenes response to specific cases of child abuse by clergy.

He would know our intentions, had he contacted us. He of course never did.

Why is it so hard for this man to even entertain the possibility that both SNAP members and the Philly prosecutors and the California legislature and the Wilmington bishop and everyone else he blasts here genuinely want to protect kids. (Notice that he never suggests a better way to do that than what we do. He doesn't like what we do, thinks our motives are awful, thinks we're "taking the law into our own hands," but never once says "A better way to protect kids is. . ." Nor does he even acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of what we do is quiet, kind, behind-the-scenes, sometimes life-saving one-on-one support for scared, confused, depressed and sometimes suicidal victims of repeated, horrific child rape and other crimes.)

Obviously, the goal here has nothing to do with "humiliation." It has everything to do with protecting kids and educating Catholics. Would he say, too, that state "sex offender registries" are meant to humiliate the predators? How is our leafleting any different?

Look again at the non-economic concessions that survivors in Spokane advocated for and won. Publishing the names of the credibly accused priests, how is that "vengeance?" Skylstad visiting each parish where a predator worked, how is that "vengeance?" On the contrary, that's simple pastoral decency what Skylstad and his colleagues should have voluntarily done years ago.

Skylstad wouldn't have agreed to such conditions if he didn't believe them to be appropriate and reasonable conditions.

As victims here we aren't acting out of entitlement nor are we trampling on anyone's rights, least of all serial sexual predators who have raped and sodomized us as kids. We are acting out of a sincere desire to ensure that no more kids end up suffering as we did. Society knows now that most predators re-offend. Some have hundreds of victims in a lifetime. If our moms had known the history of our perpetrators, they would have kept us away from them. We want to inform moms who live/work near these men of their histories. Again, the only reason these predators are not in prison or listed on the sex offender registries is because they were shielded from police. They don't pose any less risk to kids than the sexual predators who aren't clergy persons.

The issue is archaic, arbitrary, and dangerously restrictive statutes of limitations that prevent survivors from ever getting to show evidence, by proscribing any possible court action, civil or criminal.

Something actually did happen? We can't begin to understand, much less fix and prevent, widespread corruption unless we can call it what it is.

How about tens (or perhaps hundreds) of thousands of innocent kids and vulnerable adults were raped and sodomized by priests (not to mention nuns, seminarians, brothers, bishops and lay employees). Hundreds (if not thousands) of church officials knew or should have known that these felonies were happening, yet they at best stayed silent or helped cover them up. And this author says 'something happened!'

Who's disregarding the rule of law? Are we rioting? Are we vandalizing? Are we advocating jail without trial? Of course not. We are, however, calmly and legally and prudently and compassionately advocating changing predator-friendly laws so that serial molesters and irresponsible supervisors are exposed, and so that other decision-makers who deal with kids have real incentives to try and prevent future abuse and respond properly when abuse happens. Hardly a radical notion

Who is "taking the law into our own hands?" Bishops who publicly suspend priests who are proven, admitted or credibly accused molesters? Journalists who report those suspensions? Survivors who hand out leaflets? This is 'taking the law into our own hands?'

To the already long list of folks Mr. Sargent finds fault with, he now adds judges, church defense lawyers and church insurers. Obviously, he must believe they are wrong, too. They are the ones who really know the depth of the injuries to the victims and the widespread, blatant cover-up and reckless behavior of bishops, chancellors, provincials and other church officials.

Another guilty party: a bad judge. Is there anyone out there Mr. Sargent feels okay about?

This is terribly deceptive. Charleston and Covington are making those amounts available for possible settlement. No final figures have been decided in either of these cases.

Notice what's missing? The settlement costs of the other 184 dioceses, most of which have been paltry.

Notice how all survivors are a) the same, and b) don't care about the church. Notice also no mention of the fact that most survivors don't and can't sue. And by the way, what constitutes "huge settlements?" He doesn't even begin to address how much a shattered child's life is worth.

Bishops can easily settle this debate. All they have to do is turn over the financial books to third parties who can offer an unbiased assessment of what they're worth. No bishop has. (Read recent San Diego stories about Bishop Brom playing fast and loose with the truth about his diocese's wealth.)

Notice he offers not one shred of evidence to support this claim. We've heard of two or three dioceses that claim to have no insurance coverage, but of course we'll never know because bishops refuse to turn over their financial information to independent sources.

The bill was paid years ago, by our grand parents and our parents, whose generous donations were used to pay defense lawyers and public relations professionals and secret settlements and tons of insurance policies (out of which the vast majority of settlements are paid).

It is disingenuous to claim that victims whose childhoods were shattered and whose adulthoods are crippled are any less deserving than others who receive assistance today.

Again, there's a quick way to solve this. Bishops just have to be "transparent." Then, no one will have to guess. We'll have the facts.

But let's not kid anyone. Mr. Sargent knows full well that there is a huge fund to pay for women religious in their retirement. Collections are taken up annually and have been so successful that there is controversy over who should oversee the fund. It is a huge stretch to suggest that money paid to victims is being taken from the retirement accounts of religious women.

The very same men who deceived parishioners and police and prosecutors and us about predators now claim they are in financial trouble. They do this without offering evidence. We react with skepticism. And Mr. Sargent criticizes us and says that at least some of us are "indifferent."

Our entire lives, our grandparents and parents have worked on bingo or fundraisers for one church-related project or another. There were never enough resources but somehow church officials found or raised the money for alleged physical needs, and a new gym was built or the roof was repaired, or aid was sent to the missions. If need be (and they've shown no such need), bishops can raise the necessary money to take care of the victims in the same way. But other than Skylstad, not a single bishop has even proposed this.

Whatever "extreme hostility" there is, it is a) clearly not directly at the church, but rather the church hierarchy, and b) has not been "created by" our alleged "activism," but rather by that hierarchy and its historical and continued self-serving actions.

Many of the victims who are speaking out, warning neighbors and parishioners are active members of the church and only do so because they consider doing so a gift that actually helps the church. If it weren't for the victims speaking out, literally hundreds of predators would still be in ministry today and they would most likely be abusing more kids.

What is so sad is that so few of us, if any, were ever told, "thank you" for showing enormous courage and paying huge personal prices to expose our perpetrators and protect kids. It is our concern and courage that has led to the suspension of these dangerous predators. It adds insult to our injuries when Mr. Sargent treats us as enemies for doing what any responsible citizen would do: speak out about the atrocities we have experienced so that others won't have to experience them.

Mr. Sargent identifies yet another culprit: emotional juries (It's ironic that someone who professes such love of "the rule of law" at the same time apparently thinks so poorly of jurors.)

Does Mr. Sargent really believe that if Jesus were here on earth today, he'd use hardball legal tactics and hair-splitting maneuvers? Would Jesus say "I know you were sodomized 75 times when you were eight, but you've just come forward too late?"

There he goes again, confusing peaceful leafleting with murderous mayhem. How odd that a law professor can't seem to distinguish between citizens exercising their First Amendment rights and citizens lynching people.

Who knows how many (or few) victims Mr. Sargent has ever spoken with? But he feels comfortable lumping us all into one boat and miraculously divining our motives.

One final, broader point:

For 18 years, we in SNAP have listened to and supported literally thousands of survivors. We have been and still are deeply moved by the compassion and caring and sensitivity of survivors. Likewise, we are surprised by and grateful for the phenomenal lack of bitterness and vengefulness by so many. Given the pain we have suffered and are suffering, given the deceit of so many church officials, it is fairly shocking that more survivors do not feel the kinds of motives Mr. Sargent has miraculously found in so many.

Also, Father Robert Hoatson, of Rescue and Recovery International, sent the following (slightly edited) letter to the editor to Commonweal Magazine on April 18, 2007:

    To the Editors:

    You referred to Mark A. Sargent as a 'frequent contributor' to your publication. Hopefully, his latest diatribe against clergy abuse victims and, specifically, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, should prompt you to end his 'contributions.' His article was neither a contribution nor worthy of publication. While his article deserves to be ignored by any reasonably-thinking reader, I wonder what you were thinking when you decided to publish it.

    Sargent is a law school dean at a Catholic university. Did you expect him to risk his job by telling the truth about the Catholic Church's hierarchy, molester priests, and those who aided and abetted them? That alone should have disqualified him from publication.

    His article was unbalanced, lacked intellectual integrity, factual analysis, and was a mouthpiece for corrupt church leadership. He cited no laws that were supposedly broken by SNAP members, and he used generalizations and moral platitudes to criticize an organization of victims, one of the few, by the way, including Commonweal Magazine, that advocates for victims. I think my subscription to Commonweal will not be renewed. An apology to SNAP and all survivors is in order.

The controversy over limbo

Limbo is in the news again. Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin gives thorough treatment to the issue in this post. Also, theological issues related to salvation are covered here.

© Matt C. Abbott


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails – complete with email addresses – that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if those emails are marked confidential. Also, please be aware that RenewAmerica is not my website; RA's president and editor is Stephen Stone, who can be reached here. I'm just one of RA's columnists, for which I'm very grateful. I don't speak for the other RA columnists, so please don't email me to complain about what someone else has written. Thank you and God bless!)


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