Accountability for sex abuse at the church's highest levels

  • Article by: DAVID CLOHESSY
  • Updated: October 10, 2011 - 5:50 AM

It took a long time for victims to be heard. Now they want a reckoning.

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Members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), from left: Rita Milla, Emmanuel Henckens, Phil Saviano, Megan Peterson, Barbara Blaine and Bert Smeets, pose in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011.

Photo: Rob Keeris, Associated Press - Ap

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As someone who was molested as a child by a trusted parish priest, I've had to wait a long time for any real opportunity to see justice done.

But I'm waiting no longer.

On Sept. 13, members of my organization, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), joined by our attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed an 84-page complaint with the International Criminal Court, detailing how Vatican officials tolerate and enable the systematic and widespread concealing of rape and child sex crimes.

Our filing, according to The New York Times, represents "the most substantive effort yet to hold the pope and the Vatican accountable in an international court for sexual abuse by priests." This action could mark the first time that an international court asserts jurisdiction over the Vatican for crimes committed by its representatives worldwide.

For decades, most of us who were sexually assaulted by clerics suffered in silence. We rarely spoke up and had few options when we did.

We first approached, and were usually rejected by, church officials. We were similarly rebuffed by police and prosecutors who had little interest in taking on a powerful, centuries-old institution that operates without democratic accountability.

Nonetheless, those of us with the strength to come forward eventually sought out attorneys, hoping to use the U.S. civil justice system to at least publicly expose our predators. Most of us learned that the rigid, archaic, predator-friendly statutes of limitations prevented us from bringing -- much less winning -- a lawsuit.

And so the crimes continued.

Undaunted, we explained our plight to state lawmakers. While initially sympathetic, they almost always ultimately capitulated to the well-oiled lobbyists of bishops and insurance companies and wouldn't pass legislation that might let us have our day in court.

The crimes continued.

So we called reporters, wrote editors, and even held lonely news conferences to which no one came. The crimes continued.

Finally, after many years of effort in the United States and around the world, the problem became too big to ignore.

Catholics began protesting. Police began investigations. Lawyers started taking our calls and filing our cases. Books and articles were written.

We finally began to feel heard.

And now we want these crimes investigated and prosecuted.

Some may be shocked that we are accusing the world leader of a church -- a man considered by many people of faith to be a holy leader. But one cannot be the head of an institution and escape accountability for that institution's continuing criminal cover-ups.

In the words of Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who spoke out this summer after encountering the Vatican's obstruction in his country's efforts to investigate clergy sexual violence, "The rape and torture of children were downplayed, or 'managed,' to uphold instead the primacy of the institution -- its power, its standing and its reputation."

In The Hague, in Rome, here in the United States and around the world, the time has come for a reckoning.

David Clohessy is the director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org). This article was distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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