COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) --Advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse are asking Catholic Churchofficials in Jefferson City and Palm Beach, Fla., to help pay for aresidential treatment center for abuse victims modeled in part aftersimilar sites for troubled priests.
Known as Come to theStable/The Stephen Spalding Foundation, the proposed center would benamed after a former student at the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary inHannibal, which closed in 2002 amid accusations of rampant sexual abuseby a former instructor.
The accused priest, Anthony J.O’Connell, worked at the seminary from 1964 to 1983. He later spent 10years as bishop in Knoxville, Tenn., and four years leading the PalmBeach diocese. He resigned after admitting improper contact with aformer student and later settled a pair of lawsuits. He has sinceretired to a Trappist monastery in South Carolina.
“Theyhave multimillion dollar facilities where priests can go,” said MichaelWegs, a former O’Connell victim and St. Thomas Aquinas graduate leadingthe fundraising effort. “All we’re asking for is some place where(victims) can go.”
Wegs was one of the two formerseminary students to win monetary judgments against O’Connell and theJefferson City diocese. A third abused settled out of court.
Wegs, who has donated some of his $25,000 settlement to the foundation,hopes to raise $4 million by 2010, enough to purchase five pastoralacres at a location to be determined. Those in need of treatment couldstay for a few days or up to six months.
A similar centernear Louisville, Ky., known as The Farm, has received financial supportfrom various dioceses, Wegs noted.
In his letters to thebishops now in charge of the two dioceses in Missouri and Florida, Wegsalso refers to Mark Foley, the Florida congressman who recentlyresigned after he was confronted with sexually explicit instantcomputer messages he sent to former pages.
Foleysubsequently linked his behavior to childhood abuse reportedlyinflicted by his own Roman Catholic priest. Wegs, who now lives inMinneapolis, said the Foley case isn’t directly related to his effortbut highlights the need for such a center.
“There are a lot of people who just need to learn to live again,” Wegs said.
A spokesman for the Missouri diocese said Tuesday that its bishop, theRev. John Gaydos, had not yet received the letter from Wegs and couldnot comment.
An official with the Palm Beach Dioceseacknowledged receiving the appeal but said church leaders had yet tofully consider the request.
“We really haven’t had timeto study the whole thing,” said Lorraine Sabatella, chancellor of thePalm Beach Diocese.
Wegs said that the Spalding treatmentcenter, while non-denominational, would serve as a place where abusevictims could “capture some of the spirituality they lost.”
Susan Vance, a former Catholic school teacher in Knoxville now activein sex abuse prevention programs, said a residential treatment centerwould let abuse survivors know they’re not alone.
“Therehas to be a haven where people who’ve been hurt can go to heal,” shesaid. “The general population doesn’t understand the ramifications ofsexual abuse—especially sexual abuse by a trusted religious leader.Their whole relationship with God is thrown into chaos.”
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)