It is not unusual to havequestions, doubts and fears following the revelation of accusations ofalleged abuse on the part of Fr. Terrence Fitzmaurice, the cleric whoserved Phillips Roman Catholic community from 1986-1999.
"It would be uncommon to not hearmore accusations after something like this comes out," said PeterIsely, Midwest Regional Director of the Survivors Network of thoseAbused by Priests (SNAP).
Isely and SNAP's nationaldirector, David Clohessy, said the first thing someone who suspectsclergy abuse should do is know they're no alone.
"They have to know they are not alone," Clohessy said. "And that something like this is never, ever their fault."
Clohessy said the next step is tofind help from an independent therapist. Both men were adamant that avictim or someone with suspicions should never contact the churchitself.
"The main reason abuse cases havebeen mishandled by the bishops is because they can," Clohessy said. "Byreporting it to them, they have the opportunity to threaten andintimidate people, move abusive priests and destroy evidence."
Instead, victims should contactlaw enforcement or human services to report the incident, no matter howold the allegations might be.
"These people are theprofessionals. They know how to investigate these things. They know howto protect people," Clohessy said.
"Above all else, don't keep this type of violation of trust a secret," he continued. "Silence is deadly."
SNAP is an independent supportgroup made up of victims, family members, therapists and clergy whosupport, comfort and advise others who have been abused by priests,nuns and other church workers.
Clohessy said many victims don't even realize that they have been abused, choosing instead to minimize the event.
"They minimize it by saying ‘heonly touched me once,' or ‘it could have been worse,'" he said. "Butthen their troubles pile up and they start to take a close look attheir lives. We're here to help them when they come to terms with it."
He added that the abuse in the Catholic Church occurred because of the nature of the organization.
"The crux of this problem is that the church is a monarchy with unchecked power and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
What is the church doing?
The Archdiocese of Chicago, whereFitzmaurice is accused of abusing teenage boys in the 1970s, and theDiocese of Superior, which is the overseer of the Phillips congregationboth have reporting policies concerning abusive priests and lay workersin place.
Both bodies have adopted all orportions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, along withenacting communication and ethics policies for priests, nuns andlayworkers.
Fr. Phillip Heslin, the Moderatorof the Curia in the Superior Diocese, is the contact person for thosewho suspect or have been abused by diocesan employees. Heslin can becontacted at 392-2937, ext. 106.
The diocese also has a lay person to take abuse reports, Cate Van Lone-Taylor. She can be contacted at 364-2950.
Within the Superior dioceses'communication, morals and ethics policies, possible victims aredirected to report incidents of sexual abuse to a minor to local lawenforcement and human services.
Included in the diocese policiesis a requirement that all references given by church employees will becontacted before hiring and that background checks are to beadministered to those who will regularly work with minors in thechurch.
Those policies were amended in2003, but the diocese did not return calls to say if these samepolicies were in place prior to or during Fr. Fitzmaurice's tenure inPhillips.
When reports of abuse by clergyare made to the Superior diocese, according to its policies, theincidents will be reported to state authorities, after which apreliminary investigation will be conducted in accordance with churchlaw.
The accused person will betemporarily suspended from service and if the worker belongs to areligious order, the order's superior will be notified of theaccusations in writing.
The policy also notes that the accused's reputation is to be protected throughout the investigation.
If the charges are substantiatedby civil authorities or through the church's own investigation, and theaccused is an priest, he will be removed permanently from the ministry.He may also be removed from the clerical state, or defrocked, if thecase so warrants.
In a case where the priest iselderly or infirm, the USCCB allows dioceses and orders to maintain thepriest's status, but asks that the man refrain from the public ministryand instead lead a "life of prayer and contrition."
The investigation intoallegations against a priest is conducted by the diocesan review board,made up of laypeople and appointed by the Bishop.
Another requirement the USCCB hasput in place is the mandated reporting of religious workers names andwhere they had served is allegations have been substantiated.
Not doing enough
According to a surveycommissioned by the USCCB in 2004, about 4 percent of U.S. priestsministering between 1950-2000 were accused of sexual abuse of a minor,or roughly 4,400 clergy. More than $800 million has been paid tovictims of clergy abuse from U.S. dioceses and religious orders.
Most of the settlement monieshave come from the sales of church properties, investments and liquidassets. Church officials assure the membership that regular offeringcollections have not been used to pay settlements in these cases.
Isely said while the policies arein place, and settlements have been made to help victims, he doesn'thave confidence in the church, either in Superior, Chicago or Rome.
He also isn't pleased with the state of Wisconsin's laws that protect priests, bishops and the Catholic Church.
"We are the only state in thenation where a pedophile priest's superior (the bishop or religioussuperior) cannot be named in a civil case for negligence," Isely said.
"This is a complete shield for the Catholic Church, one of the largest corporations in the world, and for the predator."
He characterizes Wisconsin's child abuse laws as archaic and protective of the church.
Neighboring states, Illinois andMinnesota, do allow victims to sue the church and its officers, namelythe bishops, for negligence in civil suits.
"Wisconsin is in the top five forthe highest proportion of residents who call themselves Catholic,"Isely said. "We have the highest concentration of religious orders thanany other place in the nation. These laws have to go to protectvictims."
Isely said Gov. Jim Doyle wouldsign a law to remove the current legal restrictions from victims ofclergy sexual abuse. Isely was unsure when a bill would be forwarded inthe Legislature to correct the inequity he feels exists.
"We also need to eliminate thestatute of limitations on child abuse," Isely said. "Mainly, peopleneed to report abuse, no matter how old the incident is. Because by notreporting it, that's how the church gets away with it."
If you or a loved one has beenabused or suspects abuse on the part of a priest or other religiousworker, contact SNAP at (414)429-7259 in Milwaukee or its nationalheadquarters at (314)645-5915
Representatives of the Chicago Archdioceses and the Superior Dioceses did not return calls concerning this topic.
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