SNAP Connecticut

Fight against abuse by clergy far from over, survivors say

Staff Writer - The Advocate
Published on 9/26/2004

NORWALK -- A conference on sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church held at Norwalk Community College yesterday drew about 150 victims, supporters and health professionals.

The daylong seminar hosted by SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was the first in Connecticut. Since February, two Connecticut SNAP chapters were launched in Bridgeport and East Hartford.

SNAP state Director Landa Mauriello-Vernon, of Hamden, told attendees that when the Bridgeport chapter got its start, it had only eight members.

Eight months later, the chapter has 58 members. More than 90 percent of the roster consists of people who were sexually molested by clergy, Mauriello-Vernon said.

Mauriello-Vernon, who has a civil suit pending against a nun who she alleges sexually assaulted her while she was a student at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, said abuse has not come to an end.

"There may not be articles in the newspaper every day, there may not be lawsuits filed every day as a result of the statute of limitations put on survivors, but it is in no way over," she said.

Her comments and those of a former U.S. Air Force chaplain critical of the church came a day after the Diocese of Bridgeport released a report saying that its churches are in complete compliance with the Roman Catholic church's policy for protecting minors from sex abuse.

"The measures we have taken have increased significantly the accountability within our parishes, schools and institutions to continue to build a safe environment," Bishop William Lori said in a statement released Friday.

The diocese, which oversees 87 parishes in Fairfield County, was audited by Boston-based Gavin Group from June 2003 to this month in accordance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The policy is a zero-tolerance sex abuse policy drafted by the U.S. Bishops at their historic Dallas conference in June 2002.

According to the diocese release, the auditors looked at the adequacy of policies that included responding to complaints, outreach to victims, the independence of lay review boards and policies for removing priests who have abused.

The report states, "The diocese has established clear and well-publicized standards of ministerial behavior for priests and deacons. A communication policy is in effect which reflects the bishop's pledge to be open and transparent on issues regarding the sexual abuse of children."

"As I have said before," Bishop Lori stated, "We are moving forward together as a family of faith in the right direction."

Inside NCC's PepsiCo theater, however, there was disagreement about the church's path.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, who was ordained 34 years ago and is preparing to publish a book with two other researchers on the history of Catholic church law against violations of celibacy, said the sexual abuse crisis is changing people's perception of the church and its hierarchy.

"It's changed society and its approach to organized religion, and it's changed organized religion. It has begun or accelerated a process to demythologize organized churches, especially Catholicism. It's been removed from the area of magical thinking down to what it really is, a human organization that hopefully is inspired by solid spiritual principals, but oftentimes can prostitute those principles and prostitute itself," said Doyle, who calls himself a recovering Catholic.

Doyle, who said he was removed as a chaplain only months before his retirement from the Air Force last month, said the sexual abuse that occurred over the past 20 years has transferred much of the control of sexual predators inside the church out of the hands of the church hierarchy.

"The refusal of adult victim survivors to not back down and knuckle under and pay, pray and obey, has been one of the key features in bringing about accountability and healing for tens of thousands," said Doyle. "This time around, the institutional church is not in control. You are in control of incidents of violations of clerical celibacy, not the bishops."

Norwalk resident Jim Alvord, whose support for those who have been sexually abused began about two years ago, was awarded SNAP's Survivors Lifeline Award.

SNAP's New York City Director David Cerulli said: "Jim's compassion for and understanding of the struggle that survivors endure is something that has been so inspiring to me and many other survivors."

Copyright © 2004, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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Last Updated: October 26, 2005