Molestation Victim Gets Story Told in Churches

By Jeff Gottlieb
Los Angeles Times [San Bernardino CA]
Downloaded January 27, 2003

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino used a surprising tactic Sunday to confront the issue of pedophile priests, passing out to worshipers the emotional story of a man molested as a teenager by a cleric and his account of how church authorities tried to brush it aside.

"A Victim's Perspective" was part of a special eight-page edition of the Diocesan Bulletin passed out to the 110 parishes and missions in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

And, in a 20-minute video shown at each Mass, Bishop Gerald R. Barnes, who heads the diocese, said molestation victims were "robbed of their innocence" and "revictimized by others who didn't believe their stories."

"I was pleasantly surprised," said 48-year-old Diane Eble, who said she knew a priest accused of molestation. "I'm glad he addressed it like he did. Sometimes people feel like there is nothing going on."

Her husband, Jim, credited the diocese with "not trying to brush it under the carpet." Others said they had never seen anything like it.

Some dioceses have put out brochures providing information about sexual abuse, but the San Bernardino effort is unusual in that it printed the victim's story. The Los Angeles Archdiocese, for example, printed a question-and-answer pamphlet about sexual abuse and the clergy last year as part of an agreement to settle a $5.2-million lawsuit over sexual molestation charges against an Orange County priest.

Deacon F. Michael Jelley, who coordinated the San Bernardino effort, said 100,000 copies of the special edition were printed in English and Spanish.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he found the publishing of the victim's story encouraging because the church portrayed itself in a poor light.

"On the rare occasions when church leaders do publicize a survivor's story, it's often one of the tiny minority who have a good experience," he said. "So I think this is significant."

Clohessy, however, criticized the video and the special bulletin for encouraging people to report abuse to church officials instead of law enforcement or a support group.

The anonymous victim's account was written by a San Bernardino County resident who said he was molested while living elsewhere in Southern California.

He said he still is struggling with the fallout of sexual abuse.

The man said that when he complained to church leaders, the unnamed priest was transferred out of state.

"When I decided to retain an attorney, the diocese cut off my counseling," he wrote.

"They refused to restore counseling until I terminated the agreement with my attorney, only to cut it off again when the statute of limitations ran out for me to file a civil case. Counseling was only recently restored in response to public criticism of the diocese's lack of pastoral care."

Worshipers at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino applauded quietly after watching the video, which they viewed during Mass on a screen in front of a huge crucifix.

Many worshipers said they were surprised at the church's effort.

"I thought they would never say anything about it," said Virginia Figueroa, 28. "It's making me feel more comfortable. You doubt things, and this reassured me everything would be OK."

The San Bernardino Diocese landed in the middle of the molestation scandal when it was revealed that two priests accused of molesting boys in Boston had been sent to the Inland Empire.

One of them, Paul Shanley, has been charged with multiple counts of child rape and indecent exposure. The Boston Archdiocese favorably recommended Shanley to San Bernardino. His case is one of those that led to the resignation of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law.

In September, the San Bernardino Diocese hired Deacon Jelley, a former circulation and marketing executive for several Southern California newspapers, to coordinate its response to the scandal.

Jelley, 62, a father of six, was ordained a deacon 3 1/2 years ago, becoming a nonclerical aide to the bishop.

Since taking the position, he has visited 12 parishes to discuss priest molestations, including four churches where priests were removed.

"The laity needs to hold the hierarchy accountable," he said. "We should receive honesty and complete openness from the hierarchy. We're adults."

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