Group Takes Its Message on Clergy Abuse to Ballpark

By Michele Munz
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Lois MO]
June 22, 2003

"Protect the children," said Claudia Vercellotti, a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, as she held out a flier to the Cardinal fans streaming past her on their way to Sunday's home game.

For the past decade, SNAP members have handed out leaflets about their national organization at churches, but Sunday was the first time they did so at a "secular event." The effort marked the end of the group's first national meeting, held to coincide with that of the U.S. bishops in St. Louis.

"We want to reach out to as many victims as possible," said Vercellotti, of Toledo, Ohio. "This is an issue that affects all of us. If not yourself, then somebody you know."

Vercellotti has been told she's destroying the church while handing out fliers in the past. No confrontations, however, occurred while the group handed out fliers after Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in the Central West End and before the game at Busch Stadium.

Most fans' only intent was to get in the stadium and passed by the dozen SNAP members with hardly a notice. Others politely took the handout. Of those, some read it as they walked, pitched it in the trash or stuffed it in their pockets or purses.

The leaflets explained that SNAP is a nationwide support group trying to reach out to others "suffering in silence." It asked that people urge church leaders to meet with victims, to cooperate with authorities and to ask lawmakers to make it easier to prosecute abusers and protect children.

Brad Rust, 36, thought the leafleting was inappropriate outside the stadium. He was going to the game with his wife, Tammy, and two children, ages 2 and 5, while on a trip from their home near Evansville, Ind.

"I don't want to have to explain to my kids what they're doing here," said Rust, a Catholic.

Some of the members held signs saying "Stop corrupt bishops," "Help the Victims" and "Nuns abuse too." One member's sign showed a picture of a girl and said, "A priest raped this child and is unpunished."

"There are certainly some problems in the Catholic religion," Rust said. "But I guess in my mind, I don't know what good that (leafleting) does."

He and his wife said they knew a victim who had disclosed being abused by a member of the clergy and getting a flier on the way to a ballgame wouldn't have helped him.

SNAP members said they hoped their effort provided parents an opportunity to talk to young children about sexual abuse. Many parents, said director David Clohessy, think their children are not exposed, but pedophiles are often well-liked and in trusted positions, such as a priest. Children need to know the importance of telling their parents, he said, because pedophiles are adept at getting victims to keep abuses secret.

"To molest a kid, you need to seem really warm and normal and all the rest, or else you don't get access" to children, he said.

About 200 victims of clergy abuse from all 50 states attended the national conference, held at the Millennium Hotel downtown. While some of their activities involved criticizing the bishops' effort to fight sex abuse within the church, they also held meetings on everything from how to pick a good therapist to fund-raising.

Clohessy said those at the meeting agreed they needed to spread their message beyond the Roman Catholic Church and planned to hand out fliers at more events.

"One of the decisions that came out of the weekend was a renewed commitment to reach out more vigorously to other victims who are still trapped in secrecy and shame."

Reporter Michele Munz:


Phone: 314-340-8263


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