“The Message” is not getting out.

The SNAP Conference will be held in Washington next month so I thought I would gather my thoughts on how I see the current landscape in order to help me determine how I will spend my time at plenary sessions and breakout sessions.  In the two years (almost to the day) since  I reported Father Robert Gibson to the Diocese of Scranton as my abuser I have learned some valuable lessons and I have decided that there are things that we, as survivors of perp priests need to address if we want to get some traction and find some success in effecting change.  The point of this concept paper, manifesto, white paper, whatever you want to call it, is to offer the challenges I have identified and possible solutions for your consideration.  Be aware this might be just the ramblings of someone frustrated with the state of affairs we are in at the moment.

The major challenges I see for survivors and organizations of survivors are as follows:

1. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the United States, and around the world for that matter, want to keep survivors isolated, quiet and incapable of getting the message that the problem of priests committing a variety of violent, sexual crimes against children and vulnerable adults still exists. Bishops will lie, cheat and conceal information that proves that predatory priests operate in their curias and that the hierarchy of the Diocese has protected them. If caught, they will simply say that they didn’t know raping/molesting children was a criminal offense.

2. The public has grown weary with the story.  After high profile cases and reports in cities such as Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia and the recent findings released concerning abuses in Ireland, the public seems to have the attention span of a fruit fly when it comes to the ongoing story of predator priests.  I have even heard the phrase “post pedophile priest scandal” in relation to the new order in the church.  I must have missed the Pope declaring “Mission Accomplished!” from the back of the “Pope-Mobile”.

3.  The people carrying our message are spread thin and are in a reactive mode rather than a practive mode.  If you are driving your message only when the other side is giving you an opportunity, they are controlling the story.

4. Victims are slow to come forward.  I know this from personal experience. I waited 33 years before I was willing to go public.  I think that many victims did the same kinds of things I did, they looked on line for their perp.  They looked to see if he/she was reported, had died, had gone to jail, etc…  Many look for support from other victims and groups only to find websites with out of date contact information and broken links.  They don’t know how to tell there story so they go the church and tell it.  The church works hard to keep that story under wraps.  Victims of Sexual Abuse should not go to the Diocese. The Diocese will do what they can to protect themselves,  hide the story and lie to the victim.

5. The organizations that do exist seem to lack local organizations  to help support a cohesive plan to help victims and their families.  Coordinated efforts to spread the word, support legislation, and seek justice seem to be inadequate to compete with the resources, power and influence of our adversary, the Bishops and their supporters.

6.  We have not successfully countered the Bishops’ campaign that tells people that we are attacking the church for our own personal gain.  They have painted us as greedy and focused on destroying the Catholic Church in the United States.  It seems that our focus is on leaf-letting parishioners entering the church or writing letters to the editor when the Bishops are using public relations firms, lawyers and intimidation to get there message across. They also seem to believe their own press that the crisis is past.  “All is well, come back to church and bring your check book”.

So what are we to do?

1. Focus the message.  We need to clearly define our goals and set out to reach those goals and measure how effective we are in achieving those goals.

2.  Coordinate and energize our base.  Not only other victims, but those that are sympathetic to our message:  families, groups that are seeking reform in the Catholic Church, legislators, law enforcement, judicial officials, the media, and bloggers.

3. Develop a legislative agenda to help protect children, hold those people responsible for crimes or covering up crimes accountable in both the criminal and civil courts.  Find sympathetic lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels to champion this agenda and then do the hard work necessary to get the agenda passed. Make it a crime for an organization to shield a child molester/rapist.

4.  Clearly define what we want our end state to be.  If an organization’s mission does not translate to a tangible achievable end state, it is doomed to fail. It will become a self licking ice cream cone.  It exists for the purpose of perpetuating itself.

5.  Convince the public that the first call a victim should make is to the police or the office of the district attorney.  DO NOT GO TO THE DIOCESE WITH THE REPORT. These are criminal matters for law enforcement and the justice system to deal with.  The bishops will not do the right thing when left to their own devices.  If you haven’t figured that out, you need to go to Abuse Tracker and start reading.

6.  Determine how we will measure success in the interim.  What makes us successful?  We should track:

  • number of perp priests identified
  • indicted
  • removed from ministry
  • convicted
  • number of bishops removed for hiding pedophiles
  • legislation drafted, debated, brought to a vote, passed into law
  • assistance provided to victims and their families
  • number of outreach programs developed
  • seminars conducted with teachers and church workers to help them identify behavior that is inappropriate

There are more metrics we can track, these just rolled off my brain.

7.  Identify who is  accountable to the victims.  Are the organizations that exist today to support victims effective?  If the  leaders of organizations that support victims don’t meet objectives do we have the ability to seek new leadership?  Some are volunteers and we should honor their service.  There are people who draw a salary off donations out there that should be shown the door if they are not successful.  If  lawmakers are siding with the church to deny justice to victims, their constituents should be told and hopefully those lawmakers will be shown the door during the next election cycle.

8. We must stop the practice of civil authority allowing the church to investigate allegations of criminal activity by priests.  The church is not a law enforcement agency and is not proficient in determining the circumstances of crimes.  Leave that to the police, the justice system and investigative reporters.

I see 4 major areas where I think our community should be focusing their efforts.

1. Identifying the bishops, their lawyers, public relations firms, lobbyist and supporters who are enabling the pedophiles to continue to prey on children.  Fighting to expose them, remove them and if appropriate punish them in criminal and civil courts.  They are fighting and winning because we are not fighting with the same level of resolve.  Get this straight in your head, we are fighting an adversary that will employ ruthless tactics to wear us down and defeat our efforts. These bishops have a great deal to lose in terms of power, influence, treasure and status.  They will not go down without a fight.

They will employ tactics to beat us through attrition (wear down our human and material resources until we are an ineffective force) or through disruption (attack our organizational cohesion and effective functioning so that we cannot operate as a coherent whole).  Both defeat mechanisms are designed to break our resolve to continue fighting for the truth, reform and justice.

Right now the Bishops control the battle rythm, we need to seize that initiative and hold the moral high ground.

2. Protecting children and vulnerable adults.  This is where education, awareness and a legislative agenda come into the picture.  The Bishops will only abandon their current strategy when the consequences for their actions are more than they can bear.

3. Engage groups with similar goals.  We need to partner with groups that seek reform in the church, protection of children and protection for victims of crime.

4.  Establish clear channels for victims who need assistance to find the support they need.  We should be supporting each other and identifying resources to help victims and their families deal with the social, mental, physical and legal problems that they face.  We should not be sending these people to the Bishops for assistance because the Bishops are a very big part of the problem.

A last thought and then I will wrap this one up.  If  we truly have a network, we should be able to utilize the network.  We should be able to communicate with each other without having to go through a filter.  We need to shake the cobwebs off the message boards and reestablish communications with each other.  We cannot be effective in getting any message out if we are not communicating with each other.  Organizations  needs to clean up their points of contact to make sure that victims can actually make the initial contact with the organization through a real person.  A little website clean up is appropriate for more than one victim’s rights organization.

We need to have a place for people to submit blog links and post their thoughts.  Kathy Shaw does an excellent job with the Abuse Tracker to keep all of us up to date on stories in the media, but we don’t have a consolidated blog roll for our community.  We need to leverage technology to get our message out.  You know that the Dioceses across the country are spending big money on shaping and communicating their message and they are not doing it by leaflet.  We need to blog, tweet, and really network.  We cannot be a network in name only.

We have a capable and ruthless adversary.  We are not going to be successful if we don’t leverage the resources available to us to effect change and get help for those who need it.   We cannot win if we do not come together as one.  That is the message I will carry to the SNAP Conference in August.  What message are you going to send?

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