This week, I met a courageous woman. She lives in Chicago now, but she comes from Toledo: Barbara Blaine. She is founder and president of SNAP — Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Back in 1985, as a victim of abuse, she chose to speak up. Her road was a lonely one. She was told two big lies: Your case is unique. And, we will do something about it. Ms. Blaine says those lies hurt as much as the sexual abuse.
She started SNAP as a support group. It grew to become a watchdog with chapters in every state and many other nations.
SNAP and the people involved with it love their church. They are not destroyers. They are injured believers. They believe the church cannot heal until it really changes how it deals with clergy child abuse.
Ms. Blaine maintains that this has not happened, that abuse still goes on, and that the institutional response is to cover up.
She wants two simple things: First, that any time there is evidence of abuse it be immediately reported to the police. And, second, that no fugitive from justice shall ever be housed on church property.
Some people tell me that Ms. Blaine and SNAP are “zealots.” But those two standards of legal and human decency don’t seem like a lot to ask. Most of the professional world — doctors and teachers, for example — live by them.
I know that many think this sorry chapter is over, and apologists, official and unofficial, will say safeguards are in place. But I have heard from clergy the chilling words I heard from Ms. Blaine: It’s still going on. After all that’s happened, this is a physically sickening thought.
There is a way to find out.
The Vatican has been called to give in-depth testimony on its record on child sexual abuse to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The committee has asked the Vatican to “provide detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy ...” and to “ensure [the committee] that no member of the clergy currently accused of sexual abuse be allowed to remain in contact with children.”
Will the Vatican fully comply?
Three thought exercises:
1) Think of this matter simply as abuse of power by mighty people who are trusted by powerless people. Pretend it is not “the” church or your church but the American Medical Association or the National Federation of Teachers. Then this is not about Catholicism but humanity and accountability.
2) Pretend your child was abused. I have three children. If it had happened to one of them, I would be a “zealot” in Geneva next month looking for justice.
3) Ask: What would Pope Francis do? Which is to say: What would Jesus do?
Answer: Order the Curia in Rome and the U.S. bishops to turn over everything they have to the U.N. and to set aggressive new standards for reporting.
Blessed are the zealots.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.