Four men who say they were sexually abused by clergy gathered outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Thursday to announce their group sent a formal complaintwith the Vatican, charging that Springfield’s bishop “harms his flock.”
The group also sent a letterto Bishop Thomas Paprocki asking that they be allowed to speak at a Diocesan gathering later this month. “We think that would be a long overdue, welcome gesture on his part, and we think that it would encourage other victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to come forward. Kids are safe when abuse is reported or abuse is not reported in a climate…of fear and shame,’’ said David Clohessy, former national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and volunteer director of the Missouri group.
The other letter is in response to a new process by which laypeople can report to the Vatican a bishop who interferes with an abuse report or abuse investigation, he said. “We frankly think Bishop Paprocki has done worse than that. This secrecy, and recklessness, deters and discourages victims from reporting their harm.”
A spokesman for Diocese of Springfield said the accusation that Paprocki has protected priests who have abused youth is false, and pointed to a lengthy reportissued by the Illinois Attorney general earlier this year about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
That report found that 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers abused at least 1,997 children across all of the dioceses in Illinois.
“SNAP said the bishop is hiding abuser priests. The AG report didn’t conclude that. “We encourage victim survivors to contact the diocese and civil authorities. “
That report’s section on the Springfield diocese concludes: “What can be said is that as things stand, the Diocese of Springfield has yet to reconcile itself with its past.
To do that, the diocese must commit to transparency and survivor healing through deeds, listening to survivors and their pleas for trauma-informed responses. The diocese must also openly acknowledge that turning its back for half a century on the needs of children suffering sex abuse at the hands of its clerics was in no way “virtuous.”
One of the men who spoke outside the cathedral is 57-year-old Scott Peters who lives in Glen Carbon. As a child at St. Patrick’s School in Decatur, he said, he was abused on multiple occasions by the now-deceased Monsignor Joseph Cullen O’Brien, who is named in the attorney general’s report.
“At the time the abuse occurred I was scared, confused and frozen. Something in me died,’’ he said. “My innocence was forever stolen by a so-called representative of God. And I continue to deal with the lifelong effects of the abuse on my path to deal with the secrecy, denial and protection of predator priests.”
Another man was Thomas Fuller of Norwalk, Connecticut who said he was abused as a 19-year-old while at Notre Dame University.
“I thought God had done it, and God had betrayed me, and abused me,’ he said. “And that’s a mistake.”
The effects of abuse are really terrible, you know. Relationships that I couldn’t either start or maintain, and finances that I didn’t earn, retirement that I don’t have. Low self esteem,” he said.
“Many people do not survive this. I know a man last month who took his own life.”
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