A group supporting survivors of sexual abuse by priests urged Archbishop Michael Sheehan on Thursday to take specific actions "to bind the wounds of victims, our loved ones and our parishes."
Encouraged by Sheehan's recent promises to meet with victims and deal swiftly with offending priests, members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said it was time the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix took the following actions:
• Post the names of priests known or suspected of abuse, living or dead, on the Phoenix diocese's Web site.
• Print information about the survivors network in every church bulletin and in the Phoenix diocese's newspaper and Web site.
• Urge Arizona lawmakers to reform criminal and civil statutes of limitation to lessen restrictions on prosecution of sex abuse offenders.
Chris Gunty, an interim spokesman for the Phoenix diocese, said the appropriate people to comment on the group's requests were not available Thursday. Sheehan, the archbishop of Santa Fe, N.M., was appointed apostolic administrator of the Phoenix diocese by Pope John Paul II after Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien resigned the post last month.
The group's requests come as about 15 people with new allegations of abuse have come forward to the local chapter of the network within the last three weeks, said Paul Pfaffenberger, who leads the chapter.
"There are more people feeling comfortable telling their story to law enforcement or to groups like ours because they know they'll be believed," he said.
Victims appear encouraged by a climate of openness and change, fueled by an unprecedented admission by O'Brien that he allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to work with children, and the appointment of Sheehan to take the place of O'Brien, who stepped down after he was charged with fleeing a fatal crash, said Pfaffenberger.
Sheehan restored credibility in the Santa Fe diocese after a major priest molestation scandal there, firing numerous priests tied to offenses. He presided at masses and met with parishioners at a few Valley churches last weekend and followed through on a pledge to remove the name of a priest linked to child molestations from a church hall in Phoenix.
More needs to be done to help victims of sexual abuse by priests, protect youth and heal the Catholic community, according to a handful of network members who shared in reading a statement to Sheehan on Thursday.
"If we were dealing with anything but the safety of kids, patience would be in order," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Chicago-based group. "There is a tremendous amount of pain that has been festering in this diocese for years, if not for decades."
That pain has kept many victims from coming forward, and the priests who abused them from being prosecuted, members said.
"There are many people who are afraid to come forward," said Doris Kennedy, whose son, Mark Kennedy, claims he was abused by the Rev. Patrick Colleary when he was 10 years old. His case against the former Scottsdale and Tempe priest was thrown out because of the statute of limitations, but Colleary has since been indicted based on another victim's allegation and is considered a fugitive. "There is a lot of dirty laundry."
Members urged Sheehan to follow the examples of several U.S. bishops, who have released victims from gag orders preventing them from disclosing abuse, put network information in a diocesan newspaper, included victim representatives on a review board, revealed the costs to overcome sexual abuse, and held "listening sessions" with victims, their families, prosecutors and the media.
Members also asked Sheehan to use language that minimizes their pain.
"Avoid phrases that mislead the public and parishioners and rub salt in our already deep wounds, like ‘a small minority of priests,’ ‘the sins of the few,’ ‘mistakes of the past,’ " Sue Watson, who said her son was abused by a priest in Phoenix, read from Thursday's statement. "All are code words to survivors, sending the message that this problem isn't as extensive or damaging as some might believe."
Sexual abuse by priests is more pervasive than the public realizes, which is why it's critical to disclose the names of accused priests and provide support group information for victims, Clohessy and other members said.
"There are victims who want to come forward with their stories who are going to," said Doris Kennedy. "I'm confident all this dirty laundry will get washed out."