Q&A: How Can Priests Reach Those Who Need Them Most – the Victims?

Q. Fr. Chris, I appreciate your communication with us. My concern is that this crime continues because of silence and lack of action. If your silence means you are acting quietly then there is still hope. As for speaking out during homilies and in bulletins that would mean you have to attend mass……..the people that need to hear you the most….the victims in many cases have panic attacks at the mere mention of going to mass or seeing a priest. Thus the population that needs to hear what you have to say the most is despairing and a few even killed themselves. How are you reaching out to those that don’t come to you…..if you are not speaking out publicly?

– Beth

A. Dear Beth,  I am grateful for the insights shared by yourself and the many people who have posted comments on my last answer.  In no way do I claim to have all the answers (this is the attitude that led us into much of this nightmare) so I am grateful for sharing in this ongoing conversation which allows me to learn from the experience and wisdom of others.  

In regard to your comments/question, I feel that we need to clarify something. When you write that the “crime continues” which crime are you referring to? If the crime is the abuse of children, then in no case should a priest or any other person remain silent. This type of silence is inexcusable and immoral. This type of silence is certainly a crime that was committed by many priests over the years as they said nothing about what they knew was happening or at least suspected was happening.  

If the crime is the coverup that seems to be have been orchestrated or at least allowed to unfold by the Archdiocese, then once again this type of silence is inexcusable. If people who worked for the Archdiocese (priest or laity) had knowledge that the crime of obstructing justice was being committed they too had the duty to speak out in defense of the victims. I do not believe that the vast majority of priests currently serving in the Archdiocese would fit into either of these “crimes” – I think that most, like myself, were and sadly are very ignorant about specifics in the majority of cases. If this is not the case (and I am open to being proven wrong on this), then I too believe these men should be brought to justice in some way (by the state or by the Church).  

If you are using “crime” colloquially in reference to the fact that so many faithful Catholics are feeling like “sheep without a shepherd” because their priests are not offering guidance, consolation or expressing the outrage or anger that ought to be expressed at a time such as this then once again, I agree that this silence is a problem. You are correct that in the parishes where priests are talking about these issues, the voice is (praise God) being heard. However in many parishes that voice in absent. In the lives of most people (since the vast majority of Catholics do not attend Mass and accounting for all of the people in our society who are not Catholic, thus not at Mass either) this voice is not being heard. Thus is a grave problem (which would not be a problem is the Bishops were being the Bishops the people need them to be and I believe God wants them to be).  

So to get to your question – how am I reaching out to all those who are looking for something? This blog is an obvious attempt at that very thing (again, not to offer “answers” but to offer ‘insights” from the perspective of one priest). In addition, I try to share my thoughts on this issue (and related issues) via social media like Facebook and Twitter (which reaches many non-Churchgoing folks). I know that the people of our area are longing to hear from the collective voice of the priests of the Archdiocese on these matters – yet, the priests are just not there yet (again, I can offer lots of reasons why, most of which would not satisfy many people).  

I can tell you that a significant number of priests from the Archdiocese met for a second time this week to share their frustrations and hopes, to seek answers on what happened and why and to continue seeking the best way for us (as a group) to act. I shared with my brother priests your desire. Please pray for us as we continue to meet, talk, discern and strive to be the priests you want us to be and the priests God wants us to be for you and your families.

– Fr. Chris

Father Chris Walsh is Pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Northwest Philadelphia. Prior to this assignment, he served as School Minister at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster and Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Ransom Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. Father Chris is originally from West Chester and is a graduate of Temple University.  He firmly believes that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, even in these difficult days, and that the Catholic Church remains a true instrument of God’s grace in our broken world.

27 thoughts on “Q&A: How Can Priests Reach Those Who Need Them Most – the Victims?

  1. “a few even killed themselves”?

    Here’s some education from investigation – hundreds killed themselves, maybe thousands. We’ll never know, because many die with the world’s darkest secret. The Catholic church has deliberately and intentionally made it so difficult for the victims to come forward, most don’t want anyone to know. They watch others get denigrated, and can’t fight that type of fight against a powerful empire.

    Let’s just pick one example of one suicide in your own city, just from this year – Daniel Neill. Let’s look at his life – good Catholic boy, probably doing everything right. Raped by Reverend Joseph Gallagher, as thousands of other boys were in other parishes in the United States alone. He never understood it. Had nightmares from it. Never, ever thought clearly after that. Lived in a dark world where he can be raped, and he couldn’t do anything about it. He looks at the Catholic church, but there are no Christians there to help him.

    Finally had the guts to come forward, in shame, although he did nothing wrong. Works out someone else had already filed a complaint against Fr Gallagher. No coincidence there. Daniel repeatedly said, “I am not looking for anything other than for the Church to believe me”.

    Christians would have praised him for surviving, and for having the guts to come forward. They would have welcomed him as a hero for surviving. I am also educating you about Christians.

    The archdiocesan review board (completely biased to the Catholic church as opposed to a law enforcement group) eventually ruled that it could not confirm his complaints. No surprise there. This made the church look good.

    Daniel Neill shot himself the following June. Guess he wasn’t looking for money.

    One good, young boy. One completely ruined life, courtesy of the Catholic Church. Rinse, lather, repeat. Hundreds of times. Probably more.

    Others you probably haven’t heard about – Fr Robert Larson, from Kansas and Missouri, raped at least 17 boys. FIVE committed suicide in their twenties. He served prison time for 5 years, and now lives at the St. John Vianney Renewal Center in MO, courtesy of the Catholic church and your donations. Catholic punishment.

    Rest In Peace, good, young, Catholic boys. You never had peace on earth, due to pedophile priests, horrible crimes, consistent cover ups by a powerful institution, and congregations that questioned your integrity. My heart cries for you.

    This isn’t child’s play.

  2. Patrick, you are correct in your conclusion that the ‘rcc’ has intentionally and deliberately made it difficult for victims to come forward as they continue to lobby in Harrisburg against Opening a Window for VIctims and Eliminating the Statue of Limitations. Hopefully Fr.Chris and the rest of the clergy will lobby on behalf of the Victims. I will be very interested in reading Fr. Chris’s response as to how they intend to absolve themselves of the DEATHS of these INNOCENT VICTIMS ? Again the time for talking in OVER ! I don’t want to read how sad , shocked and upset the ‘rcc’ is ! If Fr. Chris has the time maybe he can enlighten the readers as to were the money comes from that supports the lobbying group ” catholic conference of bishops” and when it is diverted form its source does it then become taxable ? Also if he has time what will he say to the PARENTS AND SURVIVORS OF VICTIMS WHO DID NOT SURVIVE ? The ‘rcc’ makes my blood boil with their “BS”!

  3. Father Chris:

    You should know that many of the people who post comments (and ask questions) on Catholics4Change are not from the Philadelphia Archdiocese. We are Catholics and non-Catholics from around the country who are concerned with your crisis, there, and the crisis, in general, in the Catholic Church. We are watching, listening and learning as your community addresses its issues. I’m chiming in from Upstate NY.

    I commend you for meeting with some of your fellow priests. I hope your discussions continue. The outcomes, however, need to be made public so that your voices and accomplishments reach the ears and hearts of priests across the country. Please discuss with your fellow priests how the progress you make can transpire into progress for ALL priests.

    Thank you.

  4. Father Chris, I appreciate that you have agreed to be on this panel. It is a great contribution to this website. At a time when I have been losing hope regarding how much priests care about this crisis, it makes me very happy to hear that some of you are meeting and actually trying to come to terms with how to deal with it. I am disappointed that many are so reluctant to speak out and be there for the people and, especially, the victims, at a time when we need priests to really BE priests. Yet, perhaps, at least some, will eventually “get there.” It seems that, in many ways, you have “gotten there.” Thanks for stepping up to share your insights. I wish you were our Pastor!

  5. You know, this is not a new crisis. It is only new to the media and Catholic parishioners who didn’t know this was going on and for so long. This crisis, from my personal perspective has been going on for over 20 years… the crisis of my life. Most victims don’t come forward until years and even decades later, which proves this isn’t a problem since the Grand Jury Report in Philly in 2011, or the crisis in Boston in 2002, or what has occurred in recent years in LA, or DE. These crimes have been occurring against kids in the Catholic Church for hundreds of years. It’s only because of our advance technology in communications that we can now see the worldwide epidemic of clergy sexual abuse.

    I believe, because of technology, and our ability to contact people fairly easily, has been the main catalyst that allows for victims to find their voices. So much has been occurring in the world, whether it’s in the US, or Belgium, or Germany, victims have the ability to see others finding their voices and are now inclined to find their own.

    Catholics, who would otherwise condemn our voices in disbelief (even though they still call us liars), can now see that our claims of abuse are not so unbelievable, because these claims are occurring all over the world, and it’s not just considered an American problem.

    Bishop-Accountability.org proves to the world just how many priests have abused children and how long abuse by clergy has been occurring. SNAP provides online contact information to support victims. Catholics on this website argue what can be done to help abolish sexual abuse inside and outside the walls of the Catholic Church. All this is made possible because of technology. Had this avenue not been available in the last 15 years, I don’t think we’d see such a long list of abuse victims and clergy abusers. It’s easier to speak up and speak out when you have supporters behind you. The information superhighway has given victims the ability to find our voices and the support we need.

    But I wonder, is all this arguing going to prevent a future child from being sexually abused? What is accomplished here, there, or anywhere on the internet that is going to stop Father Pervert from abusing the next child. What we write on our computers and what we’re willing to do in reality is totally different. That is why I protest, with a sign in my hand, that “I Am A Victims of Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy,” and it’s why I stand in front of churches and Catholic buildings and schools. What will you do?

    1. Rich, I couldn’t agree more. The only “new” here is technology. It finally puts some power in the hands of victims and parents trying to protect/prevent. By raising awareness through social media and blogs we can motivate people to move on this issue. I urge everyone to contact every person on the PA state judiciary committee and ask them to move the bills to the floor (contact and bill information is on our Resource page). Tell them your story. Appeal to their humanity. We are up against powerful insurance and Church interest lobbyists. We don’t have enough money, but we do have the currency that counts. God’s grace.

      1. Rich you are absolutely right in what you stated above. I think we should add to “what will you do?”. Don’t wait for another good person to do it for you. I am a mom of several kids and I was hoping “someone” would do “something” to stop what is going on……..the abuse the corruption and then I realized no one was speaking out but the vicitms and their families. I got to the point I could no longer call myself a Christain knowing what I know and do nothing. I am doing what I can even attending a few Vigils with sign in hand. I can no longer use the excuse I am too busy, I have kids etc…….if anything because I have kids I should care even more.FYI I prayed for everyone trying to come together to protect children and renew the church and I especially put in a good word for you Rich before the Blessed Sacrament. Rich for you to be a leader as you are after having gone thru what you have is amazing and I have alot of respect for your perservance and that of other victims in getting your stories out , demanding justice and advocating reform to protect kids.

  6. Excellent question Rich.What I am doing is focusing on the legislation which will help keep all kids in Pa. safer .There were no indictments after the 2005 Grand Jury report due to the statute of limiations and some other problems with the existing laws.Because prosecutors from that report were able to have some changes in law implemented – the indictments for Lynn and the other 4 were able to happen.

    The Church will never change,many Catholics will never change but if the laws change-that is where the only hope is.

  7. We will never know how many victims there have been. Many victims, abused many years ago have taken the secrets to their graves. Many other victims have become alcoholics and drug addicts and died because of their addictions. Many have committed suicide, leaving no reason for why they couldn’t bear to live one more day. Only 1 victim in 10 will ever come forward about the abuse they endured as a child.

    Picture 4 girls that you know. Now imagine which one of those 4 will be sexually abused before she is 18 years-old.

    Picture 6 boys you know. Now imagine which one of those boys will be sexually abused before he is 18 years-old.

    Stare at a crowd of 45,000+ fans at a Phillies game and wonder to yourself “how many victims of sexual abuse are in the stands.”

    Look at a crowd of 100 people and assume that 90 of them were abused as children and none will ever talk about it.

    Every 2 minutes & 7 seconds in the United States someone is sexually assaulted. Every 6 minutes, that “someone” is a child. It is estimated that 60 million Americans have been the victim of some type of unwanted sexual assault, either as a child or as an adult. That is one-fifth the population of this country.

    5,948 Catholic priests have been accused or implicated in abusing children and vulnerable adults. That is almost 10% of US Catholic priests. (About 9.7% to be exact)

    Do these numbers not scare the hell out of you?

  8. Actually, Susan, you do have enough money. The Catholic Church is a casino! They don’t thrive on donations from high-rollers, but the small donations that recieve from millions of people everyday. $5 taken away from the collection plate of $20 million parishioners donating will change the Church’s attitude.

  9. 1986: Archbishop Wood High School, Warminster, Pa.

    The Rev. James W. O’Neill, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and a former principal of Salesianum School in Wilmington, is accused in the lawsuit of sexually abusing former student Eric Eden hundreds of times over a 9-year period beginning in 1976, when he was 8 years old.

    Neuberger said Gondek is the third member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales to be sent to North Carolina after allegedly abusing children in Delaware.

    “Why were they being sent there?” he asked.

    Sam Waltz, a spokesman for the Wilmington-Philadelphia province of the Oblates, did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

    Officially, Donohoe won his battle in 2005 when the Rev. James Behan, a 60-year-old Oblate priest, pleaded guilty to repeatedly assaulting a teenage Donohoe in the late 1970s when Behan taught religion at the all-boys Northeast Catholic High School.

    Behan faced two decades in prison, but in a shocking decision, Common Pleas Court Judge Pamela Dembe – who wept on the bench – sentenced him to just 12 years’ probation.

    Having read 325 letters of support for Behan, Dembe said she had determined that, besides the involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and corrupting the morals of a minor the priest admitted, he had led an otherwise “godly” life.

    (information avaiable at bishopaccountability)
    This is only part of the story. Oneill worked at Wood, Kids from Philly went to Camp Brisson, and religious priests do minister in the local Philly Parishes. Oneill and Behan admitted to at least one crime.

    Thank you for your time. As the list of charged priests grows it gets more difficult to show support for the “good priests” Many left because they had difficulty with the church’s position on questions such as large families and birth control, liberation theology and basic human justice. Many stayed so they won’t abandon their flock. I pray that you are the latter. Just realize that if you had the info I have read and experienced, it would be difficult to support former religious brothers.

    Arguing for what I believe is a theological question with legal laws. These kids are/were abused and I believe God will give his/her reward later He/She doesn’t have SOLs.

  10. It is hard to know who is good. Knew too many personally that are currently accused.

    Someone “liked” boys so much they sent him to an all girl school in Wilmington, kids in Philly knew him as a problem in the 60’s – accusing a priest at that time was a problem. Talk to a 7 yr old after accusing a person of abuse – another a rape victim told by WOAR that they will accompany the victim to trial in the 70’s but didn’t. Good intentions, but don’t like the collateral damage I’ve seem. Not speaking bad about WOAR or other groups, they need to promote awareness, just worried about those who fall though the cracks

  11. You know who fall through the cracks? Kids do everyday, and because we live in a world that treats a kid like they can’t enjoy the same rights as adults do, this will continue to go on. Kids fall through the cracks when they tell their parents about the abuse, or a teacher, or a principal, and they are called liars. Kids fall through the cracks when they tell a priest, only to be abused by that priest again and again.

    At some point, all Catholics are going to have to sit down and figure out who is more important, the Church or the child? I write here how much I hate the Cathoilic Church and I really do, because the Church ruined my life. Not just the hierarchy, but the entire Catholic Church and those who support it, because when you support the abusers, you are not on my side, you are not supporting the child. Again, when I utter such distaste and anger for the RCC, my posts here are removed. But I won’t stop. I won’t stop until Catholics start revering children instead of the abusers and the people who cover-up for them.

    1. You have every right to be angry. You have been horribly wronged. Priests, bishops, and the congregation have failed their religion, failed God, and failed you and the other victims.

  12. Rich
    Here is the thing-you making blanket statements about an entire group of people is no different than the group who say “all victims are liars” I realize you hate the Catholic church-you are entitled to.
    You have come after Susan and I so many different times on this site,if people did the same to you would have cut them off long ago.You have called me stupid,accused Susan of somehow profiting by accepting contributions for the newspaper ad and just the other day accused her of not allowing your comments to be shown when in reality she had sent you an email requesting to use your comments as a guest blog.
    Boundaries Rich-respect them- respect us. The site is not radical enough for you-I get that.But instead of constantly coming to the site expressing how much you hate Catholics why don’t you spend that time focusing on your site and your efforts.I 100% believe that you want to protect children-I honestly do.I just don’t see how what you are doing here is accomplishing that goal.

  13. Rich
    If your goal is to see the destruction of the Catholic church which has been around 2,000 years and has more money and power than you or I will ever understand-than safe to say no dent is being made.If you think of your goal as holding the abusive priests and hierarchy accountable for their crimes-while that it still an uphill battle-it is much more realistic.My focus is Harrisburg,changing the laws.Direct some of your passion towards the judiciary committee who is sitting on the House Bills.The bills need to be moved out of committee for a vote.Changes in the laws since 2005 is what got Lynn and the others ARRESTED.That is a goal we may be able to see come true in our lifetime-prosecution for clergy and hierarchy who are criminals.That is how things will change .The other bonus about working towards the House Bills being passed is that Pennsylvania will be a safer state for ALL children.

  14. Rich this is catholics4change. My catholic faith helped me and my husband confront and put my husband’s offender in jail. My husband became catholic.The offender ruined my life and my husband’s life but you don’t see me saying burn down evangical churches. I know the catholic church is different because of the horrific coverups. We on this site are dedicated to protecting kids so they don’t go thru what you did. We want to changes the laws for ALL children. I want you to know……. I got involved out of compassion because I live with the pain of having a husband that was abused. I will never be the same…………….I was angry too…. putting someone in jail does not solve everything………I know………..

  15. Patrick and Rich-This book comes highly recommended by prosecutors who worked on the 2005 Grand jury report.This review is from Tom Doyle.The book is Justice Denied by Marci Hamilton

    Children had almost no personal rights through the middle ages. They were often punished as adults but had less perceived value than chattel. In our era we pride ourselves on our enlightened approach to childens’ rights and welfare. If you believe we are truly enlightened this book will shatter that belief. Professor Hamilton describes the legal quirk whereby victims of child abuse are denied their day in court and perpetrating abusers are enabled by the law. The concept of the Statute of Limitations is designed to prevent miscarriages of justice yet in the case of child abuse it promotes them. Child abuse abvocates and victims have struggled for changes in State legislation to promote laws that are far more protective of children and their rights. The shocker is that the two institutions that have done the most to prevent enlightened legislation are the institutional Catholic Church, mostly the bishops, and the insurance industry. The Church is afraid to bare its secrets and lose its power (and money too) and the insurance industry blatantly puts its money way before the welfare of children. This book is solid. It is not a polemic. It is a painful and at times shocking revelation of well documented facts by a leading constitutional legal scholar and fearless advocate for the rights of children. Get the book. You’ll be shocked, scandalized, angry and hopefully motivated to insist that your lawmakers do the right thing.

  16. Patrick and Rich I recommended this book because in many ways it reflects the direction that our efforts are going to be focused.This is a huge problem and everyone is entilted to decide what avenue they want to take- obviously if this is our focus I just want to let you know that. You both were raised catholic-you understand the mentality of many catholics and the Church.I feel like I would rather put my efforts into something that we possibly can change-the laws. I have given up on thinking that I can change the Church or the mentality of many Catholics-I don’t see it happening.Just my opinion-it doesn’t mean I am right.

  17. I know this book, “Justice Denied,” and I also know Tom Doyle and Marci Hamilton. However, to make my point clear, I am in interested in seeking justice for all abuse victims, but I’m still in “victim mode” and the books I read, which have been many, usually are associated with healing and recovery from sexual abuse. I have written over 500 letters in 2.5 years to Senators, Governors, and even the President of the United States, and received only one response – a holiday card from the White House last Christmas.

    Now, here goes something I never do, unless I completely feel wrong. I apologize if I have offended anyone here. Clearly, many people on this site do not despise the Catholic Church as much as I do. There is no excuse for some of my words, but keep in mind, you have not walked two steps in my shoes. I understand you want to help, but I believe you must also understand my anger and hurt in order to truly help. I’m a screwed up individual. I won’t deny that.

    I was not only abused by a Catholic priest, but I was also abused by the entire institution, when complaints had been lodged against this priest several years before I ever came in contact with him, and nothing was done to curb his association with young boys. My family was abused by this priest and institution when they thought that sending me to a parochial school would get me a better education and promote discipline in behavior. Every relationship I have ever had, friends or partners, has been abused by the Catholic Church because of the kind of man I grew up to be; emotionally, mentally, psychologically devastated.

    I don’t want abuse to be the defining characteristic of my life and I sure don’t want my life to be remembered as “that guy who was abused by a priest.” Having said that, I think it’s important that I try my best to change attitudes, concepts and ideas. I’m way passed the point of believing that I will change Catholic parishioner’s minds. Mostly because they won’t listen to me, or any victim or victim advocate, for that matter.

    Again, I apologize. Sometimes I read something here that sets me off, or could be considered a “trigger.” Usually I think before I write my responses, but usually I am filled with anger or sadness when printing my words on a page. Maybe some words come out wrong and I know people here have taken those words as insults, but I’d like to retract any statements I made that were found to be insulting to anyone. It was never my intention. What you see in many of my responses is the raw emotions and sometimes very rough around the edges. My apologies to both Kathy and Susan and anyone else who felt insulted.

    1. Rich I really admire you for speaking the truth. You are teaching us alot on many different levels more than you realize and when you and Vicky get to whats under all the rage it all makes complete sense. I apologize for all the indifference you have encountered you and all survivors deserve better. Anything less than a compassionate response is inhumane. How people can have such hard hearts I will never understand but many on this site even those who don’t blog are learning under all that rage is humanity, concern and compassion for others and that you have been badly hurt.. Thankyou for letting us see that it is very moving and powerful to witness.

  18. Rich
    All I want for you is to feel the support that so many are now trying to offer -I am the first to say -too little too late. I have been silent too long.I could have been doing more in the past few years and I haven’t.I cannot imagine the pain of what you have experienced not only from the abuse but from the attitudes and indifference of the many Catholics who have added to that pain.I apologize to you Rich for taking so long to wake up and realize the devastation that has occurred to so many victims while many of us have looked the other way. There is no excuse.Kathy

  19. As a person who was sexually abused as a child by two catholic priests I want to say that I think the institutional church’s response has been immoral. For that reason I would never support such a corrupt organization. I don’t think the institution (the pope, cardinals and bishops) can ever be truly reformed.

  20. Thank you Patrick!! I suffer from a severe form of Post Taumatic Stress Disorder, in part, to witnessing my father’s suicide as a seven year old child. It was all connected to these types of hienous crimes and clergy abuse when he went for help at our local parish. (Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Vineland, New Jersey) I’ve spent the last 40 years out of my 47 years fighting off suicidal tendencies myself because of everything that has happened. I couldn’t be happier to see people talking and rising up to reform the church. I fully back Barbara Blaine’s and SNAP’s move to file with the ICC. It’s a bold move that is long overdue. I’ve started a SNAP support group in Southern New Jersey (Glassboro Public Library, 2 Center St. Glassboro, N.J. second Tuesdays monthly 7:00pm-8:30pm). Suicide is much more prevelent and related to these issues than the chuch wants to admit. If it hasn’t affected you, the hierarchy doesn’t want you know about it.

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