Response from SNAP’s National Director to a recent post on Off My Knees

Through an email released by SNAP to its leaders a few days ago, David Clohessy responded to the blog of  “a relatively new leader” (that would be me), specifically the post entitled What’s the SNAP Game Plan for the New Bishop of Scranton?

Some thoughts from David Clohessy

When SNAP issues public statements, like we did with Bambera, we have several goals.

Our first goal is to try to prevent future harm and betrayal. We feel it’s our obligation to point out recklessness, deceit and callousness in decision-makers. (If you know your neighbor’s dog has bitten kids, it’s your job, we believe, to warn the parents who move onto the block.) This is especially true when such a decision-maker is promoted and/or gets fawning public attention (as most incoming bishops do). That’s because there’s a natural, but dangerous temptation to assume that the new guy will automatically be better than the old guy. So when a new bishop is named, some survivors, witnesses and whistleblowers often think “Well, instead of calling the police, or the prosecutor, or a lawyer, or a journalist or SNAP, I’ll go to the new bishop and give him a chance to take action here.” We think that’s unwise and often leads to two unfortunate consequences. The individual ends up feeling hurt and betrayed again and the meeting ends up giving church officials more information and opportunities to better hide clergy sex crimes and better prepare themselves, PR-wise, for the day those crimes are revealed.

A second goal is to deter future recklessness, deceit and callousness by decision-makers. One way to do that is to show decision-makers that if they hurt victims or endanger kids, their wrong-doing will be remembered and exposed.

Put another way, we can’t change or control the actions of decision-makers. We can, and should, make people aware of those actions, so that individuals can be forewarned and protect themselves, and so that other decision-makers realize “Geez, if I am mean or deceptive or insensitive now, it may come back to  haunt me later.”

Now the issue of meeting with church officials. . .

As a moral matter, it seems to me that those who ignore or conceal child sex crimes should be the ones offering to meet with those who’ve been harmed. Many survivors, in fact, feel it’s unhealthy for us to go back time and time again to the same rigid, ancient, secretive, all-male church hierarchy seeking help, much as it’s often unhealthy for a battered spouse to keep reuniting with a violent partner again and again, just because the batterer says he or she will change.

As a practical matter, it seems that non-profits have a duty (especially small ones) to use scarce resources in the most productive ways possible. That’s certainly what we in SNAP try hard to do. We have essentially three choices.

1.We can focus our energies doing the things that we KNOW work: exposing predators, helping police, educating citizens, prodding whistleblowers and witnesses to act, setting up support groups across t he country, consoling the many survivors who contact us, and changing archaic, arbitrary, predator-friendly laws.

2. We can try things that MIGHT work, good new ideas and approaches that are suggested to us.

3. Or we can go back to again trying things that have NOT worked in the past, and hope that somehow they’ll work now.

For us, the first two choices seem wise and safe and productive. The latter, for the most part, doesn’t.

For years, from 1988 through much of the 1990s, we met with a number of bishops, sometimes over and over again. The meetings were at best, a stunning waste of time, and at worst, hurtful and distracting, taking valuable time and energy that could and should have been put to more productive use.

No one really knows what’s in the hearts and minds of others. So we have to make assumptions. There are, I think, two basic assumptions. One is that bishops act the way they do because they lack knowledge. The other is that bishops act the way they do because they lack courage. For years, we believed the former. Experience, history and common sense, however, have convinced us of the latter.

Our view is NOT that we spend too little time meeting with church officials. It’s that we spend too much time doing so. Because we are good people, with good intentions, and want to protect kids, we give church officials more and more and more opportunities to make excuses, shift blame, posture as victims, and mislead us, instead of concentrating on doing the outreach we’ve always done that we know really works. And we talk with bishops, which gives them more and more chances to posture as “pastoral” to the public and parishioners, just because they’re willing to spent a few minutes in the same room with us.

So our advice to our dedicated, caring volunteer SNAP leaders, and others, is this: Use your precious time, energy and resources prudently. If a church official asks you to meet, give it serious consideration. Be open-minded. Don’t immediately reject any new or unusual offer or approach.

But think about it long and hard first. Talk with other experienced SNAP leaders. Keep in mind that you, and others, may end up being or feeling betrayed and used. You will likely end up believing it was a waste of time.

If you still may want to arrange such a meeting, here’s a suggested safe, reasonable first step. Ask, before agreeing to meet, for a tangible, helpful action from the bishop as a sign of “good faith.” Ask the bishop, in advance, to put

  • a link to SNAP in his diocesan newspaper first,
  • a notice (that WE write or approve) urging victims to call police in his parish bulletins first, or
  • a list of predator priests on his diocesan website first.

Don’t like these ideas? Come up with your own. (It’s best to make them quick, inexpensive, practical ‘action steps,’ preferably ones other church officials have done. It’s best to avoid vague, symbolic self-serving public relations stuff like ‘hold a healing service.’) Then tell the church official “Do one of these first. That’ll show us you’re sincere and that sitting down face-to-face might be fruitful. Surely you understand our hesitancy and skepticism. So just do one thing now to heal the wounded or protect the vulnerable. Then we’ll feel more reassured and optimistic and we’ll consider meeting with you.”

But our bottom line recommendation is

  • Persistently educate others about corrupt decision-makers, so people can protect themselves, and
  • Relentlessly focus yourself on the efforts that we KNOW make a difference (rather than gamble on activities that may or may not make a difference and might well end up further harming those already in pain).

In any organization there will be disagreements. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Clohessy on a couple of points and I do have some suggestions, some of which I brought up at the August 2009 SNAP conference in Northern Virginia. I suggested that we make use of social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, etc…) to better communicate with each other. When the conversations all go through one point there is the potential of filtering. Survivors should be able to talk to other survivors, especially those in remote locations where the SNAP organization is either not available or not active. I recommend that we come up with a listing of survivors who are blogging or managing websites that cover this subject. We should link our sites or blogs to each other. We can use those resources as an additional way to get the word out. They could be grouped under the “Speaking Out” page.

One of the core principles that I have stuck to with my blog is to do no harm to another survivor. I have talked to some survivors who wish to remain anonymous. I have had long phone calls and email exchanges with classmates or siblings of victims. I have kept their comments in confidence. I have advised them to seek out help from law enforcement, district attorneys, and referred them to organizations that could assist them, including SNAP. I specifically advised them not to go to the diocese with the initial report.

I take issue with Mr. Clohessy insinuating that I am hurting other victims. 

As for meeting with the Bishop-elect of Scranton, that will be my decision, when and if an agreement to meet is reached. I do have conditions, although not necessarily those mentioned by SNAP’s National Director. I have and will continue to seek the advise of those who I trust. If I do go and meet with him, I will not be doing so as a SNAP representative, I will not be calling for a press conference and I will not represent myself to be anything else than a survivor who would like some answers. I understand that I may be ultimately disappointed, however that is for me to determine.

I am hoping there is room in SNAP for differing opinions.

Jesus is Alive, Well and Living in a Pizza Bucket in Scranton

Is this really Jesus?
Another visit to the You Gotta Be Kidding Me File…  On a snowy day in Scranton, one of the headlines in the Scranton Times-Tribune website reads “Pizzeria worker sees Jesus in sauce bucket on first Friday of Lent”.

Only a few days after the announcement that Monsignor Bambera will take over as Bishop of Scranton, a sighting of the son of God has been made in a bucket of pizza sauce. Really, I can’t make this stuff up. If the above link does not work, read on! I have pasted the text of the article by JEREMY G. BURTON, a staff writer at the paper.  Enjoy!

When Mary Louise Salerno saw Jesus Christ in a bucket of pizza sauce, her instinct was not to alert the media or even to tell many friends.

She did not want people descending on her family’s West Scranton pizzeria, and she did not want to invite critics or doubters of what she felt was a clear sign.

“To us, it was something special,” Ms. Salerno, 65, of Old Forge said. “God smiled on us that day.”

The image of Jesus has a history of unexpected appearances, from rocks and windows to medical X-rays and a tortilla. Add to that a sauce bucket at Brownie’s Famous Pizzeria, a long-standing eatery on Luzerne Street. It happened on the first Friday of Lent.

Ms. Salerno was at Brownie’s and talking with her granddaughter, 23-year-old Jackie Krouchick, while she made a pizza. Her granddaughter is a single mother who she said is struggling through tough times. Ms. Krouchick told her grandmother she worried she was losing her faith.

As Ms. Salerno poured tomato sauce from a white plastic bucket, she urged her granddaughter to keep believing. That is when she saw it, the image of a man with long hair and a beard in the leftover sauce.

Bill Salerno, the owner of Brownie’s and brother of Ms. Salerno, said he was skeptical until he saw it for himself. Maryann Marsico, who works at Brownie’s, said even an atheist would find it unmistakable.

“My 2-year-old grandson knows who it was. … He just looked at it and said, ‘That’s Papa Jesus,’ ” Ms. Marsico said.

It was not lost on Ms. Marsico that Jesus appeared at Brownie’s at the start of Lent, a holy Christian time that also happens to spur pizza sales because observers are not supposed to eat meat on Fridays.

“I will never cheat and eat meat again,” she said.

The bucket was placed in a cooler for a while, and a family friend insisted on taking a video of the image, which was posted on YouTube. On Wednesday, though, Brownie’s washed the bucket out with Ms. Salerno’s permission.

The message had been delivered, she said, and she did not want the image of her Lord “just sitting there in a pizza place.”

Mr. Salerno, 55 and also from Old Forge, said he is not a churchgoing man but he is religious, and seeing Jesus on that pizza sauce bucket was all the proof he needs.

“Jesus is everywhere, even in a little pizzeria in West Side,” he said.

I examined the picture very carefully and I think it is Janis Joplin. What do you think?

What’s the SNAP Game Plan for the New Bishop of Scranton?

Yesterday, the Vatican announced the appointment of Monsignor Joseph Bambera as the 10th Bishop of Scranton.  I jumped right on this, I am a blogger, that is what I do.  Other people jumped on it as well.  SNAP  issued a few statements yesterday.  One of them was on Bishop-elect Bambera of Scranton.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a SNAP point of contact for the southeastern area of the Commonwealth of Virginia. (I wonder if I will continue to be a POC after I publish this post.)

David Clohessy, the National Director of SNAP, issued a statement condemning the appointment of Monsignor Bambera.   The text of that press release reads:

SNAP Press Statement

For immediate release: Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sex abuse victims blast new Catholic bishop

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915 home)

Bambera is a poor choice and his promotion worries and insults us. Under oath, Bambera admitted that barely a decade ago, he refused to report a credibly accused predator priest to police, in violation of his diocese’s own child sex abuse policy.

He also admitted relying on the word of an accused priest without even questioning that cleric’s alleged victim.

This decision raises a troubling question: Is it that hard for the Vatican to find good, smart priests who have not concealed horrific crimes against kids?

As long as Catholic officials continue to promote corrupt colleagues, child sex crimes and cover ups will continue happening.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 9,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

There are some really good points here, I will be the first to stand up and say that some of the things Mr. Clohessy said are dead on. My concern is that Mr. Clohessy is burning bridges ahead of himself. Has he advanced SNAP’s cause by immediately identifying Bishop-elect Bambera as the enemy? Has SNAP even approached the Diocese of Scranton to set up a meeting with the newly appointed bishop to talk about our concerns and to seek redress for grievances? Has the new Bishop declined a meeting with survivors?

As someone who was raped by a priest in the Diocese of Scranton as a child, I have a desire to seek out effective ways to deal with the problems that still exist in the Catholic Church. I have been very frustrated by the staff of the Chancery and Bishop Martino, “The Bully of Wyoming Avenue” was no friend to survivors. I have questions that I want to have answered. I would like to know why the Diocese did not do an investigation into my “credible allegations”? If they did an investigation, they neglected to talk to me. Why wasn’t Father Gibson reported to the Vatican for canonical action? Why wasn’t he defrocked? Why weren’t the parishes he was assigned to over the years notified? Why wasn’t there an effort to identify more victims? What is the Diocese doing for survivors?

Bishop-elect Bambera has some baggage, I will stipulate to that. He had a hand in sending Robert Gibson out of the jurisdiction that could have prosecuted him.

We can’t change what has happened, we can only try to chart a better course for the future. Why don’t we try to sit down with the new bishop and have a conversation. If he is willing to work with us, why don’t we offer him the courtesy of working with him. If he shuts us down or sends Bill Genello out to talk to us as a proxy we will know where he stands.

If we change the tone of the introduction, perhaps we will be able to actually have a conversation. David may have set a tone with the new Bishop that makes it impossible, at least for now, to have a discussion.

If the purpose of leadership of SNAP is focusing solely on crying foul every time a new Bishop is appointed, we have no chance of engaging this church to make changes and seek justice. If our organization (and yes I claim part ownership of SNAP as a member, a contributor, a representative and a survivor) is going to declare the entire Catholic Church as the enemy and focus our efforts on legislation that will allow us to extract our pound of flesh from the individual diocese, lets announce that and move out to attain that goal. What I do not want to see is SNAP becoming the new PETA. That organization started out with honorable goals but has become the bad punchline of a worse joke.

SNAP has done a lot of good things for people in their 21+ years of advocating for survivors and their families. They have helped me, personally, in many ways. Maybe it is time to relook at the organizations goals, methods and activities to see if we are still on course. If not, let’s make a change. Why don’t we have a conversation?

Vatican Appoints New Bishop of Scranton

By Michael Baumann

The Vatican appointed Monsignor Joseph Bambera as the 10th Bishop of Scranton. Bishop-elect Bambera is a native of Carbondale, Pennsylvania and is only the second local priest to be appointed to lead the Scranton See.  He has been running the day-to-day business of the Diocese since the premature retirement of Bishop Joseph Martino in August 2009.  With a vacancy in the Bishop’s chair, Cardinal Rigali of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has served as Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese.

Bishop-elect Bambera will be ordained and installed as Bishop during a mass at Saint Peters Cathedral in Scranton on April 26th.  At that time he will take over a Diocese that has reeled under the ineffective leadership of his two predecessors.  Bishop Martino retired well before the tradition retirement age for Bishops amid several controversies over the closing of churches and schools in the diocese, heavy-handed political threats, intolerance and interference with Catholic Universities in his See and the perception among his critics that he employed bullying tactics to force compliance while avoiding contact with his flock.  Bishop James Timlin was active in the cover-up of sexual crimes committed by more than 24 priests in the Diocese of Scranton over the years.

Bishop-elect Bambera will take over a Diocese struggling to balance the rich traditions of ethnic parishes and schools with the requirement to be fiscally responsible.  He will be dealing with skeptical and often hostile members of his church who are puzzled at the actions, inactions and decisions of his immediate predecessor, Bishop Martino.  Bishop Martino may go down in the history of the Diocese of Scranton as “The Great Divider”.

If I may be so bold as to offer the Bishop-elect a piece of advise…  Get out and talk to your flock, listen to what they have to say about issues that are affecting their lives.  Even if decisions have to be made at the Diocesan level that will be unpopular and will impact the structure of parishes and the assignment of resources (money, priest assignments, facility maintenance) go out and explain why you came to the decision you have made.

One of the things I was impressed with about Bishop-elect Bambera was that his goal after being assigned to run the Diocese temporarily, was to return to his parish.  There were no reports that he aspired to the seat of this See.  I hope this is indicative of his sense of service, his attachment to his parishioners and his compassion.

Perhaps this man will be the Bishop of Scranton who will reach out, in a meaningful way, to the community of survivors of sexual crimes by clergy in this Diocese over the years.  I would offer that Bishop-elect Bambera should meet with survivors at a location such as the University of Scranton to discuss the abuses of the past (both by the priests who committed sexual assaults on children and vulnerable adults and the Bishops and other church officials who protected those criminals at the expense of the victims).

I would like to meet with this man to discuss the topic of  sexual crimes committed by priests in his Diocese.  I would like him to hear from as many of us as possible  and hope that he would be open to listening and shaping real course for change.  (Joan Holmes, Bill Genello, and/or James Early, if you are reading this, it may be a good time to tell the new boss that survivors would like to speak to him).  I will happily make the trip north to meet with Bishop-elect Bambera.

The door is open, maybe now would be a good time to talk.

Note:  If you are a survivor of abuse at the hands of a Diocese of Scranton priest or other religious and would be interested in meeting with the Bishop-elect, contact me and I will try to arrange a meeting at an appropriate and safe location.

Father Gabriel, Former “Mr. Oregon”?

It seems that our favorite rogue priest is rather talented at misrepresenting himself on the internet.  He apparently is taking full advantage of his “computer skills”  and putting himself out there on-line.  Take this offering from his page on (sic):

After High School I work as a professional model and actor. In 1990 I was named “Mr. Oregon” and spent the next year representing the State of Oregon as a Jr. Embasador. Then I did something radical- I joined a monastery which is when I exchanged the name Brad for Gabriel. On June 29, 2002 I was ordained to the priesthood and was given permission by the Vatican to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass exclusily in Latin and according to the Missal of 1962. I have been blessed to travel around the world and am currently waiting for the plublication of my first book, entitled “Traditional Catholicism and the Renewal of Culture”. I have beeen the Pastor of St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church in York, PA since June. (…

Notice he says he is the pastor of “St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church in York, PA”. One would think this is a sanctioned Roman Catholic parish, and yet it is not.   He is not a Catholic priest in good standing. Google his name and see why. Read this blog and see why.  I made a screen grab of the Classmates page, just to make sure I have it when he or his proxies (Chairman Dave) start protesting. For someone who claims he is not proficient in computer usage and who’s supporters claim was framed on charges related to kiddie porn,  he doesn’t seem to have any difficulty misrepresenting himself on-line.  How creepy is that photo?

Note to “Mr. Oregon”: “SPELL CHECK”!

This man is misrepresenting the facts, his words from his classmates page bear that out. He continues to be a potential threat to the children of the religious group that jealously defends him.  He is a potential danger to the children in the York, Pennsylvania community.

If anyone can shed light on this “reign” as Mr. Oregon, I am very interested in the story, especially if someone can clear up if it is fiction or non-fiction.

In case you have not heard:

The Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, has advised the
Conference of its concerns regarding Fr. Gabriel Francis (Virgil
Bradley) Tetherow, an incardinated priest of the Diocese who
was arrested for possession of child pornography in March
2005. Fr. Tetherow’s case is pending before the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. It has recently come to the
attention of the Diocese that Fr. Tetherow is celebrating Mass
for apparently schismatic group in York, Pennsylvania. Fr.
Tetherow’s faculties were removed and he is forbidden to
engage in any public ministry. Those needing further
information are asked to contact James B. Early, Chancellor of
the Diocese of Scranton, at 570-207-2216.

“Father Gabriel” took a plea deal to avoid jail. According to court documents, there was ample evidence to convict.

I believe in all paths to healing…

I believe that every survivor of sexual abuse, especially those who were attacked as children, needs to find some way to heal and move on with their life. There is no magic solution, there is no one path to a point where the past is in perspective and the baggage we carry can be put down. We all need to move on in our own way and at our own pace.

A few days ago there was a comment to one of my blog posts by Gretchen Paules, the Administrative Director of Let Go… Let Peace In Foundation promoting the organization’s website and goal to help people cope with the abuse they suffered as children. To quote the website:

The mission of Let Go, Let Peace Come In is to bring healing, support, and awareness to the hundreds of millions of adult childhood sexual abuse survivors and their families worldwide. We plan to enact change within the healthcare systems, political systems, and societies by teaching and educating through the current technologies. We will weave our message of peace, hope, recovery and happiness into the fabric of these societies by integrating published materials with video, audio and Internet media throughout the world. And we will raise money for a non-profit fund to provide the financial assistance necessary to start survivors of childhood sexual abuse on the path to recovery “one” survivor at a time.

For many of us, the hardest thing we have to do to start on the road towards healing and support is to actually tell the great terrible secret. I held on to my secret for over 30 years, during that time it slowly ate away at me. It also had a way of coming out in the form of risky behavior, unpredictability and isolation from the people who cared about me. We all need some help to sort out what has happened to us. This site offers a way to do that. It may motivate you to take steps towards finding some peace. Remember that your story is your own and no one who cares about you will diminish you once reach out for help.

You are not alone.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I believe in all paths to healing. I am all for any attempt to organize survivors and move them forward. I believe in the strength of numbers influencing laws and advocating for better counseling and education. I also believe that we can take a horrible part of our lives and turn it around for something good. I think we can raise awareness and maybe help to prevent a child from becoming the victim of a crime of sexual abuse.

I believe in all paths. Here is a path for you to explore.

Polish priest checks fingerprints for mass attendance

A report in Reuters and documented on a host of blogs and websites describes the latest tactic employed by priests in keeping their young “charges” in line. I am quoting the article in its entirety:

WARSAW (Reuters Life!) – A Polish priest has installed an electronic reader in his church for schoolchildren to leave their fingerprints in order to monitor their attendance at mass, the Gazeta Wyborcza daily said on Friday.

The pupils will mark their fingerprints every time they go to church over three years and if they attend 200 masses they will be freed from the obligation of having to pass an exam prior to their confirmation, the paper said.

The pupils in the southern town of Gryfow Slaski told the daily they liked the idea and also the priest, Grzegorz Sowa, who invented it.

“This is comfortable. We don’t have to stand in a line to get the priest’s signature (confirming our presence at the mass) in our confirmation notebooks,” said one pupil, who gave her name as Karolina.

Poland is perhaps the most devoutly Roman Catholic country in Europe today and churches are regularly packed on Sundays.

(Reporting by Kuba Jaworowski, editing by Paul Casciato)

While this all seems harmless enough, it is pretty creepy. The last thing I would want is the church tracking my child’s attendance at church through personally identifying information such as fingerprints. It would seem that the next thing would be to have a chip installed in the child and reader installed at the church to work in much the same way as EZPass. Attendance at mass is recorded as the child walks through the door. If they decide to bolt out the door after communion and avoiding the end of the mass, they could be reprimanded. Hey I never did that, but I am sure my sister did!

A really enterprising padre, with something else than the true meaning of Matthew 19:14 on his mind could use the tracking device to find one of the more vulnerable children for “personal counseling”.

Any use of tracking technology needs to be forbidden by the Catholic Church or by a priest, especially if it is used to “track” children. I have a better idea, why don’t we just track the priests who have been credibly accused of sexual crimes against children with a Clergy LoJack-off monitor.  I also have some suggestions if we catch them in the act.  I’ll give you a hint, it requires a long stay in a small cell and not a retreat center in Missouri or New Mexico.