|For victim leader Clohessy, years of
work lead to 15 minutes before the bishops
By TOM ROBERTS
David Clohessy sank into a sofa the
night of June 12 in the lobby of the Adams Mark Hotel in Dallas, just a few
blocks from the Fairmont hotel where the U.S. Catholic bishops were gathering
for this most unusual spring meeting. He had just received a phone call telling
him that he would be given a 15-minute slot the next day to address the
Fifteen minutes. He said he would be
up late working on what to say. He had his own tale of abuse -- four years of
abuse by a priest when he was a youngster. As one of the founders and now
director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), he has also
heard countless, heart-wrenching stories of horrendous abuse.
Hes exhausted, tired of this
story, of the pursuit of justice within the church, of the years of pressing
for the rights of victims. Earlier this day he had been among a group of
survivors who met with bishops and cardinals who make up the reconstituted Ad
Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse.
It would be easy for an outsider to
consider this a breakthrough day -- a meeting with the bishops that
representatives of both sides described during a news conference as frank and
productive, and an invitation, finally, to address the assembled bishops. But
Clohessy has been through such meetings and hopes before.
I first met Clohessy about 10 years
ago during another bishops meeting, one of their November gatherings in
Washington. We both recall that it must have been in the early 90s, long
before the story exploded in Boston. I met with him and four or five other
survivors in my hotel room. I had read many of their stories already. This
time, however, I sat and listened. I saw them. I heard the ache in voices that
for too long had been silenced. It was a startling and deeply disturbing
meeting. Earlier in the day the group had met with a few bishops. They thought
it was a breakthrough. Some bishops had finally actually listened. Maybe it
would be the start of a new approach, they thought.
It would be unfair to say it
wasnt in some cases. Dioceses did take the matter seriously and institute
policies, and better screening policies were put in place in
But it is clear now that in, too many
cases, priests were still shuffled around from assignment to assignment,
victims were still being countersued. Kids were still being hurt. Clohessy and
other victims kept pressing.
So now he is to get his 15 minutes.
What will he say?
Even if you dont agree with him
in all details, Clohessy makes you understand his uncompromising push for zero
tolerance. I know I dont get too nuanced about the difference
between victims who are 10 or 12 or 16
To me its all abuse of
He said he wont spend a whole
lot of time thanking the bishops for the opportunity. He has had to fight too
long and too hard for the 15 minutes.
When he went into the meeting earlier
in the day, any excitement he might have felt was tempered by the long fight to
get there. I have the most skewed perspective because it feels we fought
so hard just to be in that room. That influenced my gut feeling. I was just
exhausted walking through that door.
Ten years ago, he said, just as today,
there was a lot of emotion, a lot of passion. But somehow it all
just got lost. Now hes wary. His expectations are lower. His concern for
kids and keeping them out of harms way, especially strong now that he has
two sons of his own.
Whatever he says during the meeting,
he has already repeated countless times what he wants out of this meeting: A
policy that would promise more assistance to victims and their families,
removal of all known sex offenders from the priesthood, and removal of all
bishops who knew of abuse and protected priest offenders.