Tuesday, June 30, 2020

David Clohessy of SNAP Speaking Outside Southern Baptist Convention, Birmingham, Alabama, June 2019: How to Effect Real Change with Churches and Abuse

I'd like to share with readers a presentation that David Clohessy of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) made in June 2019 when the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. I'm grateful to David for permitting me to share it here, and to Carol Yeager of SNAP in North Carolina for sharing this video with me. 

As I share this valuable resource, I'm thinking of an editorial that appeared two days ago in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.* The editorial is entitled "Partial disclosure of church abuse raises as many questions as it answers." It's responding to the recent release by the Catholic men's religious community the Marianists of names of priests and religious in that community who have abused minors.

The Post-Dispatch responds to this event as follows:

There's a familiar pattern in a new revelation by a St. Louis-based Catholic order of former members who worked at area schools and allegedly abused kids: The revealed cases are old ones — so much so that many of the accused are already dead — and details about what the church knew and when it knew it remain murky. As the church should know by now, there's a difference between really offering full disclosure and trying to appear to offer full disclosure.

As the editorial goes on to note, not only are the names of those on the Marianist list names of men who have died, for the most part, but sparse information is provided about where these men lived and worked. And so, as the editorial concludes, "[T]he 'accountability' part only goes so far."

I'm also thinking as I share David Clohessy's remarks of the valuable multi-part report that the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published last year, documenting years of hidden abuse — and lack of accountability and transparency by leaders — within the Southern Baptist Convention. What David has to say in the video above challenges leaders of any and all religious groups that continue to hide abuse by religious authority figures and play diversionary games as survivors come forward.

Here are David's key points — the key points of advice he gives to those who want to protect minors and change the systems fostering abuse:

1. First and foremost, protect the kids

Ask yourself, no matter what is voted on or approved, "Will this step protect one child tomorrow?" If the answer is no, let it go.

2. Ignore church promises

Panels and policies and procedures and protocols and all that stuff — those are just promises on paper. They're words on paper. Promises don't protect kids. Performance protects kids. They exist for two reasons, these policies and procedures: for legal defense and public relations. Ignore them.

3. Ignore church officials

At best, dealing with them is a distraction and at worst, it's demoralizing. And it gives them another opportunity to puff out their chests and do some P-R and say, "Look, aren't we magnanimous dealing with these poor pathetic victims?"

What does work, what should we be doing instead?

1. Continue to create external pressure

Criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, exposing wrongdoers in public, reforming archaic predator-friendly laws: that stuff works. 

2. Make heads roll

The simple fact is, nothing changes human behavior like consequences for wrongdoing, and wrongdoing that's ignored is wrongdoing that's encouraged. When some of these men — not just those who commit, but those who conceal abuse -- when they start being demoted and defrocked and disciplined and denounced, that's when change really happens.

*A note of gratitude to Steve Sheehan for sharing this link in his Bishop Accountability News emailed newsletter.

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