Pope Francis has now been installed and the world’s Catholics are looking to see where he will lead the church. But one man in Rome has been trying to make sure the Vatican also deals with the church’s troubled past.
David Clohessy, who says he was a victim of sexual abuse at a young age by a Catholic priest, is the director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. By his count, he held 15 news conferences in Rome in the weeks leading up to the conclave at the Vatican.
Some of them at the Orange Hotel were packed, others were empty.
Clohessy soldiered on, and S.N.A.P. has mailed letters and sent faxes to the Vatican, hoping for a meeting or some type of response from Pope Francis. The group feels the issue of sexual abuse might fade away amid the fascination with a newly elected Pope who has charmed the public and the media.
A report this week in The Washington Post said there was no evidence that Pope Francis, previously the Archpbishop of Buenos Aries and known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, tried to cover up sex abuse cases. However, he remained silent after a priest under his leadership was convicted of sex abuse in 2009, the report noted.
Accusations Against Jesuits
Pope Francis is a Jesuit, and S.N.A.P. says that many Jesuit priests, mostly teachers, in the U.S. and abroad, have been accused of sexually abusing children.
According to S.N.A.P. and an affiliate organization, BishopAccountability.org, nearly 60 Jesuit priests in the U.S. from the Jesuits’ Northwest Province (which covers Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Montana) were reported for child sexual abuse by 700 victims from 2002 to 2011. The groups allege the abuse was particularly severe in Alaska.
Clohessy said Pope Francis has to take up the issue of sexual abuse by priests and hold them accountable.
“Gestures, like taking the name Francis, or carrying your own luggage, or living in a small apartment, however encouraging they might be, we can’t as responsible adults be so moved by these positive first impressions that we forget about the children who are being assaulted, right here and right now,” Clohessy said.
Recalling a friend who as a child had been sexually abused by a Jesuit priest in St. Louis (a school that Clohessy’s father attended) he said, “I’ve talked to many who’ve gone to Jesuit schools, and feel incredibly grateful about the education they got.”
Clohessy then added, “and yet their positive memories and their positive feelings towards their school are now completely polluted by the fact that they know that one or two or five other classmates were undergoing this horror while they were flourishing and learning and thriving and making life-long bonds of friendship.”
He tried to keep his composure as he answered, but his handkerchief could hold back the tears.
“I cry every single day,” Clohessy said.