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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Steve Sheehan, advocate for survivors and sexually abused children stands up to Roman Catholic Church

Interview with Steve Sheehan
Q: Steve, You have been a crusader fighting for justice for the children and adults sexually abused by the Roman Catholic Church.  How long have you been doing this and why did you start?


A: I have been working as an advocate for over twelve years.  On January 6, 2002 the Boston Globe broke the story of the cover up of sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.  At that time I became a member of Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) a group whose mission is to reform the Catholic Church. VOTF helped people realize that Cardinal Bernard Law was responsible for the cover up in Boston and this increased the pressure on him to resign from the church.

 In July 2002 there was a convention of VOTF at the Hynes Auditorium in Boston.  David Clohessy from SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, www.snapnetwork.org ) was there, as was Tom Doyle (a priest and long-time advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse) and Jason Berry, a writer since the 1980's on the abuse cover up.

Immediately following the convention there was a meeting (demonstration) of survivors and advocates at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston which included three survivors who had spoken at the auditorium. The survivors told their stories and the last to speak finished by saying that she had always felt terribly alone. She opened her arms and said, "I'll never feel alone again."  I decided that, if I could help it, the survivors would never be alone again.

On the following Sunday the survivors were standing on the sidewalk in front of the Church.  I hesitated to join them because I had never been abused myself; I had no money to give them and was not a psychologist. I didn't know if a survivors group would want me to join them. I almost drove away but then I decided to say hello. I couldn't believe how happy they were for me to join them. They said they just wanted me to stand with them and to believe them.

Q: Steve, you've been involved in other demonstrations and with other organizations, what else do you do to help survivors?


A: In Massachusetts there was no effective Child Endangerment Law which made it difficult to indict Cardinal Law.  But in New Hampshire there was such a law. I went to Manchester, NH where Bishop John McCormack (whom we called “safe house” Jack) was moving rapist priests from one parish to another.  He had previously served as a top aide to Cardinal Law in Boston.  McCormack made a deal with the Attorney General that he would turn over 9,000 pages of diocese documents and in return was granted immunity from prosecution.  Every Sunday for a year we stood on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral calling for his resignation.  McCormack resigned in 2010.

I also went around to churches where there were known abusers.  I still participate in a vigil with the group STTOP at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross which has met every Sunday from 2002 to now.

 Photo: STTOP group with Steve Sheehan in plaid suit
Q: What is STTOP?  ( http://sttop.org/index.htm  )

A:  STTOP (Speak Truth to Power) was formed in response to revelations of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church.  The group has weekly vigils in front of the cathedral in Boston and periodically in front of local churches where credibly accused priests have been reassigned.

Photo: Demonstration in front of St. Brendans, Steve Sheehan in center


Comment: STTOP demonstrated in November 2002 in Washington, D.C. at the annual Catholic Bishops Conference. Steve and others demonstrated in front of their hotel; they had signs. The bishops tried to ignore the STTOP demonstrators but when they had to go out for dinner, the only way to get to the bus transporting them was past STOPP. The bishops hurried by but they wouldn't make eye contact.  


Q: You also belong to the NSAC, a national survivor advocate group, tell us about that group.
  
A: In Feb 2009, the NSAC (National Survivor Advocates Coalition) was formed and I became the newsletter editor for the group.  http://nationalsurvivoradvocatescoalition.wordpress.com 

This group promotes justice for survivors of sexual abuse -- especially by any clergy from any and all religious institutions. NSAC sent me to Ireland for the SNAP international conference and also sent a survivor from Africa. When Bishop Finn was convicted in Kansas City for withholding evidence, I went there with NSAC where there was a press conference for local media. 

Photo:  NSAC demonstration in Kansas City


Q: You are also a member of SNAP. How did you come to join this group?  www.snap-network.org  

A:  In 2002, David Clohessy came to Boston several times.  At that time a person had to be a survivor to join SNAP, so I asked David about it and he said that of course I could be a member, so I joined SNAP. I have been working with them ever since. I attend SNAP survivor meetings and their annual meeting and advocate for survivors.
  
Comment:  Anyone who knows what the church has done to children, who knows about the torture and abuse is also psychologically abused by this knowledge and is a victim.


Photo:  George Barilla and Steve Sheehan at SNAP meeting in Chicago 2014

Q: Steve, do you work with any group to help change sexual abuse laws?

A: I work with CORSAL, the Coalition to Reform Sex Abuse laws in Massachusetts. This group helps raise awareness and works with legislators to help pass bills that will help survivors.  Carmen Durso, a Massachusetts attorne (who represents numerous survivors) chairs this group.  I have testified before a joint subcommittee on revising the statute of limitations law.  Recently the law was changed to allow survivors time to testify against their perpetrators until 53 years of age.  (www.corsal.org  )

Q: When they demonstrate, why do the survivors carry photos of themselves when they were children?

A: When people look at adult survivors, some think, “Why didn't you do something to stop the abusers?  Why couldn't you get help?” Well, when they see the photos of the victims as children they realize that the abuse happened to young children who were helpless and frightened – not to the adult they now are.  Then they understand how horrible the crimes are. 

Q: Steve, what can you say to the survivors reading this blog, many of whom are still feeling that they are alone – and to the supporters of these survivors?

A:  No two survivors are alike. Each is in his or her own path toward healing.  If possible, survivors should find a way to share their personal abuse story with others as a step in healing. One way (but not the only way) is to join a SNAP survivor meeting group.  Supporters must listen to these stories and reassure the survivors that they are believed and will be supported in their healing journey. Our goal is to support current survivors and to protect the children who remain so vulnerable.


Comment:  I and other survivors appreciate what Steve does. We hope more advocates will follow his lead in his quest to help survivors and protect the children.