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We Need More Than Apologies, President Of Survivors Network Says


For two years, a grand jury in Pennsylvania investigated the sexual abuse of children in six Roman Catholic dioceses across the state. They pored through a half-million pages of church documents held in secret archives. They spoke to more than a dozen priests. And they also heard from victims. The grand jury report released yesterday found some 300 predator priests had abused more than a thousand children. It also detailed an extraordinary cover-up that went on for decades. This is the voice of Pennsylvania's Attorney General Josh Shapiro.


JOSH SHAPIRO: The abuse scarred every diocese. The cover-up was sophisticated. And, all the while, church leadership kept records of the abuse.

GREENE: This certainly is not the first discovery of systematic abuse, but it is one of the most exhaustive investigations of the church ever done. Most of the cases, however, will not be prosecuted. The statutes of limitations in Pennsylvania have already passed. Yesterday Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown, Pa., who is named in the report, read a statement.


ALFRED SCHLERT: I sincerely apologize for the past sins and crimes committed by some members of the clergy. I apologize to the survivors of abuse and their loved ones.

GREENE: Tim Lennon is a survivor of abuse himself. He is now president of the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, and he joins us this morning from St. Louis Public Radio. Mr. Lennon, thank you for giving us the time morning.

TIM LENNON: I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this issue because the more we raise community awareness, the better that our children are going to be protected and prevent any future child abuse.

GREENE: So you see this is a really meaningful moment in terms of getting the word out about what happened here in terms of protecting kids going forward.

LENNON: Yeah. I think that the public exposure of the systematic and historic sexual abuse of children by clergy is true in Pennsylvania, but I also think that it's important to understand that any other state, any other diocese is going to have the same problem. So whether it's in California, or Texas, or Illinois or Florida, I believe similar investigations will show the same systematic and historic abuse of children and its cover-up.

GREENE: We heard the voice of a bishop in Pennsylvania there apologizing. I mean, he was one of the church officials who handled sexual abuse complaints in Pennsylvania. The report found that he and others did not act on them, besides pressuring abusing priests to retire. Are apologies like that meaningful to you?

LENNON: No. I think for some survivors, it's important to be recognized the harm that's done to them. But the harm of child sex abuse is a lifelong injury and harm. So apologies are fine. The bishop of Harrisburg wanted to remove the names of buildings. That's fine. The pope has given apologies. That's fine. But we really, what we need is a change in society where civil society investigates, where civil society demands that the church release all the secret documents, that there be similar exposure in every diocese. For instance, in Harrisburg, previous to this grand jury report, there was 10 clergy predator priests identified. Now we find out there's 72. So the church knew. The church knew for years, if not decades, and it's only when they've been exposed that we come out with a better understanding of the scope of this. And what we need to do is to make sure that our children are safe, and those kinds of secrets need to be ended. And we need to get prosecutors that are courageous, like the Attorney General Shapiro, or attorney generals or district attorneys that aggressively prosecute child sex abuse. We read somewhere in the report that there is at least one prosecutor that declined to take action on the basis of child sex abuse, which is outrageous. We need politicians to reform the statute of limitations.

GREENE: It sounds like that's an issue in Pennsylvania that might prevent these cases from being prosecuted. I just want to ask you one of the things that came out in this report, which, I did not realize how extensive this was, was the idea of different priests sharing information about victims, which paints an image to me, of not just, you know, a single abuser but a network working together. Does that surprise you?

LENNON: It doesn't surprise me. I've never heard anything so formal as a network, and it's exceptionally disturbing to just to see that those vile predators combining to harm and to hurt children. But we do know that within the church itself, that because they're more interested in their reputation, that they don't aggressively take action to remove those priests. And so the priests should remove the bad priests. The bishops should remove the bishops who cover up. So this is not anything new. It's just because they've been exposed by this grand jury that we find out this. And so I think that's a huge problem that they knew and should have done something previously.

GREENE: Can I just finish by asking you - I mean, I know you were abused. I wonder what role this report and this moment play in your healing?

LENNON: Well, being a survivor of child sex abuse is a lifelong injury. It's an injury - even though I'm doing exceptionally well - it's an injury I feel every day. And, to me, the first thing I think of is the sadness of knowing that thousands of children have been harmed and abused, and that shouldn't have happened. And it's angering, as well, that again for the same reason, how or why should children be harmed because of the inaction of those in authority that have the ability to report and to deal with this?

GREENE: Tim Lennon is the president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He joined us from St. Louis. Thank you.

LENNON: No. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.