David Clohessy: Advocate for the Abused
The sex scandal that forced the resignation in December of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law was all about the betrayal of faith: For decades Law, 71, shielded serial pedophiles and other abusers among his priests, shuffling them from parish to parish. It soon became clear that he was merely the figurehead of a nationwide disgrace, as across the U.S. an angry choir of Catholics and non-Catholics alike demanded the Church expunge the predators lurking under its robes. The loudest voice belonged to David Clohessy, 46, national director of the 4,500-member Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). As an altar boy in Moberly, Mo., he says, he was repeatedly molested by Father John Whiteley—his dad's best friend. "The greatest honor you could offer us might also be the hardest one," he told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "To radically change your behavior." Clohessy had long blocked out his abuse—until it came rushing back after he saw the 1987 film Nuts, which deals with recovered memories. Compounding the anguish, his estranged brother Kevin, 43, a priest who Clohessy says was also one of Whiteley's victims, was accused of molesting a male college student in 1993. For David, a married father of two sons, joining SNAP in 1991 was a great healer. And his work may have begun to heal a festering ill in one of the world's famously self-protective institutions. The bishops announced in November that abuse allegations will now be investigated by confidential internal inquiries; a plausible claim means the priest is put on leave and placed before a Church tribunal. Moreover, Church leaders must notify authorities of known or suspected sexual abuse according to applicable civil laws. (Critics say that last clause allows too much leeway in the 18 states where "applicable civil laws" don't require clergy to report abuse.) "David has made a real difference—his story is one of extraordinary hope," says Steve Krueger, head of Voice of the Faithful, an advocacy group for Church reform. Nonetheless, Clohessy says, "it's hard to feel satisfied when there's still so much pain and it was all so avoidable."
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