Barbara Dorris, Press Conference Statement, Rome Italy

Barbara Dorris, Former Executive Director SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and Survivor of Clergy Abuse

Statement from Voices of Faith Press Conference

19th February 2019, La Stampa Estera, Rome Italy

Why is the focus on women victims just now coming to the forefront? In my 17 years working in the movement I have talked with thousands of survivors and I believe almost half of them were women.

We have no firm statistics on the number of people abused by clergy because there is no central clearing house for collecting data. Survivors report these crimes to family members, friends, therapists, support groups, church officials, police. Many never report the crimes at all. None of these groups share information.  So it is extremely difficult to say that X percent of abuse survivors are women.

Survivors come forward when they feel they will be believed, when they feel they can get help or when reporting the crime will bring about change, help others and protect children.

Most of the stories in the news in the past have been about altar boys. The abuse of women and girls has not been the focus of the coverage and when it has been featured words like affair and relationship, boundary violations, inappropriate friendships are used. Church officials have painted these women/girls as sexual temptresses and the priests as the victims.. A forty year old man does not have an affair with a fifteen year old—he is sexually assaulting the girl. Nuns and adult women are just now being recognized as victims of sexual assault by clergy. The priests have power over these women so the women cannot consent, it is assault.

If the crimes against girls and women are not covered there is no encouragement for other women to come forward, they fear they will not be believed or even worse, they will be blamed and so they remain silent. A vicious circle.

Church officials have tried to frame this as a homosexual issue. For a couple of reasons, this takes the focus away from the real issue, criminal behavior. It acts as a smokescreen –people begin to discuss homosexuality rather than sexual violence. It then divides people and support, it also takes focus away from the fact that girls and women are being abused by the clergy.

In this upcoming meeting of the Presidents of Bishops Conferences, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The issue is the same as it has always been

-these are crimes;

-church officials must abide by the laws of the land;

-they must stop the internal investigations;

-civil authorities must stop showing excessive deference to church officials;

-women must be involved in moving forward. Men have had the last seventeen years to “fix” this crisis and as the last year shows they are failing miserably.

Church officials have said there are predators everywhere. This is true. The problem has been what church officials do when they catch a predator. They have protected the predators and taken actions that silence and further harm the victims. Church officials have created a subway system for predators. They go underground in one country and pop up somewhere else. This is their failure, this is their crime.   

There is no reason to believe new policies and procedures will magically make them do the right thing.

The pope is an absolute monarch, he can immediately remove complicit church officials, those that enable, shield and protect predators. Remove them publicly and reveal the part they played—take their titles, their salaries, their jobs. Turn over all information on the cover-up to the local law enforcement.

The pope has the power to make these changes today, he has chosen not to act.


Would we allow corporations, organizations and governments the same privileges as are given to the pope? Would we allow them to internally investigate these crimes, pick their own punishments, hold secret trials? Allow their corporate policies to supersede the laws of the land?

This needs to stop NOW. It was once acceptable to own slaves, to bind women’s feet, in many countries’ women could not own property or vote, smoking was considered glamorous—all this has changed. Sexual violence needs to be added to the list.

We do not need more or new policies or procedures. These are smart, well educated men. What has taken place is not because they did not know sexual assault was a crime but because they have chosen to protect and enable the predators over the victims. Archbishop Robert Carlson said in a deposition “I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not” But in the same deposition he discusses the statute of limitations and dealing with the family of a victim. In 2011 Cardinal Roger Mahony said "In two years (1962 - 1964) spent in graduate school earning a Masters Degree in Social Work, no textbook and no lecture ever referred to the sexual abuse of children. While there was some information dealing with child neglect, sexual abuse was never discussed."  


US Government statistics say that one in five children will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday. When church officials allow and encourage people to attack the victims of sexual assault, they send a very strong message to anyone being abused. the spiritual leaders in your community do not believe victims, they do not help them, they allow others to attack them and they enable predators. There is no point in coming forward, no one will believe or help me. How many children hear this message and lose all hope of getting help and continue to endure the violence in silence.


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