By Bob Allen
An activist who advocated for victims during the Roman Catholic sexual-abuse scandal in the United States in 2002 says evangelical leaders publicly rallying behind a minister accused in a lawsuit of covering up sex crimes against children sends the wrong message to abuse victims everywhere.
David Clohessy, national director of SNAP — the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – said May 28 that religious leaders voicing support for embattled Pastor C.J. Mahaney, named in a lawsuit recently thrown out of a Maryland court for legal reasons, ought to be ashamed.
“It’s dreadfully hurtful to child sex-abuse victims when people in authority publicly back accused wrongdoers,” said Clohessy, one of just four abuse survivors to testify before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their historic meeting in Dallas in 2002. “And it hinders criminal investigations, because it intimidates victims, witnesses and whistleblowers into staying silent.”
Clohessy weighed in after public statements by friends of Mahaney, including Southern Baptist seminary president Albert Mohler and Washington pastor Mark Dever, vouching for the former Sovereign Grace Ministries president’s personal integrity.
“Support Rev. Mahaney if you must,” Clohessy pleaded. “But do so privately in ways that don’t further harm, depress and scare other child sex-abuse victims into keeping silent and thus helping child predators escape detection and prosecution.”
“It’s always heartbreaking to us to see congregants immediately and publicly rally for an accused child molester instead of keeping an open mind and urging anyone with information to come forward,” he said.
Clohessy said at best it’s “disingenuous” for ministers to take sides while at least two remaining victims’ abuse and cover-up suits are pending and “at worst, it’s mean-spirited.”
“As responsible adults, we must make it less hard, not more hard, for victims of these heinous crimes and cover ups to step forward, get help, expose wrongdoing, protect others and start healing.”
Clohessy acknowledged that legally speaking Mahaney and the other defendants are innocent until proven guilty, but public support in the meantime sends the message that alleged victims are either wrong or lying. “That, in turn, frightens other victims into staying trapped in frustration,” he said.
Clohessy, who lives in St. Louis, has served as the national director of SNAP, billed as the nation’s largest and oldest self-help group for clergy molestation victims, since 1991. He has traveled around the country, appeared on programs including Sixty Minutes, the Oprah Winfrey Show, the Phil Donahue Show, Good Morning America and been featured or quoted in newspapers around the world.
Clohessy, who in 1991 filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., for the abuse he claimed he suffered between 1969 and 1973, from the ages of 12 to 16, at the hands of a parish priest, said in a 2008 interview that in some respects, those abused by Baptists face an even tougher road than those molested by Catholics.
“I just can’t imagine a more recalcitrant church hierarchy than the Southern Baptists,” Clohessy commented to the Healing and Spirituality blog after witnessing interactions between Southern Baptist Convention leaders and SNAP’s then-Baptist representative Christa Brown.
“I’ve seen Baptist officials be stunningly cruel to her — in person and in print,” he said.