Greg M. Schwartz
The local chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, attempted to hand deliver a letter of complaint to San Antonio Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez yesterday, with the letter alleging inaction by Gomez in dealing with two clergymen whose religious orders have found “credible” claims against each of sexually abusing a teenager.
San Antonio SNAP Director Barbara Garcia-Boehland had to settle for handing off the letter to Robert Holbrook, the Church’s director of construction, real estate & facilities (which strangely sounds more like a position with the San Antonio Housing Authority.) Holbrook said Archbishop Jose Gomez wasn’t around.
The letter urges Gomez to “oust a credibly accused predator who’s now at a local parish,” to reach out to those hurt by him, to apologize and explain why two accused sex offenders are in his archdiocese and to disclose the names and whereabouts of any other child-molesting clergymen in the area. Garcia-Boehland says Gomez has failed to respond in any way to at least four prior attempts to contact him on the issue.
One of the allegations concerns Brother Richard Suttle, who was ousted last year from an Arizona elementary school after abuse charges and a public notice from the Phoenix diocese. Suttle now lives at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in downtown San Antonio. The other allegation concerns long-time St. Mary’s University professor Father Charles Miller, who was suspended last year for molesting a teenaged girl in San Antonio in 1980, yet received a transfer of sorts to Rome.
“Our concern is that he’s still allowed to come and go. What if he meets up with a foreign exchange student from San Antonio in Rome?” said Garcia- Boehland regarding Miller. She added that SNAP takes issue with the fact that Miller and Suttle are both still clerics and receive paychecks.
“He hasn’t shown any concern for the survivors,” said Garcia-Boehland’s husband Matthias Boehland, also a SNAP activist. “And after several other letters sent, no response… We’re concerned about why he’s allowing pedophiles to come here.”
“This is really dangerous, these aren’t the only two guys we know are here,” said Garcia-Boehland. She says SNAP has a list of some 60 pedophile clergymen in the area, but that the church would say it’s only around 20. “The reason my list is different is because the survivors haven’t all come forward.”
Garcia-Boehland said many of those survivors fear being ostracized by the Church. She says SNAP is working to lobby for new state legislation that would allow victims to come forward, without being constrained by a statute of limitations.
“What [the Church] will tell you is that some of the 20 have been moved and no longer work in San Antonio,” said Garcia Boehland. “Well why aren’t they in jail or being tracked?”
Deacon Pat Rodgers, communications director for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, says that the list of some 20 names is a historical list of all “credible” allegations since 1950 that the Church compiled as part of national research directed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Rodgers says credible equates to possibly true.
“None of them are in the ministry,” said Rodgers of those on the list. He says seven are dead, a couple others are in prison and others were cut out of the priesthood. Rodgers also says that Miller and Suttle are under the jurisdictions of their orders, Marianist and Claritian respectively, with no current connection to the San Antonio Archdiocese. The Marianists are headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., while the Claretians are based in San Gabriel, Calif.
“We didn’t transfer any Marianist to Rome. That was his religious order,” said Rodgers of Miller. Rodgers says the Archdiocese is not connected with St. Mary’s University and that when informed by the victim of the allegations, the Archdiocese forwarded the information to the Marianists who then began an investigation.
Rodgers also says that the Archdiocese had nothing to do with Suttle moving here from Arizona.
“Brother Suttle is not in the ministry and he is being monitored by his fellow priests,” said Rodgers, noting that a Brother is simply someone who lives in a community with others of his common religious persuasion. Suttle has denied the allegations, which are still being investigated.
SNAP says that Gomez and Rodgers are “splitting hairs” when claiming that the Archdiocese has no authority over Miller and Suttle. Garcia-Boehland argues that Catholic canon law holds that each bishop is responsible for the wellbeing of every Catholic in his diocese and that Miller and Suttle therefore do fall under his jurisdiction.
“There’s always dialogue… I’m quite certain the Archbishop is dialoguing with both of those orders,” said Rodgers. “We’re all concerned about child abuse of any kind.”
Garcia-Boehland and SNAP feel that Gomez should move to revoke the ministry credentials of Miller and Suttle, and that Suttle should be ousted from his San Antonio parish. She also questions why Gomez didn’t make the matters public record once he knew the allegations were credible.
“It’s just very scary that these people are allowed to run around here in Texas,” said Garcia-Boehland.
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