Friday, October 14, 2005
Priest abuse victims' group says it was threatened
CHINO, California - Activists with a support group for clergy abuse victims said they were threatened with legal and criminal action for distributing leaflets at a church accused of harboring child molesters.
Members of the Los Angeles chapter of SNAP Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests - went to Chino on Sunday to hand out leaflets to congregants at Inland Community Church. The church is facing a lawsuit filed by six people claiming youth counselors there abused them.
The SNAP members who participated Sunday said church leaders responded to their presence by promising to sue the activists for defamation and seeking a police investigation into charges of criminal negligence.
"That's just such a clear warning sign of where the priorities are at the church, and that is just a typical and common dynamic where abuse has been covered up," said Mary Grant, head of SNAP's Los Angeles chapter. "There's that type of defensiveness or lack of concern for the victims or those that are still at risk."
Calls to the church's pastor and attorney seeking comment were not returned.
The lawsuit against the church was first filed in February, and then refiled with additional plaintiffs in June. Three counselors are accused of molestation, and the church pastor is accused of negligence.
Since the complaint was first filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court, the plaintiffs' request for punitive damages has been stricken by the judge.
The leaflets called on church members to request their pastor publicize the names of all accused sexual abusers who had worked at the church and make contact information for support groups available to congregants. They also included the photograph of one former counselor taken from the Megan's Law Web site.
Several members of the congregation said Pastor Ralph Neighbour has previously made announcements during services urging victims of abuse to come forward.
SNAP members said church leaders followed them around the sidewalk near the church on Sunday, taking the leaflets out of congregants' hands and describing the contents as inaccurate.
They also were told repeatedly by church members that the lawsuit had been dropped or dismissed - which Stephen Moran, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said is not true.
"We have not dismissed this complaint. We have no intent to do so," Moran said. "All we did is just amend the pleading."
Grant said she received a call from a Chino police detective Sunday afternoon, telling her they had received a complaint about the leaflet. State law prohibits using information from the Megan's Law database to harass a registered sex offender or commit any other crime.
Grant said a few church members thanked SNAP volunteers for providing information, and told her there was another victim who was afraid to come forward.
But she said she was disappointed that SNAP's presence prompted church members to react the way they did.
"There was no concern for the kids that were abused, or kids that could be still at risk," Grant said. "It was all about protecting the pastor."
See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.
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