Letter to all three dioceses of Tennessee 121305
December 13, 2005
The Most Reverend J. Terry Steib, S.V.D.
The Catholic Center
5825 Shelby Oaks Drive
Memphis, TN 38134-7316
Dear Bishop Steib,
The recent Tennessee visit of Mike Hitch and his brother, Father David Hitch, has reinforced with victims across the state of Tennessee the urgent need for full disclosure by the dioceses of Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville. Mr. Hitch was abused by a priest, James W. Murphy, who is a retired priest of the Memphis diocese but who was a priest of the Nashville diocese at the time of the abuse. He has worked in areas which now encompass all three dioceses of Tennessee.
In the Memphis media, Father John Geaney has admitted Murphy had been accused in another instance but claims the diocese found no cause due to an alleged lack of evidence. Now, however, church officials plan to reopen the investigation. With the reopening of a diocesan review board case against Murphy, survivors of abuse by Tennessee priests believe that flawed processes may have occurred in their cases as well. Since statutes of limitations have precluded most from obtaining justice in criminal and civil courts, they have the processes of the diocese, however inadequate, to give them a voice.
Therefore, we in SNAP ask the following of you, Father Choby and Bishop Kurtz:
1. Full cross-referencing of information between dioceses concerning cases. Sharing of information between dioceses about the accused priests and their activity is a must for a full hearing for victims. The final report of the diocesan review board should reflect this information.
2. Verbal and written notification to all parishes in all three dioceses of the priests who are accused including where each has been assigned and when. This notification must be done prior to the beginning of the diocesan review board process. If this had been done in the case of James W. Murphy, then the situation of “lack of evidence” might never have occurred. If this were done in each case, a full public discourse in each diocese would help other victims to know that they are not alone.
3. Complete adherence to your respective diocesan policies regarding removal of accused clergy from ministry during the investigative process. This lack of consistency will be seen as a breach of the “safe environment program” that the public believes to be protecting their children.
4. Verbal and written notification to each victim of the outcome of the review board process. Victims must be given the option of a face-to-face meeting with the diocesan review board chairman and the bishop after the final report of the review board is completed.
5. A public notification of all names of known admitted and credibly accused priests on websites, in bulletins and in diocesan newspapers. You turned in ten names to Assistant District Attorney Kevin Rardin. Why is that list still a secret from the people? Should we not be told for the protection of children and for the peace of mind of victims?
Taking refuge in geographical boundaries to escape responsibility for clergy sexual abuse has been a tactic of the dioceses of Memphis, Nashville, or Knoxville. Victims live in all three dioceses, and they know what you are not telling the public: many offending clergy were often assigned within the geographical boundaries of two, and sometimes all three of the Tennessee dioceses. Lack of compassion for victims simply because “the accused priest’s record is not in mydiocese” is an uncaring response and will be exposed as such by SNAP and our victim community.
With the reopening of Mike Hitch’s case against Father James W. Murphy, we ask you and and/or your brother bishops personally visit each parish where Murphy worked and beg victims and witness to come forward, both to church officials and to law enforcement. Careful cross-referencing to ensure that all the information has come to light. We hope that the other victim who had filed made an accusation against Murphy will be brought into the new investigation so that the truth will finally be told.
Susan Vance, Co-director of SNAP of Tennessee, 8324 South Burchfield Drive, Oak Ridge, TN 37830 - 865-748-3518
Ann Brentwood Co-director of SNAP of Tennessee, 865-607-6119
David Brown, Memphis Coordinator of SNAP of Tennessee, 865-569-4500
Mike Coode, Nashville Coordinator of SNAP of Tennessee, 615-364-2334
David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP National Director (314) 566-9790 cell
cc: Reverend Father David Choby, Diocesan Administrator, Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee
Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee
Martin Regan, Chairman of Diocesan Review Board of Memphis