David Clohessy of SNAP and Recovered Memory
Sample quotes from this article:
"I could describe curling up in the fetal position and sobbing hysterically ... I could talk about my personal experiences, about being sodomized and molested, and the effect it's had on my life. But honestly, my pain is just garden-variety sexual terror" .
.... The lawsuit that Clohessy filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City in 1991 was based on childhood memories triggered when Clohessy saw the movie, "Nuts," three years earlier. ...
Clohessy's lawsuit was filed about 18 months after the childhood memories returned to him, and after seeing a therapist and confronting [Father John] Whiteley. His lawsuit was dismissed by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Byron Kinder in October, 1992, when Kinder ruled unconstitutional a two-year-old law designed to allow victims of child sexual abuse to sue years later, after discovering they had suppressed the memory of abuse. The case was the first of its kind in Missouri. ....
"The lawsuit and what has followed has been a huge disruption for my parents and family. They are devout Catholics," said Clohessy. "I have a brother in the same diocese as the priest who abused me. After I told him that I was going to litigate, he said that we should probably not talk anymore." Sadly, Clohessy's brother, Kevin, became a part of the molestation story that SNAP has to tell. It turns out Kevin Clohessy was allegedly abused by Whitely as well. Then, as a priest himself, Kevin Clohessy was among the growing number of priests identified as having "credible accusations" of sex abuse. .....
From Victim to Reformer.
St. Louis Journalism Review, 1st May 2009 by Don Corrigan
"I could describe curling up in the fetal position and sobbing hysterically ... I could talk about my personal experiences, about being sodomized and molested, and the effect it's had on my life. But honestly, my pain is just garden-variety sexual terror ..."
The quote by David Clohessy (pronounced Kloss-ee) about his personal molestation by a priest appeared in the alumni magazine of Drury University in Springfield, Mo., in 2003. The feature on Clohessy (Drury Class of '78) has to be one of the most unusual alumni profiles in any college magazine in the country.
Clohessy's personal experience makes him a particularly effective spokesperson for victims of clergy sexual abuse as he serves as the national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
A big part of his mission is to publicize the problems of abuse and the wrenching stories of those whose lives have been shattered by molestation. Clohessy said he is still mystified by how many Catholics close off and refuse to believe that criminal behavior and cover-ups have been a part of their church's legacy.
In his interview for the Drury University magazine, Clohessy said his mission is to make peace with a past that haunts him and hundreds of other victims, "working to rid their bodies and the body of the church of this terrible infection."
That message has been delivered by Clohessy in interviews and profiles with Newsweek, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and, of course, Oprah. Thrust into the spotlight with the church scandals, Clohessy's own story is painful and full of twists and turns.
Before taking the reins at SNAP, Clohessy spent much of his working life in political consulting and media relations in St. Louis. He was a spokesperson for the Natural Streams Act, an environmental initiative in Missouri that was defeated in November, 1990.
Prior to that, he worked for almost a decade with ACORN, a group that promotes the interests of low-income groups. He has been employed in public communications with the Scott Thomas Agency and was once a spokesperson for the Riverview Gardens School District.
He is 53, married and has two sons. His position with SNAP provides some income. However, the most important factor in Clohessy's background that qualifies him as a spokesperson for SNAP was his legal battle with the church over what he says was his own victimization as a youth by a parish priest.
The lawsuit that Clohessy filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City in 1991 was based on childhood memories triggered when Clohessy saw the movie, "Nuts," three years earlier. The movie was about a troubled woman, played by Barbara Streisand, who had suffered sexual abuse as a child.
Clohessy explained that the images, which returned to him after viewing the movie with his girlfriend, involved sexual abuse by a trusted family friend, the associate parish priest at the church Clohessy attended just two blocks from his home in Moberly, Mo.
According to Clohessy, the clergyman, Father John Whitely, became a regular visitor at his home, and would take him on out-of-town trips, such as canoeing the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas, camping in the Lake of the Ozarks, and skiing in Colorado.
The second of six children, Clohessy said his parents were grateful for the opportunities the priest provided for their young teen. But it was on those out-of-town-trips that Clohessy said the abuse began. At the Lake of the Ozarks, the two were sleeping in the back of the priest's van, when Clohessy complained of a stomach ache. He charged that the priest then rubbed his stomach and genital area, touching and fondling him.
Clohessy's lawsuit was filed about 18 months after the childhood memories returned to him, and after seeing a therapist and confronting Whiteley. His lawsuit was dismissed by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Byron Kinder in October, 1992, when Kinder ruled unconstitutional a two-year-old law designed to allow victims of child sexual abuse to sue years later, after discovering they had suppressed the memory of abuse. The case was the first of its kind in Missouri.
Clohessy said he never intended to go public with his lawsuit, which referred to him only as John Doe. It was only after he was named as the plaintiff in a newspaper article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, that he began to do interviews and became a source for other media outlets seeking interviews on the problems of clergy sexual abuse of minors.
"The lawsuit and what has followed has been a huge disruption for my parents and family. They are devout Catholics," said Clohessy. "I have a brother in the same diocese as the priest who abused me. After I told him that I was going to litigate, he said that we should probably not talk anymore."
Sadly, Clohessy's brother, Kevin, became a part of the molestation story that SNAP has to tell. It turns out Kevin Clohessy was allegedly abused by Whitely as well. Then, as a priest himself, Kevin Clohessy was among the growing number of priests identified as having "credible accusations" of sex abuse.
David Clohessy said he is no longer a Catholic, but hopes to some day "feel good" again about the faith in which he grew up. He served as an altar boy while attending St. Pius X grade school in Moberly. He said he once loved being part of the Catholic community and the feeling of being part of a parish. But he has no regrets about his actions. It's been a catharsis for him.
Clohessy said if he has any regret, it's that he wasn't able to recall the terrible memories sooner, and did not take legal action and go public sooner. He said this might have spared others from becoming victims of clergy abuse. After filing his lawsuit, new allegations of child molestation against Catholic priest Whiteley came to the surface.
"A lot of members of SNAP feel tremendous guilt, because they feel that if they had only done something earlier, others could have been spared. Had they just spoken out, maybe five or six other people might not be walking around with this burden. I know that, unfortunately, that's the situation in my case," he said.
St. Louis area media
Although Clohessy provides the news media with new revelations of clergy sex abuse problems on a regular basis, reporting is sporadic.
The history of the local news media's coverage of the Catholic Church and sex crimes has been a rocky one.
Asked why he thought the news media have largely avoided reporting on child abuse by priests, he said most have "an unjustifiable and exaggerated fear of adverse reaction from powerful segments in the community," including church leaders who want to "shoot the messenger." He said even police and prosecutors have been fearful of going after the predator priests. But he sees this changing somewhat now that younger people see the need for protecting children and there is much more information available on the Internet regarding sexual child abuse.
Clohessy gives a grade of A to the Belleville News-Democrat, which has not flinched from covering scores of sex abuse cases over the past two decades. Stories of abuse in parishes and at a church camp in Southern Illinois has lost the paper readers, but has won the newspaper prizes for exemplary work.
He gives the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a grade of C because it was slow to do stories on the Belleville area priests accused of molesting children. The Post did stories on area priests only when suits were filed or settled, refraining from providing details or focusing on the bigger problem.
A major setback for coverage in the St. Louis TV news media came in 1993 when KMOV Channel 4 stumbled in an investigation. KMOV took the unusual step of paying a homosexual prostitute's air fare, rental car, hotel room, parking, room service and phone bill to call a priest with an offer of sex. The station also installed hidden cameras and tape recorders in the hotel room at the Adam's Mark. The stated purpose of the investigation was to get the priest to reveal names and details of sexual activities of other priests in the Belleville Diocese.
Though nothing was ever aired, the unusual investigative project by KMOV landed the station in a swirl of controversy, particularly after Eric Mink, then of the Post, reported that a sex act had actually taken place between the priest and the prostitute for $200. KMOV came under attack by both Catholic officials and rank-and-file Catholics. An advertiser boycott was organized. The St. Louis Circuit Attorney looked into possible charges against the station for promoting prostitution. Sexual misconduct by clergy was no longer the story but, rather, the misconduct of KMOV in investigating the story.
Clohessy said he's not sure whether KMOV was wrong or right in how it put together its investigation, but it did have the net effect of hushing reporting on the issue of clergy misconduct. Auto dealers were organized for a boycott of the station, and all the media seemed to back off.
"Looking back on it, I hope the Catholic car dealers are ashamed that they joined church officials in bullying the media," said Clohessy. "Because of that self-serving and counterproductive effort, pedophile priests on both sides of the river were able to keep molesting for years and church officials were able to keep hiding their crimes."
A turning point in clergy sex abuse coverage came a decade later, in 2002. Clohessy said The New York Times came to the metro area to cover the pedophile problem in the Belleville and St. Louis church jurisdictions, about the same time a rash of abuse stories were breaking nationally. Stories of pedophile priests by the Boston Globe seemed to open the floodgates for stories elsewhere.
Post sparred into action
"Post columnist Jerry Berger disclosed in his column that the Times was here in the metro area interviewing suspended predator priests," recalled Clohessy. "The Post leaped into action, running a large, page-one Sunday story and a sidebar or two on the very day the Times also had a page-one piece comparing abuse and cover-up in the St. Louis and Belleville dioceses."
Clohessy said the 2002 stories in the St. Louis area, and subsequent scandal stories in Boston and Los Angeles, have many people thinking this issue of clergy sex abuse is out in the open and being addressed. He said the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has made some public relations moves, but not much has really changed.
"So many in the public and parishes assume things have changed when, in fact, they basically have not," said Clohessy. "It's important to remember that bishops are monarchs, each in full control of their own dioceses, answerable, for all practical purposes, to no one.
"For decades, bishops deliberately moved criminal priests, ignored police, shunned victims, deceived parishioners and jeopardized kids for one simple reason: because they could. They had virtually unchecked power," Clohessy continued. "The disturbing truth is that they still do. Bishops still protect predators and con parishioners, and operate with virtually no checks and balances."
Clohessy was a consultant on a documentary, "Deliver Us From Evil," which told of the life of a pedophile priest in California, Father Oliver O'Grady, who abused countless children over 30 years because church officials moved him from parish to parish. He gained the trust of of parishioners while at the same time betraying them. He was convicted and served seven years of a 14-year sentence. He then moved to Ireland where his background was virtually unknown.
According to Clohessy, all the public relations and revised church policies, procedures are essentially meaningless because the root cause of the crisis--bishops who are basically untouchable--remains unaddressed.
"Right now, because thousands of predator priests have been suspended and church membership is growing, while seminary enrollment is down, bishops have more incentive than ever to accept and keep sexually troubled seminarians and priests," said Clohessy. "Also, U.S. bishops are importing more priests from nations with less vigorous screening and less aggressive law enforcement. We fear there will be even more abuse and cover-up in the church in the future."