For immediate release: Wednesday, July 23rd.
Clergy sex abuse victims disappointed in bishop’s response
Top Catholic official is non-committal on helping alleged victim
Victim lives in Israel but may be able to testify via videoconference
Clergy sex abuse victims are ‘sad and disappointed’ that Steubenville’s top Catholic official won’t commit to help an alleged crime victim return to Ohio and testify before a grand jury. At the same time, however, prosecutors may be able to arrange for her to testify by videoconference.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are disclosing a July 16th letter from Bishop R Daniel Conlon to a Cincinnati lawyer who represents Beth Rocker. Rocker, who now lives in Israel, has filed a police report which says she was sexually abused as a child by a Steubenville area priest.
Guernsey County prosecutors want Rocker to attend a grand jury hearing about her allegations. Rocker’s attorney, Konrad Kircher, asked Conlon to help pay for her travel back to Ohio to testify.
SNAP is upset with Conlon’s response, in which he says he’ll take the request “under advisement.”
Rocker says she was sexually assaulted as a child by Fr. Gary Zalenski in the 1990s, while he was pastor at St Peter and Paul parish in Lore City.
“It’s sad that the bishop won’t give a straight answer and agree to help,” said Judy Jones, SNAP director of Southeastern Ohio. “If Rocker is telling the truth, Conlon can help police, prosecutors, and children by getting her back home so that a dangerous predator can be jailed. If Rocker is lying, Conlon can help an innocent priest clear his name.”
“The request is simple: will Conlon help or won’t he?” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s national director. “Conlon took three weeks just to answer ‘maybe.’”
Clohessy, Jones, and other SNAP leaders believe Rocker. Church officials found Rocker’s report credible enough that they suspended Zalenski from active ministry last November.
“Conlon is doing precisely what America’s bishops have almost always done with child sex cases - the bare minimum,” said Clohessy, SNAP National Director.
Conlon’s letter also claims that ‘the Diocese of Steubenville must maintain an objective stance with regard to any legal proceedings’.
Clohessy said he doesn’t buy Conlon’s argument.
“Helping law enforcement get information about alleged crimes isn’t taking sides. It’s our civic duty,” he said. “This is just a smokescreen by Conlon to excuse his ‘do nothing’ posture.”
“We are confident that Rocker is not the only victim of Zalenski,” said Jones. “We encourage others who saw, suspected, or suffered from Zalenski’s sex crimes to come forward, get help and call police.”
“When victims and witnesses speak up, there is a chance for healing, justice, and prevention” said Jones. “But when they stay silent, abuse continues.”
Prosecutors are now in touch with Rocker about the possibility of giving her testimony via videoconference.