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Letters to the Editor 

Week of Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Church in State

A continued effort at justice: The article "Zipped Up" [Jan. 19] reveals the politics surrounding the maneuverings of various Bay Area district attorneys and lawyers representing the Archdiocese of San Francisco as they play a sad game of "hot potato" concerning the release of documents by the Marin County district attorney [that] detail the story of sexual assault and abuse by priests with the complicity of officials of the S.F. Archdiocese.

As reported in this same article, I was the first chair of the Independent Review Board (IRB) of the S.F. Archdiocese. The facts, as reported by Mr. Russell, regarding the assaults by priests of the archdiocese on students of Marin Catholic High School almost 30 years ago are essentially consistent with my memory of the investigations by the IRB of these assaults.

I was particularly struck by the courage of Jane Parkhurst to come forward with her story in such a public way. Jane's personal witness will hopefully give encouragement to other survivors, many of whom must still struggle with the abuse, to speak their truth. The Catholic Church has a moral obligation to reach out and to heal such gaping wounds in the body of Christ. Thank you, Jane.

The article also revealed a disturbing development that takes some extended explanation. In November 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle printed a story about my resignation from the archdiocese's IRB. In that same news account, a former U.S. attorney and recent appointment to the National Review Board, Joseph Russoniello, was quoted: "My concern as a lawyer is balancing the protection of the public with due process for the rights of those accused. My experience as a prosecutor tells me it's easy to make an accusation -- especially from a deranged, angry, vengeful person striking out against an authority figure."

The ignorance, willful blindness, and prejudice contained in this statement coming from someone who has been asked to defend the safety of children is staggering and over the line. If Mr. Russoniello really believes these things about survivors of clergy sexual abuse, that alone should disqualify him from service on the National Review Board.

Now, as SF Weekly reports, Mr. Russoniello is directing legal efforts in court on behalf of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to suppress the release of documents by the Marin County district attorney, which detail the story of sexual assault and abuse by priests with the complicity of officials of the San Francisco Archdiocese.

This constitutes a gross conflict of interest for Mr. Russoniello, and flagrant continuing efforts by church officials to suppress the truth, and further conceal the abuse and corruption of priests and bishops. It would seem his appointment to the National Review Board is further evidence that "the fix is in."

Mr. Russoniello should resign or be removed from the National Review Board immediately. The suffering of survivors, many of whom still carry the marks of their crucifixion, calls out for justice.

James Jenkins, Ph.D.

Protecting the flock, not the wolf: I find it more and more disheartening as the days go by that the Catholic Church, in which I grew up and was raised, is determined to protect her "good" name regardless of the price victims/survivors have to pay.

I am not a victim of priestly sexual abuse, but I was sexually molested by my mother superior when I was a young sister. I know the horrible lifelong effects. What happened to me was a murder of a large part of my soul. As I read each day of the efforts of the church to cover up these heinous crimes, and to protect these heinous criminals, I am disgusted, revolted, and scandalized. I have learned to accept that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has one mission in mind: to survive this scandal as intact as possible, no matter how much that continues to victimize those who have already been horribly hurt.

Thank you for printing more of the awful truth. Perhaps if we keep rubbing it in their faces, eventually the concept that as bishops they are supposed to be shepherds to their flock will kick in.

I doubt it.

Gabrielle Azzaro
Cardiff by the Sea

Perhaps the church needs its hearing checked: Thank you for publishing Ron Russell's excellent article. Once again Mr. Russell has revealed the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of San Francisco Archbishop William Levada. In spite of the calls by the laity for greater accountability and transparency in the Roman Catholic Church on the part of the hierarchy, deaf ears are still turned toward those making such demands.

Although Archbishop Levada has alleged compliance with all requests to turn over documents relating to sexual abuse by Catholic priests to the district attorneys in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo, it is obvious that his behavior has been duplicitous. By choosing which documents to release to the district attorneys and then fighting to keep them concealed, the archbishop continues his pattern of secrecy.

A further affront to trusting Catholics and other interested citizens which was revealed in Mr. Russell's article is the fact that the lead attorney helping Archbishop Levada to keep hidden the documents requested by SF Weekly is Mr. Joseph Russoniello. This attorney has been recently appointed to the National Review Board, which is charged by American bishops with ensuring the bishops' compliance with the so-called Dallas Charter to prevent any future cover-up of clerical sexual abuse. Clearly Mr. Russoniello has a conflict of interest and should be removed or resign from the National Review Board. The fact that he could even have been nominated, much less appointed, is an affront to everyone expecting impartiality from board members.

Many people have asked the archbishop to reveal the names of credibly accused priests, which he has refused to do, citing the protection of "priests, victims, and other third parties." Since we do not know, except for a few cases, who these priests are and where they reside, the question remains whether children are safe from further depredations. Certainly no one would wish to sully the reputation of an innocent priest, but as the names of perpetrators have been revealed, survivors of abuse have stepped forward to validate previous charges. My personal contact with some survivors has revealed that their overwhelming desire is not money, but that the offending priests are removed from ministry so that they can never harm again. Priests should not have greater protection than children, the most innocent.

Articles like Mr. Russell's help the members of Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) and other Catholics who are trying to bring honesty and the light of truth into the Catholic Church. I hope he will continue to uncover the cover-up.

Evelyn K. Seely
Coordinator, San Mateo County
Voice of the Faithful

In Favor of a Lifesaver

Put the "race card" back in the deck: I was deeply moved by the article on the work Shawn Richard is doing ["The Lifesaver," Feb. 2]. The opening sentence referring to an entire room of men as likely to be murdered was incredibly painful to read. And even more painful that two who did not do the program actually were. Thank you Shawn Richard, Dwayne Jones, and Sophie Maxwell and all the others that are donating their personal energy on top of a probably small paycheck. Thank you Gavin Newsom for supporting this outreach. I have a few comments.

First of all, at $300,000 the city is getting a bargain. If there were 30 students, that's less than $10,000 per kid. What do we spend for incarceration, literally and in blood and tears? Not to mention the system rigmarole prior to incarceration. In simple practical economic terms, taxpayers are getting a good deal in hiring all of these young men and are saving money in the long run.

Second of all, I didn't think Maxwell was "playing the race card" and thought the writer was trying a little too hard to be hip. He could have challenged her statement without that comment, which is getting pretty tired. Take any first-level diversity or race awareness workshop and you will realize that white privilege is clearly present in our culture, and very, very powerful (though class is left out way too much). Beyond race and class, the targeted youth (and I use that word intentionally) need nonpatronizing outreach more than people who have opportunity, role models, and basic skills valued by the dominant culture. Those people can find their own jobs, and they will. It's important to realize that these young folk, designated as gang leaders, have plenty of skills (which include communication, organizing, mobilization, money handling, "second sight" -- awareness skills honed by living in danger -- and leadership), and these can be parlayed into pretty impressive skills recognized by employers and our society at large. Don't we want them on our side?

The program is absolutely visionary. I am amazed that topics like "Anger Management," "Values," and "Building Self Awareness" are considered simple concepts. I am amazed that issues such as institutionalized racism and poverty are not included in every program and are considered "too complex." It's important that these young men explore the causes of why they are where they are as well as how to stand tall, recognize skills inherent to the illegal work they had been doing to survive, and turn that energy into educating themselves to create the enriching life everyone deserves. One young man is going to study biology!

Dwayne Jones said it when he said sincerity and dedication is what they are responding to. And quick responses to problems! We need a holistic approach to these problems, and these wonderful people are doing just that. By the way, I'm a taxpayer. I'm glad to pay for this healthy program. Thank you Shawn Richard!

Alcina Horstman
Mission District

Art Matters

The things we make our reviewers do: We appreciate Adrienne Gagnon's foray into the "relentlessly institutional" corridors of our City Hall art spaces to review Peikwen Cheng's "Through the Eyes of the 22" photo exhibition ["City Lights," B&A, Jan. 26]. As an agency often under siege we'll take kudos wherever we can get them. Credit for Muni's rolling galleries, however, rightly belongs to Muni Marketing Director Marc Caposino, who developed the idea of performance and visual arts programs in and around the buses.

Rupert Jenkins
Director, S.F. Arts Commission Gallery
Civic Center


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