Good afternoon! My name is Siobhan O’Connor. I am a Victim Assistance Civil Specialist with the Zero Abuse Project, which is a non-profit organization committed to transforming institutions in order to effectively prevent, recognize, and respond to child sexual abuse. It is a privilege to stand with Stephanie McIntyre as she makes her first public appearance and statement. It is no surprise to me that she is making this first public statement not on her own behalf, but on behalf of another survivor.
I first met Stephanie through a letter she sent to my former boss, who is now the former bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo. At that time, I was Bishop Malone’s Executive Assistant and regularly saw the contents of his mail. Stephanie’s 7-page letter to then-Bishop Malone detailed the abuse she endured at the hands of her pastor when she was a young girl. Stephanie’s firsthand account had a deep and lasting impact on me. Her testimony – along with the testimony of many survivors who contacted the Bishop’s Office in the spring of 2018 – inspired me to change from a morally conflicted diocesan employee to a whistleblower with a clean conscience.
My work in the Bishop’s Office and my current job as a Victim Advocate has provided me with the opportunity to speak with over 250 survivors and counting. During these many conversations, I have learned that most survivors have one primary, initial concern: will people believe me? Sadly, their worries are justified.
As I listened to Father Newman’s August 2019 homily and read his open letter, all I could think was, “How would a survivor feel if they heard or read this priest’s words?”
Father Newman is a well-educated and well-respected priest. He holds degrees in sacred theology and canon law and regularly speaks at conferences and other events. These are the words he used when discussing a survivor’s allegation of childhood sexual abuse: “Ludicrous charge. Cynical intent to extort money from the Church. Easy payday within reach. Grievous crime against justice.”
Wow. No wonder survivors worry about being believed!
Of Bishop Guglielmone, Father Newman stated that he had “supreme confidence” in his innocence. Supreme confidence! That’s the most confidence I’ve ever heard of.
Father Newman wasted no time in making and publishing his supremely confident statements. He issued his open letter the very day the lawsuit was filed. Father was exceedingly quick to poison the well.
Poisoning the well is an aptly named logical fallacy. It means to commit a preemptive ad hominem attack. Essentially, you’re priming your audience with negative ideas about someone – in this case the survivor – in order to lessen their credibility.
Father Newman – you don’t have to believe the survivor in this case. That’s your right just as it’s my right to believe them. But why take such a strident stance on the matter right from the get go? Why not wait for the truth to come out? Why poison the well?
Why be so quick to exonerate the accused and indict the accuser?
Father Newman – by all accounts, you are a renowned pastoral leader in this diocese and have been for some time. Please, I beseech you, use your influence and intellect for good! Be neutral towards survivors – not negative. Remove the poison from your future words on this intensely painful subject. Amend your survivor-shaming comments of August 2019 and, if you can find it in your heart, apologize for them – for the sake of all survivors, but especially for the one in this case.
Await the truth with supreme confidence, if you must, but avoid survivor censure.
Please know that the Diocese of Charleston has been and will remain in my prayers.