Former SNAP Leader Believes Archdiocese Truly Cares About Victims

“Back of St. Louis Cathedral with Shadow of Statue of Jesus Christ, Royal Street, Between St. Ann and St. Peter, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana” by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond recently announced that he was committing to restructuring how the Archdiocese of New Orleans handles sexual assault claims. 

One of his first moves was deciding to appoint a sexual abuse survivor to the Independent Review Board, which is a group of lay professionals who review abuse allegations, determine their credibility, and make recommendations to the archbishop.

He also announced that Joey Pistorius, who is the director of the archdiocesan Catholic Counseling Service, will become the new Victims’ Assistance coordinator on April 1. 

Pistorius, who is a licensed professional counselor, will work with other counselors trained to help with the “disclosures of trauma,” according to the archdiocese. Because Pistorius is a professional counselor, he is legally obligated to report all allegations of criminal abuse to the police. 

The team will receive training from Kevin Bourgeois, who is a licensed social worker, a clergy sexual abuse survivor, and the previous leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) New Orleans chapter. 

His ousting as the leader of the New Orleans SNAP chapter occurred in response to his work with the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Prior to a couple of months ago, Bourgeious was a vocal critic of Archbishop Aymond. 

However, through collaborating with him, SNAP, and other archdiocesan officials over the last couple of months on restructuring the church’s sexual abuse survivor response, he’s forged an amicable relationship with him. 

Aymond has welcomed the collaboration with SNAP, stating, “God does not want us to be divided. He wants us to be united, and reconciliation is what Jesus calls us to….There’s no need for us to be at odds. We want the same thing, and reconciliation has happened,” he continued. “We will work together. Independently, the archdiocese can do many things well, and independently, SNAP can do many things well. We can do more together.”

Bourgeois said that he has been impressed by the speed of the changes. “The Catholic Church moves in glacial terms; it works in centuries,” Bourgeois said. “I’m the kind of person who wants what I want yesterday. I asked the archbishop what he thought of this whirlwind, and he said, “Kevin, we’re on the same page.””

The archbishop explained that his goal in helping sexual abuse survivors, “has always been to walk with victims toward healing.” He commented, “We hope to provide a real path forward and an opportunity to rebuild trust in the church, and rebuild relationships that may have been broken as a result of the pain of their abuse.”

Aymond explained that the honest conversations he had with SNAP representatives, “really opened up the question: Let’s start from scratch. Let’s start from the very beginning and see what we can do, what we can do better.” 

The church really is starting from scratch, after controversially filing for bankruptcy last year. 

It was the first Catholic diocese in America to seek bankruptcy protection during the pandemic. 

The archdiocese supplied 2 reasons for why they were filing for bankruptcy: that they had lost revenue because of COVID-19 restrictions and because they were facing a growing number of clergy abuse lawsuits. 

For years the Archdiocese of New Orleans faced allegations about sexually abusive clergy members. In 2018, they finally released a list of names with more than 57 clergy members who had been credibly accused of sexual assault and rape, who were then removed from the ministry. 

Since then, the archdiocese has faced numerous lawsuits in state courts and has had to pay millions in victim settlements. Before COVID-19, the archdiocese had been considering bankruptcy due to the financial strain they were under from the litigation. 

Sexual abuse victims have filed a petition to dismiss the bankruptcy claim, stating that the church had only done so to keep priest abuse lawsuit cases from moving forward. The bankruptcy filing paused more than 34 sex abuse lawsuits and would require plaintiffs to seek compensation through bankruptcy court, which always results in less compensation versus a favorable verdict or legal settlement.

It also protects archdiocesan officials from testifying under oath and prevents the release of internal church documents, which will hinder court proceedings for sexual abuse victims. 

In June 2020, the archdiocese filed a motion to set a September deadline for new sexual abuse claims, the US bankruptcy court ended up setting the bar date for March 2021. 

The Archdiocese of New Orleans has been criticized for speaking about helping survivors while simultaneously denying them justice. Prior to being ousted, Bourgeois did admit that his collaboration with Aymond has led to some criticism from a “vocal minority” in the SNAP community. 

He commented, “I’m not intimidated by that. All of this is the work of God.” He voiced his support of the archbishop, his fondness of him, and his appreciation of him taking swift action. “There’s nothing sinister or salacious about that, and there isn’t anything that should be questioned. He should be applauded. This is him.”

One sexual abuse survivor in SNAP, John Anderson commented, “We can’t have somebody going in, having these joint meetings and statements together with the same people that destroyed our lives to begin with.” 

The official reason Bourgeois was asked to resign from his SNAP position was because his contract with the church to train the new counseling team was seen as a conflict of interest.  Bourgeois said that he accepted the contract so he could have a direct hand in improving the church’s treatment of people who report abuse. He explained, “This archbishop has four years remaining in his term, and I’ve shared with him that he has got a lot of work to do in the next four years. And I’d rather work with him from the outside, supporting him providing relief and benefits to survivors rather than holding up signs that that that are calling for his ouster.”

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