J. Peter Sartain, New Seattle Archbishop, Gets Caught Up in Priest Abuse Scandal

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Last week, a Chicago-area bishop named J. Peter Sartain took the helm of Seattle's Archdiocese. After Sartain's first news conference here, The Seattle Times lauded his ability to memorize everybody's name in the room and described his reputation as "brilliant yet very approachable."

A group that monitors abuse by priests says Sartain is known for something else, however: ignoring warning signs about a potential abuser.

This morning, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, wrote a letter to the pope asking for Sartain's appointment to be rescinded.

"You are probably not aware of just how recklessly and secretively and callously he acted recently with a priest who pled guilty two weeks ago to molesting a boy as recently as January of this year," the St-Louis-based SNAP wrote of Sartain in the letter.

The letter is referring to the case of Father Alejandro Flores, convicted earlier this month of a sexual assault charge related to the abuse of an underage boy. Sartain, then the bishop of Joliet, Illinois, ordained Flores in the summer of last year--just a few months after church officials had found gay porn with young-looking boys on his computer, according to a press report quoted by SNAP.

"Sartain in our view had a moral obligation to postpone the ordination, send Flores for treatment and inform the public," SNAP president David Clohessy says in an interview with SW. "He did none of that."

This is the first time SNAP has called for a papal appointment to be rescinded. It is a particularly egregious case, Clohessy asserts, "because it is so clear-cut and so recent. What bishops have historically said, when they were finally caught [covering up clerical abuse], was: 'We just didn't know. Now we understand. Now we'll do better.' " In 2002, American bishops gathered in Dallas and made a commitment to stop predatory priests. (See pdf of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.)

"This case shows it's not true," Clohessy says. He adds that Sartain, as the Joliet bishop, also declined to take immediate action against two priests accused of abuse last January by a Florida man. But that case was less glaring, in Clohessy's view, because the man was citing things that happened to him in his long-ago childhood. After SNAP kicked up a fuss, moreover, Sartain suspended the priests.

The Seattle Archdiocese has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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