CUMBERLAND — A national self-help organization for victims of clergy sexual abuse is starting its first support group in Rhode Island.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also known as SNAP, will hold its first monthly meeting for survivors and their loved ones on Tuesday. The new Rhode Island chapter is being co-led by two survivors of clergy abuse, who say they hope to help others by sharing their experiences.
“Most survivors feel very alone, and most of us in the beginning didn’t believe there were a lot of others out there,” said Dr. Ann Hagan Webb, a psychologist who treats other survivors. “There is still something so validating to hearing stories that are similar to yours, because other people get it.”
Webb was molested by the late Monsignor Anthony DeAngelis for years when she was a child at Sacred Heart School in West Warwick. It wasn’t until she was 40 that she understood what had happened to her and began to talk about it for the first time.
She started with her siblings, which led her sister, state Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, to sponsor “Annie’s Bill” in 2019, legislation that extended the deadline to sue over childhood sexual abuse to 35 years after a victim’s 18th birthday.
The sisters continue to advocate publicly for reforms to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, and support for survivors. Their work led Webb to recently meet Claude Leboeuf, a Providence man who said he was raped when he was about 9 years old by the late Rev. James Porter, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts.
Leboeuf grew up in Attleboro and attended St. Joseph’s School, near where Porter lived in a rectory, in the early 1960s. Porter pleaded guilty in 1993 to molesting 28 children, although he admitted to molesting around 100.
Leboeuf said the memories of Porter raping him came flooding back a few years ago. He was eager to meet other local survivors to talk about what they’ve been through.
That’s what led Webb and Leboeuf to decide to launch the first SNAP support meetings in Rhode Island.
“I want other people to feel safe and come forward, in whatever way works for them to find their voice, because I feel like my voice was stolen from me,” Leboeuf said Thursday. “For me to become free, I have to give to another person. … I want to do something positive and use my anger.”
The meetings are confidential for survivors and their close supporters, and not open to the public. Webb said the meetings are intended to allow people to talk with others who understand what they are going through. While SNAP is also involved in advocating for stronger laws against abusers and exposing predators, the support meetings are meant for survivors to have a safe place to share, she said.
“It’s not threatening in any way,” Webb said. “You can sit there and be silent if you want and just listen, or share as much as you want.”
The meetings will be held the first Tuesday of every month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Cumberland Public Library, Hayden Center, Room 3, at 1464 Diamond Hill Road.