PROVIDENCE — Since 2019, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence has published a list of clergy who’ve been credibly accused of sexual abuse of children, and says it encourages victims to come forward.
The two leaders of a new support group for abuse survivors in Rhode Island say the diocese hasn’t done enough. Some parts of this discussion may be upsetting for some listeners:
“No. The simple answer is, no,” Dr. Ann Hagan Webb, a psychologist and survivor of clergy abuse, said on this week’s Rhode Island Report podcast.
There were people who were at least initially left off that list, Webb said, such as the late Monsignor Anthony DeAngelis, the priest who had molested her, though Webb has been speaking publicly for 20 years about the abuse she experienced as a child at Sacred Heart School in West Warwick.
“And before this current attorney general, there wasn’t a will in this state to go after the Catholic Church,” she said. “What bothers me and frightens me is that there may be other people or other priests all over the state. That we just haven’t discovered because one of them, a new victim, hasn’t come forward or a parishioner hasn’t figured it out that they’ve been reassigned, a priest that was taken out of service.”
On this week’s Rhode Island Report, Webb and Claude Leboeuf, who is also a survivor, talk about starting the first support group in Rhode Island for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a survivor-led national organization known as SNAP.
Webb and Leboeuf also speak candidly about their own experiences with abuse, its impact on their lives, and what helps survivors heal.
Leboeuf, 69, said he only began to understand and deal with the trauma of being raped by the late Rev. James Porter, who was convicted of molesting more than two dozen children.
“I was probably about 66 or 65 when the memory came back to me. I was sodomized. I do not sugarcoat what happened,” Leboeuf said. “It affected me in an emotional sense, that frightened little boy was trapped within me who was being sodomized 60 years ago, was very much trapped in my psyche.
Leboeuf said he was looking for a SNAP support group in Rhode Island, when he and Webb realized they could start their own.
“I’m looking to just give a person a safe place to come with their story,” Leboeuf said, “because I think each person is going to have their own issue, and each person will have their own challenge, their feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, fear, anger. ... So I describe my experience and let the person take that as it is. ... I think the important thing is that they make that first move.”
Meeting with others who’ve had similar experiences can help relieve the isolation that survivors feel, especially for those abused by clergy, said Webb.
“Speaking to someone else about it, coming forward takes away the loneliness and it’s the first steps towards realizing that it wasn’t your fault,” said Webb. “When it’s a religious figure, it’s so easy for even a child to believe it’s somehow their fault — they were too cute, too seductive, and tempted this holy man. The first step towards realizing it wasn’t your fault is to start to talk about it and to start to realize that nobody else would blame you.”
The SNAP support group is open to survivors of clergy abuse, as well as their close family or friends who are part of their support. The meetings, which are confidential, are 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.
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.