CUMBERLAND — A national self-help organization for victims of clergy sex abuse is launching 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 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 at first didn’t believe there were many others out there,” said Dr. Ann Hagan Webb, a psychologist who treats other survivors. “There’s always something so empowering about hearing stories like yours, because other people get it.”
Webb was sexually abused by the late Bishop 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 realized what had happened to her and started talking about it for the first time.
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She started with her siblings, which led to her sister, State Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, sponsoring 2019’s “Annie’s Bill,” legislation that extended the time to file a lawsuit for abuse. childhood sexual abuse at age 35 after the 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 Reverend James Porter, a priest from 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 attacking a hundred of them.
Leboeuf said memories of Porter raping him came back a few years ago. He was eager to meet other local survivors to talk about what they went through.
This is what led Webb and Leboeuf to decide to start the first SNAP support meetings in Rhode Island.
“I want others to feel safe and to come forward, in any way that they may 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.
Meetings are confidential to survivors and their loved ones, and are not open to the public. Webb said the meetings are about allowing people to talk with other people who understand what they’re going through. While SNAP is also involved in advocating for tougher laws against abusers and reporting predators, support meetings are for survivors so they have a safe place to share, she said.
“It’s in no way threatening,” Webb said. “You can sit and be quiet if you want and just listen or share as much as you want.”
Meetings will be held the first Tuesday of each month from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Cumberland Public Library, Hayden Center, Room 3, 1464 Diamond Hill Road.
Amanda Milkovits can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.
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