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Group urges victims to speak out on sex abuse

By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 24, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Sunday morning was the first time Melissa Price has been near a Catholic Church since she was a teenager.

Price, who claims that a Pinellas County priest sexually abused her when she was a child, has launched a local chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

On Sunday, Price led SNAP's first effort: Standing outside St. Jude's Cathedral, holding up signs and handing out leaflets to churchgoers as they left Mass.

"I'm not here to Catholic-bash," Price, 31, said. "I'm here to protect children."

Price was joined by her brother, her mother and friends. Price said the priest, who is now in the Philippines, abused her for eight years. State Attorney's Office prosecutors have interviewed Price, but no charges have been filed.

Most churchgoers leaving Mass politely accepted or declined to take the leaflets, which encourage people to tell church leaders to listen to victims. A few angrily handed the leaflets back. One churchgoer told Price's brother, Tom, that it was inappropriate to hand out leaflets after worship.

Tom Price said he thought there were more victims who are afraid to come forward. He hopes the group's efforts will encourage those people to report the abuse.

"People need to be aware," he said. "It's sad that they're scared to come forward."

Inside St. Jude's grounds, Father Paul Mangiafico questioned SNAP's gathering outside a peaceful worship service.

He said church leaders were encouraging victims to come forward, which means the church and members of SNAP want the same thing.

"We don't want to be adversarial," Mangiafico said. "We want to be advocates for them."

Price said she went to Dallas for a meeting of Catholic bishops, where she met with other victims.

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