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A clergy sexual abuse survivor who reached a settlement with the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2008 will lead the first monthly meeting of the Rapid City chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, at 7 p.m. today.

Robert Brancato, who moved to Rapid City six months ago from Colorado, where he was active in SNAP, said the chapter is the only SNAP group in the state. It will fill a definite need in the area, he said.

“We know that there are quite a few victims of clergy sexual abuse in this area,” said Brancato, adding that his Denver chapter hosted a satellite meeting two or three years ago and had several victims show up for it. “The ultimate goal is to establish chapters in Sioux Falls, in Pierre, in Rapid City.”

The meetings are open to the public and will be held at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month. To protect people’s confidentiality, anyone who wants to attend a meeting should contact Brancato at his office by calling 718-2783 or by emailing southdakotasnap@gmail.com to learn the location.

Brancato plans to be the voice and face for SNAP, as well as a public advocate for other sexual abuse victims who have yet to come forward. SNAP is a national advocacy organization that has been one of the most outspoken critics of the church hierarchy’s handling of the crisis. Despite its name, however, SNAP is open to anyone who has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of any authority figure: teacher, pastor, counselor, law enforcement agent or others.

Brancato has no doubt there are still many victims who have not reported or sought help for their abuse history despite national media attention that has focused on sexually abusive priests in the Catholic Church since 2002 in the U.S. “Everybody’s different. I just talked with one victim who was in their 80s,” he said.

The current accusations of abuse and cover-up emerging from the Philadelphia archdiocese will likely bring a fresh crop of victims forward, he said.  “Like it did in Boston, and California, and Colorado, and Washington.  Pick a state,” Brancato said.

The scandal out of Boston in 2002 is what forced Brancato to confront his own past.

“Boston broke and I had a suicide attempt,” he said. “It was on the news every night. I couldn’t avoid it.”

He accused two men, the principal and a Catholic priest at a Catholic school affiliated with the St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Wheeling, Ill., of sexual abuse that began in 1982 when he was a 13-year-old boy named Bob Brangard. He changed his last name, which was altered from the original Italian by Ellis Island immigration authorities, as a way of regaining his family name, he said.

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In 2007, an independent review board affiliated with the Chicago archdiocese determined there was credible evidence against the Rev. James Steel and that school administrator Donald Ryniecki would no longer be eligible for employment or volunteer work with the diocese. The Rev. Vincent McCaffrey, who served in the same parish in the early 1980s, is now serving a 20-year prison term for possession of child pornography and the archdiocese negotiated a $4 million settlement in sexual abuse accusations against him. Brancato and 11 other victims got a $12.6 million settlement and a public apology from then-Archbishop Francis George of Chicago.

Brancato has not been in contact with the Diocese of Rapid City, which is without a bishop. But he has met Archbishop Charles Chaput several times, the former bishop of Rapid City, who implemented many of its policies on dealing with sexual abuse allegations.  He has high praise for Chaput’s zero-tolerance policies currently in place in Denver.

“One of the first things Chaput said to me was to apologize for what happened to me,” he said.

Brancato said that SNAP won’t be satisfied with the American bishops’ response to clergy sexual abuse, however, until the “veil of secrecy” is lifted on diocesan records nationwide.

A certified fraud examiner, Brancato ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Colorado in 2010 and recently opened an office in Rapid City, Robert Dean & Associates. His wife, Rochelle Schultz Brancato, is a Rapid City native and a graphic designer.

Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or mary.garrigan@rapidcityjournal.com

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