CTA Leadership Award 2009 to SNAP

By: Linda Pieczynski

I first met Barbara Blaine when she spoke at a CTA conference around 1993. She tried to warn me that church officials were an untrustworthy lot, abusive to victims, experts at covering up their misdeeds, stonewallers in court and practiced liars. When the sex abuse crisis finally went public in 2002, I naively thought that this would finally wake up the bishops and that they would spend the rest of their lives repenting the harm they had inflicted because of the way they handled these cases. I was wrong and Barbara was right all along. Just last September a priest who admitted molesting a minor was quietly assigned to be a chaplain at a New Jersey hospital. The Newark Archbishop failed to tell the hospital staff. He was removed only after a reporter started asking questions in October. Years earlier, the priest and his church supervisors promised the prosecutor’s office that he would not be near minors. In Canada, the Bishop of Antigonish was arrested because he had child pornography on his laptop. In Delaware, the diocese declared bankruptcy last month to avoid upcoming sex abuse trials. And so the crisis, that was supposed to be history, continues.

The priest who began raping Barbara at the age of 12, stole her childhood, but he didn’t succeed in stealing her faith and commitment to social justice that would lead her to join Call to Action’s Catholics for Peace, the Catholic Worker movement and to work with the Sisters of Mercy in Jamaica. Barbara hasn’t spent much time worrying about what other people think of her. What she has cared about is reaching out to other survivors who have been molested by priests and other abusers. After telling her story to her parents, the provincial and the Toledo bishop, and being deceived by the church officials who claimed she was the only victim of her attacker, Barbara used the media to find others who had been molested by priests. They came together and shared their stories, comforting each other when nobody else would. She founded SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, in 1988. In 1990, David Clohessy met Barbara when he attended a gathering in San Francisco. David was sodomized by a priest around 1968, in Moberly, Mo. when he was 12. He later found out that his brothers had been too. Luckily for SNAP, David who has great organizational skills, wanted to get involved and by 1991 he was the national director of SNAP. The women and men of SNAP have continued their outreach despite occasional offers of cash by the bishops but only in return for silence, and threats of public humiliation. With the support of SNAP, many of the survivors began filing lawsuits to force the revelation of the secrets the bishops were desperate to hide. And how have they been treated by our pastoral leaders? Like the enemy. Church officials and their attorneys have vilified them in the press and in the parishes, filed motions to dismiss in court, blamed them and their parents for their psychological trauma, sent investigators to dig up dirt on them, and argued that the survivors were hurting the poor at the same time the dioceses were paying untold millions of dollars for lawyers and public relations professionals, and, using our money to do it. The sad reality is that the hardball tactics are still going on today, 7 years after the bishops’ conference in Dallas.

But the survivors have not backed down. Over 20 years after its founding, SNAP, has outgrown its name. It’s now an international organization with over 9000 members with branches that include SNAP Baptist, SNAP Presbyterian, SNAP Orthodox, SNAP Native American and SNAP Australia. There are meetings in 65 cities with 120 trained leaders answering calls 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. The work SNAP does regarding prevention has spared countless children the tragedy of sexual abuse. It has saved countless lives. While it still provides support and comfort to survivors who keep coming forward virtually every day, SNAP has also become a powerful advocacy group working to change statute of limitations legislation in this country that too often bars the victims of sexual abuse from recovering compensation from their offenders or keeps molesters from being prosecuted because too much time has passed. If you are still putting money in the collection basket, you should know that some of it is going to lobbyists who are trying to persuade legislators to cling to archaic, predator-friendly laws, laws that help criminals, not children. So, I hope you will balance the scales by sending one envelope a month instead to SNAP so it can survive and continue to do its work. It’s on a shoestring budget.

Too often Catholics in the pew have scorned the survivors. They’ve been told to get over it, that they should forgive their offenders, that they shouldn’t be so angry. Some have questioned their credibility. Yet, it is only because of the efforts of the survivors and their insistence on holding our leaders accountable that we know something, finally, about the depth and breadth of the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church.

When the history of the church at the beginning of the 21st century is finally written, it will note that the death of the unhealthy clerical system was due in large part because of the courage of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse. They refused to be silent, and they exposed the medieval monarchical system for what it was, an organization for a class of men who saw themselves as special and who clung to their privilege and power relegating the good news of Jesus Christ to an afterthought.

And so, on behalf of Call to Action, I am pleased to present the Call To Action 2009 Leadership Award to SNAP

The inscription reads “For your constancy and courage in speaking truth and in always seeking to help our innocent and injured sisters and brothers.

“…Let justice flow like a river
and righteousness like an unfailing stream…”
Amos 5:24

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests