In 1988, Barbara Blaine founded the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the nation’s oldest and largest self-help organization for victims of clergy sexual abuse. SNAP’s first support meetings were held in a homeless shelter that Blaine ran in south Chicago. Through word of mouth and small ads, SNAP grew into a national outreach, educational and advocacy organization. Today, SNAP has more than 9,000 members and 60 chapters in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Blaine was born in Toledo, Ohio, where she was repeatedly molested by a Catholic priest at the parish she attended. Because of the shame and trauma, several years passed before she was able to tell anyone. By that time, it was too late to file criminal charges. Church officials refused to restrict the priest’s access to children or take action against him for several more years, despite other victims coming forward.
The shattering experience directed the course of Blaine’s life. She went on to become a social worker and an attorney who advocated for children’s rights. She earned a bachelor's degree from St. Louis University, a master's degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, a master of divinity degree from Catholic Theological Seminary in Chicago and a law degree from DePaul University School of Law.
In 2002, Ms. Magazine chose Blaine as one of its “women of the year” for her work on behalf of clergy sexual abuse victims. In bestowing the award, the magazine noted that Blaine founded her organization “14 years before the issue became a front-page story.” By empowering survivors to tell their stories publicly, Blaine has been a catalyst in lifting the climate of secrecy that enables clergy predators to thrive.
For nearly a decade, Blaine ran a homeless shelter in south Chicago. At the time, she was part of a Catholic Worker house – a faith-based community in which members live and work among the poor, accepting voluntary poverty themselves. After earning her law degree, Blaine became a public guardian for Cook County, Ill., which includes the city of Chicago. In that role, she advocated for children.