SNAP's Fight for Survivor Confidentiality

SNAP is under attack by lawyers for the Catholic dioceses in Kansas City and St. Louis. This page contains legal filings, news articles, and statements from SNAP on the ongoing legal battle.

SNAP's Fight for Survivor Confidentiality

Here are several links to news coverage of SNAP's fight to protect the privacy of victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, journalists, politicians, prosecutors, and concerned Catholics,  despite hardball tactics by Missouri Catholic officials:

Here are links to statements that SNAP has released about this situation:

Here are links to legal filings in this ongoing legal battle to protect kids and help victims:

Here's some key excerpts from the amici briefs supporting SNAP

From the prosecutors' brief:

  • "Notably, this discovery is a violation of the anonymity and confidentiality of SNAP members and volunteers and violates SNAP’s and third parties’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech, association, and privacy." - Page 6
  • If survivors of sex abuse know their private communications may become public record in litigation they are not involved in, these survivors may 7 choose not to seek any support at all from SNAP or other rape treatment organizations." - Page 6-7
  • "We urge this Court to prevent a victimizer from stripping not only his accuser’s sense of security, but the security of countless other victims who have sought the confidential safety provided by rape crisis center employees." - Page 7
  • "The information sought has so little relevance to the pending lawsuit, its limited relevance is outweighed by the substantial privacy interests of unrelated rape victims. In addition, the information is statutorily and judicially privileged, and is unlikely to lead to admissible evidence." - Page 8
From the crime victims' brief:
  • "It is, no doubt, a stretch for the court to claim a “compelling interest” in reaching out to a third-party and bringing it into ongoing litigation for the purposes of determining whether counsel of a party to the case violated a court order. Moreover, the production of thousands of documents over a 24-year period and the deposition of SNAP’s executive director is not the “least restrictive means” of determining whether Plaintiff’s counsel contravened a pre-trial order in a particular case." - Page 10
  • "This burdensome and harmful discovery will violate the privacy of childhood sexual abuse victims, whistleblowers, family members, witnesses, police, prosecutors, journalists and others associated with SNAP and, as a result, will forever chill speech by SNAP and its membership."  - Page 11
  • "The media’s ability to adequately and effectively report on the issue of clergy sexual abuse would be compromised if it does not have access to confidential information received through SNAP. The production of information, including communication with the media, would “undercut the public policy favoring the free flow of information to the public that is the foundation” of the free market place in ideas." - Page 14
  • "Privacy is paramount for all the other groups, as well as others similarly situated, who provide services to victims of sex crimes. If the privacy rights of victims, family members, supporters, and whistle-blowers who contact SNAP are compromised, the same could happen to other groups too." - Page 15


What's the crisis facing SNAP?

Catholic officials in two Missouri dioceses are trying to force key SNAP staff people to answer hours of questions under oath about and turn over thousands of pages of confidential communications with victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, journalists and concerned parishioners. It's an unprecedented assault on crime victims, on those who help crime victims and on our self help group.


Who's affected by this?

This potentially affects any crime victim who wants or needs privacy. It also affects police, prosecutors, journalists, witnesses, whistleblowers, victims, self-help groups, counseling agencies - literally anyone who helps victims and exposes criminals. Emboldened by church officials' legal successes, a rapist may now seek, and perhaps get, records and depositions from staff at the center his victim went to for help. A violent husband might get documents and depositions from staff at the domestic violence center where the spouse he battered sought refuge.


Why is it a crisis?

This is the most severe threat we in SNAP have ever faced, for at least three reasons. First, fewer people are stepping forward and seeking help, fearing that their identities and experiences will be turned over to lawyers for predator priests and corrupt bishops. Second, these legal attacks consume massive amounts of time that our volunteers and staff need to devote to protecting kids, exposing predators, helping victims, reforming laws, and deterring future child sex crimes and cover ups. Third, these moves are driving SNAP toward bankruptcy. (We've had to suddenly spend tens of thousands of dollars just fighting and dealing with the first subpoena and church officials seem determined to drag out this process for months and months.) Some of our current members now fear that we will turn over their private information. As such, they have requested that we remove from them our member list.  


Has SNAP already been hurt?

Absolutely. We've already spent more than 300 person-hours going through files. For weeks, we've done little of what we normally do to "protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded." Instead, we've been forced to look long and hard for pro bono attorneys to help us. And we've spent hours and hours working with attorneys to fight motion after motion from church defense lawyers, prepare for depositions, etc.


Why are Catholic officials doing this?

We're convinced Catholic officials are trying to shut us down and shut victims up, while also deterring witnesses, whistleblowers, journalists and other from contacting us.  There are lots of other theories. Some suggest that this is a move to distract the public and parishioners from the serious and on-going clergy sex crimes and cover ups in the Kansas City diocese (where Bishop Robert Finn faces criminal charges for refusing, for months, to give evidence of child porn to police). Others feel the attack stems from our formal complaint at the International Criminal Court against top Vatican officials for continuing to enable and conceal child sex crimes. (That filing was in early September. We were hit with the first subpoena in late October.)


How exactly are Catholic officials mounting this attack?

They're trying to drag us in to two civil lawsuits in which we're not involved. (SNAP has, in fact, only filed one lawsuit in our history.)  In Kansas City, it's John Doe BP v. Fr. Michael Tierney and the Kansas City diocese. In St. Louis, it's Jane Doe v. Fr. Joseph D. Ross and the St. Louis archdiocese.  They have issued four wide-ranging subpoenas (one in Kansas City and three in St. Louis) on two SNAP leaders (David Clohessy and Barbara Dorris) demanding thousands of pages of emails and records involving many individuals who have never met the accused or the accusers or even heard of the lawsuits at issue. Earlier this month, Clohessy was deposed for more than six hours by five lawyers representing Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn and five Kansas City accused pedophile priests (Fr. Michael Tierney, Msgr. Thomas O'Brien, Fr. Mark Honhart, Fr. Francis McGlynn and Fr. Thomas Cronin).


How is SNAP responding?

We're doing all that we can to protect the privacy of people who contact us.  (Our choices are limited, however, because we are not a party to either lawsuit. Church officials are shrewdly attacking us in a venue where we lack much power or many options.) In his deposition, Clohessy refused to answer many question or give virtually any information about our members, supporters, and donors or our contacts withfamily members, journalists, police, prosecutors, whistleblowers and concerned Catholics.  We provided hundreds of pages of already-public documents (news releases, lawsuits, a print out of our website). But we are also refusing to provide hundreds  more pages that we consider private under our Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, privacy, the Missouri rape shield law, and similar laws.


Are these two bishops acting alone?

We don't think so. This is the first time any SNAP staffer has been subpoenaed in 23 years, within weeks, and  they've done it to two of our three professional staff.  The first two subpoenas, though issued in different diocese by different lawyers, are virtually identical.


Are these two accused priests guilty?

The Kansas City priest (Tierney) has been suspended by his own bishop and faces at least five accusers in pending civil cases. The St. Louis priest (Ross) pled guilty in the late 1988 to molesting a boy. (After his sentence was completed, archdiocesan officials quietly put him back into a parish, warning no one. That's when and where he sexually assaulted this now 19 year old girl from 1998-2000.)


What about the claim that the Kansas City victim's attorney allegedly broke a "gag order?"

We in SNAP don't believe she did. And we're highly skeptical of this claim, in part because church officials refuse to take steps to formally accuse her with any wrongdoing. (They merely make the accusation without doing so in any forum where she could defend herself.) No one has found that she's done anything wrong. And we in SNAP didn't and couldn't violate any such "gag order" because none was issued against us.


What's next in the legal arena?

In St. Louis, we're trying to figure out who we can get to represent us. In Kansas City we expect lawyers for Tierney and Bishop Finn to try to get a judge to force us to give them even more information (both documents and deposition answers) soon.


How have journalists responded to these attacks?

The Missouri Press Association, representing 280 news outlets, has filed an amicus brief in court challenging the Kansas City subpoena as a threat to press freedom. The state's two largest newspapers, the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Kansas City Star, have editorialized against church officials and their lawyers. The National Catholic Reporter has also editorialized on their side. A link to these articles can be found here:


In KC, isn't this an attack by the accused priest, not by Bishop Finn?

It's important to remember that Fr. Tierney has sworn to obey Bishop Finn and is still being paid by Finn. Finn is a monarch in charge of the whole diocese. So Finn could order Tierney to stop. Instead, Finn's lawyers are cooperating with Tierney's lawyers while Finn himself stays silent. (We also suspect that Finn is paying for Tierney's lawyer.)  This is often the pattern in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases: the predator priest's lawyer plays "bad cop" while the complicit bishop's lawyer plays "good cop."


In St. Louis, the attack comes from Archbishop Robert Carlson, right?



How the two cases - KC & St. Louis differ

In Kansas City

The subpoena was issued in late October and the deposition was Monday, Jan. 2

The victim is male & middle aged & repressed his memories

The accused priest, Fr. Michael Tierney, is still a priest (so almost certainly still on the payroll) and lives in KC

The lawyers doing the hardball are the accused priest's lawyers (Brian Madden)

In St. Louis

The subpoena was issued this week (Jan. 3) and the deposition is set for mid-February

The victim is female, barely out of her teens & appraently did NOT repress her memories

The accused priest, Fr. Joseph D. Ross, has been defrocked (so is NOT on the church payroll) and his whereabouts are unknown

The lawyers doing the hardball are the archdiocesan lawyers (Bernie Huger)
But of course, in both situations, the impact is the same - more fear and hurt for who have been betrayed and are still suffering because of men who commit and conceal child sex crimes.

Bottom line: it’s a unprecedented, invasive, expensive and “chilling” SLAPP-style attack on the privacy, free speech, and free association rights of victims, witnesses, journalists, whistleblowers, church employees and concerned Catholics.

Never before in our 23 year history has anyone sought, much less won, access to so much private information. (And again, SNAP is not even a party to this litigation.)

And while for now, it looks like we can protect the names of victims, the predators' lawyers can always appeal and a judge coud always change her/his mind on that issue.

Here's how to send letters to the editor to KC and STL newspapers:

  • St. Louis Post Dispatch - Please email your letter, signed with your name and home address, to
  • Kansas City Star - Please fill out the form located here.


To get updates about our struggle via email, please click here.

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