Media Statements

We are SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. We are the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others).

SNAP Applauds Michigan AG for releasing Second Report

(For Immediate Release January 8, 2024) 

We are thrilled to learn that Attorney General Dana Nessel, one of the most aggressive and effective attorneys general in the US in terms of going after institutions that enable and perpetrate abuse against children, has released the second of what will eventually be seven separate reports, one regarding each of the seven Dioceses in Michigan.

Today’s report about the probe garnered ten tips for the AG tipline for Diocese of Gaylord. Four of them came immediately from the Diocese of Gaylord. Of the 220 boxes of paper papers seized from the Archdiocese and the six Dioceses, 21 boxes comprising about 52,500 documents connected to the Diocese of Gaylord were analyzed. 786,882 papers linked to the Diocese of Gaylord were reviewed out of the 3.5 million electronic documents seized.

Monday’s report includes any and all allegations made by victims against priests living and dead who worked for the Diocese of Gaylord since the diocese was established in 1971. The diocese represents Catholic churches in 21 counties across the northern Lower Peninsula.

None of the cases contained in the report resulted in criminal charges because of a lack of evidence, a lack of criminal activity, the age of the case or the offender being deceased, Nessel’s office said.

“The Gaylord diocese report is a compilation of the information obtained from my department tip line, victim interviews, police investigations, open source media, paper documents seized from the diocese, and electronic documents found on diocesan computers as well as the reports of allegations disclosed by the diocese,” Nessel told reporters Monday.

We are incredibly grateful to AG Nessel, the Michigan Department of Attorney General (AG), in partnership with the Michigan State Police (MSP), who launched an investigation in September 2018. Secular investigations across the country are finding the evidence and filing the charges necessary for victims to witness the wheels of justice at work. These dedicated professionals are helping to end the vicious cycle of abuse and cover-up and have been steadfast warriors on the side of survivors and children.

‘We have discovered from the numerous, secular probes conducted on religious institutions throughout the world that we can never again trust the church for what they have already proven to us once', said Mike McDonnell, SNAP executive director.

Kudos to AG Nessel. Her investigation of Catholic sexual abuse in Michigan has been one of the most effective investigations in the country. We hope her track record will inspire those abused in any state or any similar organization to come forward and make a report to their state Attorney General.

CONTACT: Nadja Tirrell, SNAP Leader Michigan, [email protected], 517-285-0631, Nancy Crabbs, SNAP Leader Michigan, 616-514-7973, Mike McDonnell, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected] 267-261-0578)  Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President, (814-341-8386 [email protected])

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

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Vatican concludes investigation into former St. Paul - Minneapolis Archbishop Nienstedt; SNAP Reacts

(For Immediate Release January 5, 2023) 

A multiyear investigation overseen by the Catholic Church into Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, who resigned from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2015, has ended with the Vatican finding that he acted “imprudently” in several instances but not criminally under canon law, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda said in a statement Jan. 5.

The investigation, overseen by the Catholic Church, aimed to address the alleged misconduct of Nienstedt and provide closure to the victims and their families. However,  we believe the findings have left many faithful in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis feeling betrayed and harboring mistrust towards the church's handling of the situation. The failure to adequately address Nienstedt's alleged misconduct has caused significant pain and suffering for the victim-survivors and their loved ones. It leaves more questions rather than answers.

To address these concerns, the Vatican has imposed restrictions on Nienstedt, prohibiting him from residing in the province of St. Paul or Minnesota. In our view, this decision reflects the church's reluctance to associate with the former Archbishop, indicating a clear apprehension among church officials. Nienstedt resigned in disgrace in 2015 after the archdiocese faced criminal charges of "failure to protect children" and filed for bankruptcy.

As we see it, the lack of consequences for clerics who conceal child sex crimes sends two distressing messages. Firstly, it tells abuse victims that their pain is inconsequential. Secondly, it signals to other clerics that no matter the suffering they cause, they will always be protected within the church. These messages are deeply hurtful to the vulnerable, the already wounded, and the church itself.

Those accused of sexually abusing or covering up abuse must not be allowed to enjoy the privileges that come with ordination. Ignoring Nienstedt's behavior only serves to condone it and encourages a culture of corruption within the church, where clergy and staff members may turn a blind eye, knowing that the consequences will be minimal if they are caught.

The Catholic Church must take a stand against abuse and cover-ups, not only for the sake of the victims but also to prevent similar incidents from occurring worldwide. Those responsible for such heinous acts must face real penalties and be held accountable for their actions.

CONTACT: Frank Meuers, SNAP Leader Twin Cities, Winona and New Ulm (952-334-5180), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814- 341-8386)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for more than 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

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California Franciscans file for bankruptcy; SNAP reacts

For Immediate Release: January 5, 2024

 

The Franciscan Friars of California said in a January 2nd statement that they have filed for Chapter 11 protection in the US Bankruptcy Court in Oakland. The religious order said it was facing 94 lawsuits filed in the recently closed civil window. Fr. David Gaa, the provincial minister of the Friars, claimed that bankruptcy was the “only path” to ensure "just financial compensation" for these survivors. Fr. Gaa explained that "The bankruptcy will not only take account of the friars’ assets, but it will also prevent the abuse survivors from having to compete for the earliest or more substantial claims.

SNAP Executive Director, Mike McDonnell said, ‘It is very concerning that these institutions, despite having the financial means to provide reparations to long-suffering victims, are shamelessly claiming insolvency. This is an unacceptable evasion of responsibility that cannot go unnoticed. The devastating impact of abuse on victims' lives emphasizes that their trajectories were forever altered from the moment they experienced such heinous acts. It is truly disheartening to read phrases like "to compete for the earliest or more substantial claims," as it further underscores the Church's unwillingness to rectify the wreckage of the past.’

In our opinion, it is simply not true that bankruptcy is the only way to achieve “just financial compensation” in all of the victims’ lawsuits. In the last California window, universal agreements were reached between the Church, survivors, and their attorneys, without the need to resort to bankruptcy.

In a bankruptcy, those who have filed civil actions become “creditors.” The court will allow a certain period for other “creditors” – victims -- to come forward. However, once the bankruptcy proceeds to its conclusion, anyone abused before the filing date who did not come forward is barred from ever filing a lawsuit. This would include those who do not remember their abuse, those who do not understand the impact it has had on their life, those who are not yet ready to speak out, and – most disturbingly -- those children who are too young to understand that they needed to file a claim before the bar date.


Religious community co-founded by Fr. Marko Rupnik to close: SNAP hopes this heralds a change in Catholic responses to abuse

For Immediate Release December 15, 2023) 

The Slovenian Archdiocese of Ljubljana announced today that the Vatican has decided to shut down the religious community of nuns co-founded by accused abuser Father Marko Rupnik. SNAP is grateful for this decision, but we observe that it only came after intense public outcry over Fr. Rupnik’s case.

 Fr. Rupnik is a former Jesuit priest who was expelled from that religious order in June for “disobedience.” Following his expulsion, in the wake of accusations that he had sexually assaulted as many as twenty-four adult women, the priest was inexplicably incardinated in August by the Diocese of Koper in Slovenia. We registered our deep dismay at the time.

 Fr. Rupnik’s incardination shocked his accusers and sparked a huge public outcry. Subsequently, Pope Francis waived the statute of limitations that was preventing a canonical trial on the accusations, and the priest will face those charges. The dissolution of the religious community Fr. Rupnik co-founded is another step in the right direction.

 However, the fact that it took a public outcry to bring about the canonical trial and the closure of the convent shows us that while the Church continues to say they have changed, their actions belie it. Catholic officials were once again protecting a prominent priest instead of supporting the brave survivors who came forward and protecting potential victims.

 To us, Fr. Rupnik is a dangerous predator, likely made even bolder by the fact that up to now his actions have resulted in no permanent consequences. We simply do not understand why the Church protected him, and we cannot help but wonder how many less prominent perpetrators have been left in ministry because their cases did not provoke a public outcry. 

 We would hope that this case would be a lesson in point to the Vatican and that they would change their ways as a result. It should not have to take media pressure for a religious institution to act to protect its faithful from wolves in sheep’s clothing. However, until we see proof that things have changed, we will continue our fight for justice and accountability.

 

CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814- 341-8386)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org

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Child Porn Priest Sentenced in Rhode Island

(For Immediate Release December 14, 2023) 

United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha announced that Father James W. Jackson, 68, a former Rhode Island priest assigned to St. Mary's Church in Providence, was sentenced to six years in federal prison today. Jackson had previously admitted to a federal judge that he downloaded and stored thousands of files containing child pornography.

Fr. James Jackson, a Rhode Island priest previously assigned to St. Mary's Church in Providence, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Rhode Island to receiving child pornography, admitting to a federal judge that he downloaded files of child sexual abuse using a peer-to-peer file-sharing network, according to United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha.

According to information presented to the court, in September 2021, an East Providence Detective assigned to the Rhode Island State Police Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force identified an IP address assigned to the rectory at St. Mary’s Church that was being utilized to share files of child sexual abuse material.

A court-authorized search of a computer and digital device located in a church rectory bedroom utilized by Father Jackson was found to contain images and videos of child sexual abuse, including multiple images involving prepubescent females, some of which involved acts of bestiality and sadomasochism. A forensic audit of the devices subsequently identified over 12,000 images and 1,300 videos of child pornography.

Jackson was arrested again for allegedly violating the conditions of his release while in Kansas in July 2022.

To us, viewing or sharing child pornography is not a crime without any victims. Sadly, the innocent lives in film and pictures many never realize their trauma until much later in life. Federal authorities need to keep this dangerous man under close watch and those charged with his supervision should never believe that Jackson has repented to sin no more.

CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected]), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814- 341-8386)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

 

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Sacramento Catholic Bishop Threatening Bankruptcy; SNAP Urges Him to Reconsider

For Immediate Release: December 11, 2023

On Saturday, December 9, 2023, the Catholic bishop of Sacramento, Jaime Soto, announced his intention to file for bankruptcy in March. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urges Bishop Soto to reconsider this scorched earth legal tactic.

The Bishop wrote in his letter that,

It is now clear to me that the only respectful, transparent, and fair way to address the substantial number of claims by those who have been abused by clergy and other members of the Church is to seek a court-supervised reorganization. … Without such a reorganization process, it is likely that not all the abuse victim-survivors would receive a fair consideration of their claim. The funds available to settle claims could be depleted by the first few cases addressed, leaving those that follow with little or no compensation.

 

It is simply not true that bankruptcy is the only way to achieve a “fair consideration” of all of the survivor’s lawsuits. In the last window, universal agreements were reached between the Church, survivors, and their attorneys, without the draconian consequences that bankruptcy will bring along with it. What is also true is that victim’s settlements are normally reduced in bankruptcy.

In addition, in a bankruptcy, those who have filed lawsuits become “creditors.” The court will allow a certain period of time for other “creditors” – victims -- to come forward. However, once the bankruptcy proceeds to its conclusion, anyone abused before the filing date who did not come forward is barred from ever filing a lawsuit. This would include those who do not remember their abuse, those who do not understand the impact it has had on their life, those who are not yet ready to speak out, and – most disturbingly -- those children who are too young to understand that they needed to file a claim before the bar date.

We have seen the evidence of this in the recently closed California window. The Diocese of Stockton filed for bankruptcy relief in 2014. Lawsuits by Stockton survivors were few and far between: victims who were the subject of crimes prior to 2014 may have wanted to file a civil action, but they were barred by the bankruptcy.

In the Sacramento Diocese’s FAQ about bankruptcy, it misleadingly says, “Almost half of these involve allegations from the 1970s or earlier; more than 80 percent involve allegations from the 1980’s or earlier; and only six claims allege abuse that occurred after the diocese’s reforms and improved safeguards in 2002.”

It is dangerous and disingenuous for the Diocese to link the few numbers of more recent claims to its “reforms and improved safeguards.” The fact is that we are unlikely to hear from those victimized from 2002 and after because of delayed disclosure. Trauma-informed experts say most victims disclose between the ages of 50-70. So, accusations from 2002 will likely not hit their peak for another 20 years. 

California recently adopted a law removing the civil statute of limitations for child sex crimes completely. However, for those survivors abused in Catholic institutions that see a bankruptcy to completion, the legislative intent of this reform -- to allow just compensation for life-long injuries -- will be thwarted for decades.

In addition, we know that child predators rarely, if ever stop, without outside intervention. The Catholic Church is a prime example of a religious institution that protected its perpetrators from criminal prosecution for decades. Unfortunately, SCOTUS ruled in the Stogner case that criminal statutes of limitations cannot be changed retroactively.

As a work-around to this Supreme Court ruling on child sex crimes, states like California opened civil windows to help protect today’s children by allowing victims to pursue lawsuits naming their perpetrators, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church.  When the look-back provision was passed and the legal challenge to the window failed, Catholic dioceses then began fleeing to the protection of the bankruptcy court, again thwarting the legislative intent -- to expose the names of abusers. 


US bankruptcy laws give unintended advantages to churches: SNAP urges Federal action

For Immediate Release, December 6, 2023

An insightful article, published in The Guardian and authored by Louisiana journalist Jason Berry, points out that in bankruptcy court, religious institutions get all the relief the process affords, but have advantages other debtors do not enjoy. Sadly, in the bankruptcies filed by entities like the Catholic Church, the law is being used to protect institutions that covered up child sex abuse. 

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, believes that in the interest of safeguarding today’s boys and girls, the United States government must close this loophole. As SNAP Board Member Dan McNevin pointed out in The Guardian piece, “These bankruptcies are saving dioceses from ever coming clean.” Dan wants the Church to list the names of all of the accused, as a form of “contrition.” The bankruptcy process does not lend itself to those disclosures.

While the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, agreed to release its clergy abuse files publicly as part of that bankruptcy settlement, Santa Fe is the exception rather than the rule. Documents in the Milwaukee bankruptcy were sealed in 2016. A request from the state attorney general to release those records in 2018 is still being litigated.

The New Orleans bankruptcy is perhaps the worst-case scenario. The judge in that proceeding has not only kept the information sealed, she chose a “nuclear option” in 2022, when a local Catholic school was warned about an accused priest who was working there. In response, the judge removed three plaintiff attorneys from the creditor committee, as well as their four clients/survivors. She also fined the lawyer who had issued the warning to the school's principal $400,000. The fine is currently under appeal. The FBI has been investigating Catholic cases in Louisiana for more than a year, though how much information it has actually obtained from the Church is unclear.

Child predators rarely, if ever stop, without outside intervention. The Catholic Church is a prime example of a religious institution that has protected its perpetrators from criminal prosecution for decades. Unfortunately, SCOTUS ruled in the Stogner case that criminal statutes of limitations cannot be changed retroactively. Yet the Catholic Church has impeded current criminal investigations in Wisconsin, and perhaps in Louisiana as well.

As a work-around to the US Supreme Court ruling on criminal law, states have expanded or removed their civil statutes of limitation. Some, like Louisiana, California, and New York, have open civil windows to help protect children by allowing victims to pursue lawsuits, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church. Even today, dioceses in Louisiana are challenging that state’s look-back legislation.

When legal challenges to civil windows fail, as they did in California, Catholic dioceses have fled to the protection of the bankruptcy court, thwarting the legislative intent of those states to learn the names of the abusers. In their efforts to protect their secrets they have even become unlikely bedfellows with a company that contributed to the US' current opioid crisis.

We do not think it is in the public interest for information about child predators, regardless of where they hunted, to remain hidden. It seems to us long past time for the federal government to reconsider this unintended consequence of the bankruptcy law.

CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected]), Dan McNevin, SNAP Board of Directors Treasurer ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814- 341-8386)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


SNAP Letter to Christophe Cardinal Pierre - Papal Nuncio

Oct. 19, 2023
His Eminence Christophe Cardinal Pierre
Papal Nuncio
3339 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008


Dear Cardinal Pierre:


"The Diocese of Springfield’s handling of child sex abuse allegations is a story of failed leadership—leadership that allowed clerics to sexually abuse children in the diocese for decades. Through it all, men leading the diocese for 50 years chose to protect the reputation of the church and its clerics, rather than attempt to ensure the physical and mental well-being of its children.”
“As a result, children of the diocese suffered through decades of child sex abuse, the impact of which continues to this day."
So wrote Illinois’ highest ranking law enforcement professional, Attorney General Kwame Raoul, following a nearly five-year investigation into clergy sex crimes and cover ups across the state.
Into this horrific situation stepped Bishop Thomas Paprocki twelve years ago. He knew Springfield had been a troubled diocese. (In fact, one of his predecessors, Bishop Daniel Ryan, was a child molester himself, as Paprocki himself was aware.)
So one would reasonably have expected Paprocki to be especially diligent, sensitive and proactive about abuse.
His experience should have also enabled him to better deal with abuse.


SNAP weighs in on USCCB meeting in Baltimore

For Immediate Release November 13, 2023

When all US Catholic bishops meet in Baltimore, we urge them to discuss the church's ongoing clergy sex abuse and cover-up crisis. Ignoring this still-widespread and deeply hurtful criminal scandal leads to further complacency which enables more predators to assault more kids.
While the Catholic hierarchy's internal panels, procedures, policies and protocols on abuse are inherently flawed and rarely effective, not talking about this crisis is the wrong approach.


Specifically, at a bare minimum, we urge the bishops to at least discuss the possibility of:
---establishing a whistleblowers fund to help church employees who experience retaliation after reporting known or suspected child sex crimes to church officials, and
---fighting for, not against, reforms of secular abuse laws to give victims of childhood sexual violence more time to expose those who commit or conceal child sex crimes in court.


We also urge them to vote AGAINST elevating San Francisco's archbishop to a committee chairmanship.
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone remains one of only about a dozen prelates who stubbornly, recklessly and callously refuse to disclose and post on their website the names of credibly accused child molesting clerics. On that basis alone, he should be denied any more positions of respect or responsibility in the church.
(He's one of two candidates to become head of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of the Diocese of Toledo is running against him.)
https://www.usccb.org/news/2023/us-bishops-meet-nov-13-16-baltimore-assembly-be-live-streamed

 

CONTACT: David Lorenz, SNAP Maryland ([email protected], 301-906-9161), Teresa Lancaster, SNAP Member ([email protected], 410- 703- 9122),  Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578

 

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is once again tone deaf to the cry of the poor: they have ignored survivors’ cries for justice

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is once again tone deaf to the cry of the poor: they have ignored survivors’ cries for justice

 

The Bishops' Conference ignores two primary findings of the recent Synod which concluded on October 28th

 

The USCCB sits on their hands while Archbishop William Lori re-victimizes survivors by filing for bankruptcy, not to protect Church assets, but to avoid the scandal of civil litigation

 

WHAT: At a sidewalk news conference, abuse survivors and advocates who are part of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, will demand that the USCCB follow the findings of the recent Synod which recommends a new approach to the child abuse crisis and also to have “regular reviews of the bishop’s performance with reference to …safeguarding against all possible kinds of abuse.” They will call on the USCCB to take these recommendations seriously, as well as to review the conduct of Archbishop Lori. Specifically, to look into how the Archbishop has handled the abuses newly revealed by the Maryland Attorney General and how he has revictimized survivors by filing for bankruptcy. The Archdiocese of Baltimore (AOB) has not shown any financial insolvency due to child abuse cases being filed.  SNAP will also call, once again, for the Archbishop to attend each of the bankruptcy hearings where survivors are given a chance to tell their stories in an atmosphere where they feel protected by the court, rather than in the Archbishop’s inner sanctum where survivors feel intimidated by the trappings of ecclesiastical power.

 

WHEN: Tuesday 11/14/23 at 1:30 PM

 

WHERE:  Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, 700 Aliceanna St, Baltimore, MD 21202

 

WHO: Abuse survivors and advocates, including Maryland SNAP Leader David Lorenz and Maryland SNAP member Teresa Lancaster


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