SNAP Supporter & Donor Profile: The Truth Will Prevail: Susan Vance
This profile was written by Patrick Price, Fundraising and Development Manager of SNAP, to honor our courageous and dedicated supporters and donors.
Former Catholic nun and school teacher, now wife and mother of two, Susan Vance has served as a dedicated and outspoken advocate and supporter of those who have been sexually abused by priests and bishops for almost 20 years. Her work began in 2002 when the Boston clergy sexual abuse scandal was reported and got critical attention from media and the public. While working as a school teacher, Susan realized that the situation in Knoxville, Tennessee, was as dire as that in Boston. Anthony J. O’Connell, previously a bishop in Tennessee, but reassigned as a bishop in Palm Beach, Florida, was accused of sexual abuse against two teenaged seminarians while he was head of the Hannibal, Missouri, Seminary. To make matters worse, the local Family Life Center in Oak Ridge had been named after Bishop O’Connell in 1998 when he left for Palm Beach.
As part of the parish where the O’Connell Family Life Center was located, Susan, along with others, protested that Bishop O’Connell’s name should be removed from the facility so that the Church was not honoring an abuser of children. Despite numerous and frustrating attempts to persuade local Catholic leaders, including Knoxville Bishop Joseph Kurtz and Diocesan Chancellor Vann Johnston, to rename the Family Life Center, they refused to acknowledge the need for the change and even minimized the allegations against Bishop O’Connell. That was the euphemistic “last straw” for Susan, who reached out to David Clohessy of SNAP to seek his help and guidance about the Family Life Center issue. In 2003, Bishop O’Connell’s name was finally removed.
Susan then became the first organizer of SNAP Tennessee. Today, she and her colleague David Brown serve as SNAP leaders and advocates for survivors. Her committed work with SNAP focuses on three important areas: 1) providing support to sexual abuse survivors by listening, caring, guiding, and letting them know that what happened to them was not their fault, so that they can transition from victim to survivor to thriver; 2) advocating constantly for the exposure of Church corruption (as Susan says, “the truth will prevail”) and for the advancement of laws that will protect all victims of sexual abuse; and, 3) educating Catholic parishioners and the public about the heinous reality of sexual abuse by clergy committed through the “abuse of power.”
Susan has witnessed that SNAP is one of the few nonprofit organizations addressing sexual abuse that has endured throughout numerous decades to provide ongoing and compassionate support and to advocate for survivors of abuse and their families. SNAP’s main message that “victims come first” and its honest and compassionate leadership are the fundamental reasons why Susan is delighted to charitably support SNAP, so survivors can continue to seek out the help they need to live a healthy life.