By Dennis Sadowski
(CNS) — The resignation of the president of the Survivors Network of Those
Abused by Priests opens the door for a new generation of leaders, said a top volunteer
within the organization.
is full of vibrant leaders,” Joelle Casteix, the organization’s Western regional director, told
Catholic News Service Feb. 6. She said the resignation Feb. 3 of Barbara Blaine, who founded SNAP
and served as its president for 29 years, was not totally unexpected.
time was not what anyone had planned, but any vibrant organization can always
find people to stand up and lead an organization into its next phase,”
us, it’s always heartbreaking when a leader departs,” she added. “The
true heart and mission of SNAP will always be with its volunteer
resignation was announced to SNAP’s volunteer members Feb. 4. Mary Ellen Kruger, who chairs
the SNAP board of directors, said in an email Feb. 6 to CNS that Blaine stepped
down for personal reasons “that have nothing to do with the lawsuit.”
action came less than three weeks after a former SNAP director of
development, Gretchen Rachel Hammond, filed a wrongful
termination lawsuit charging that the organization is more interested in fundraising and
taking kickbacks from lawyers suing the Catholic Church than in helping
had been a vocal critic of organizations, particularly the Catholic Church, for
responses to clergy sexual abuse. She often was joined by David Clohessy, SNAP’s former
longtime executive director, who resigned Dec. 31.
Religion News Service reported
Jan. 24 that Clohessy said his decision was unrelated to the lawsuit. “My
last day was five weeks ago, before this lawsuit ever happened,” he told RNS.
The suit was filed Jan. 17. In response to an email query from CNS to confirm that information Jan. 26, Blaine said: “David resigned Dec. 31, 2016, and it had nothing to do with the lawsuit.”
SNAP is considered the largest
and best-known advocacy organization for survivors of clerical abuse.
lawsuit, filed in Cook County
Circuit Court in Chicago, accuses SNAP of being “a commercial organization” and “premised upon farming out
abuse survivors as clients for attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the
survivors and collect settlement checks from the Catholic Church.”
worked for SNAP from July 2011 to February 2013. She claims she was fired in
retaliation for a series of discoveries she made about the way settlements were
being handled, and that the stress caused by SNAP’s treatment of her sent her
to the hospital four times and resulted in a series of health problems.
lawsuit also asserted that SNAP “is motivated by its directors’ and
officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.” In
2011, SNAP helped publicize an attempt in Europe to bring charges in the International Criminal Court against Pope
Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials for crimes against humanity for allegedly “concealing and tolerating” clergy abuse. In June 2013, the head of that court declined to pursue such a case.
1, Kruger addressed the lawsuit’s charges on the organization’s website. She
said SNAP had never been a counseling organization, but rather a
volunteer-based, peer support network of survivors who help each other through
a variety of actions and in local groups in 22 states.
also acknowledged that SNAP refers abuse survivors to attorneys “in an
effort to bring accountability to those that have condoned and perpetuated this
abuse for decades.” She said if abuse survivors are unable to “fight
back against the system, systemic abuse of authority would continue
statement denied that SNAP ever refers survivors to attorneys in exchange for
money, saying that the organization “has never and will never enter into
any ‘kickback schemes.'” Kruger’s statement acknowledged that SNAP solicits
and accepts donations from “anyone who believes in our cause,” including
attorneys who have filed lawsuits against priests and particular dioceses.
tax filings with the IRS showed Blaine and Clohessy were paid $86,320 each in
2014, the latest year records are available, Casteix told CNS she would like to
see the organization “move into professional leadership.”
believe that SNAP’s next phase can be much more inclusive of survivors … and
have professional leadership to reach out to a broader range of survivors,”
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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.
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