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Founder of clergy abuse group quits in second major loss following lawsuit

(RNS) Barbara Blaine, center, founder and president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, found herself in the center of controversy at an impromptu 2005 news conference at the Vatican after the death of Pope John Paul II. RNS file photo by Rene Shaw

(RNS) The founder of a prominent advocacy group for children sexually abused by Catholic priests has resigned, the second major departure in the wake of a lawsuit filed last month by a former employee alleging that the organization colluded with lawyers to refer clients and profit from settlements.

In an email to supporters, Barbara Blaine said her decision to leave SNAP, which stands for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, had nothing to do with the legal action.

“(P)lease know that the recent lawsuit filed against SNAP, as the others in the past which have no merit, had absolutely no bearing on my leaving,” Blaine, herself a victim of clergy abuse as a child who started SNAP 29 years ago, said in an email sent on Saturday (Feb. 4). “The discussions and process of my departure has been ongoing.”

Blaine’s resignation was effective a day earlier, on Feb. 3.

The surprise announcement comes less than two weeks after David Clohessy, SNAP’s executive director and also a fixture in the organization for nearly 30 years, announced he too was leaving.

Clohessy and SNAP officials had also insisted that his departure had been in the works for months and had nothing to do with do with the lawsuit, filed in Illinois on Jan. 17.


READ: Top official of clergy victims group leaves as SNAP faces lawsuit


The lawsuit by Gretchen Rachel Hammond names Blaine, Clohessy and other SNAP leaders as defendants and alleges that “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors — it exploits them.”

The group, which more than any other is responsible for revealing the scandals that have continued to rock Catholicism in the U.S. and around the world, “routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of ‘donations,’” Hammond alleges.

“In exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church. These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

Hammond, who worked on fundraising for SNAP from 2011 until 2013, said she feared reprisals from SNAP leaders over her objections to the lawyers’ payments and suffered serious health problems as a result. She said that she was fired in 2013, allegedly because she confronted her bosses over their practices with victims’ attorneys, and that the dismissal has hurt her career.

It’s long been assumed that SNAP received substantial donations from some of the high-profile attorneys who specialize in these cases and who have won multimillion-dollar settlements from the Catholic Church in the U.S. and its insurance companies.

But Hammond’s filing shows how critical such donations are to SNAP’s survival: It claims, for example, that 81 percent of the $437,407 in donations SNAP received in 2007 came from victims’ lawyers, and 65 percent of the $753,596 it raised in 2008 came from lawyers.

More problematic is Hammond’s claim that SNAP worked hand in glove with victims’ attorneys and received “direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

SNAP officials have from the outset denied Hammond’s claims.

In a statement Wednesday, SNAP board chair Mary Ellen Kruger said that victims who come to SNAP are indeed often referred to attorneys “in an effort to bring accountability to those that have condoned and perpetuated this abuse for decades.”

But she said the donations from the attorneys have no connection to those referrals.

“Like all nonprofits, SNAP solicits and accepts donations from anyone who believes in our cause,” Kruger said.

“This includes individuals from all walks of life. This has also included attorneys who have filed lawsuits against priests and ‘the system.’ To be clear, SNAP has never and will never enter into any ‘kickback schemes’ as alleged by Ms. Hammond in her lawsuit, nor has SNAP ever made donations an implied or express condition of the referral of victims.”

In her email to supporters, Blaine portrayed the personnel moves as part of SNAP’s natural transition “from a founder led organization to one that is board led.”

“I have every confidence that the strength you and the board members have shown as survivors will keep the organization strong,” she wrote.

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

8 Comments

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  • As usual when lawyers become involved, a certain oiliness seems to permeate everything they touch, including this event, as if the circumstances which led to the founding of SNAP weren’t tawdry enough. The narrative as told here presents elements of plausibility from either side, no doubt a skilled jurist will be needed to sort it out. Meanwhile the legacy of uncleanliness continues to soil everything it touches.

  • SNAP is needed now, more than ever! Catholic bishops are still covering, and priests are still abusing! Time to clean house. For real!

  • You are so right. Thank you for your efforts to expose the dangerous reality of the Catholic Church. I look forward to your well informed comments and have learned much from them.

    I appreciate your constant support for victims/survivors, you truly make a difference!

    Bishops continue to mislead us by speaking as if the sexual abuse of children and its coverup is a thing of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    The same secretive and privileged culture that refers to bishops as “Your Excellency” or “Your Eminence is still the norm in the church of (Jesus??).

    The same self protective culture that places the image of the church, the reputation of the ordained and the protection of assets above the safety of innocent children and the healing of victims is alive and well in the Catholic Church.

    Thank God for folks like PetrusRomanus1 and SNAP who demand that church leaders finally come clean and sincerely reform the self protective culture of privilege that continues to betray victims and put children in danger.

    SNAP is needed now, more than ever!

  • For decades, no millennia, the Catholic Church was able to silence their victims. If it weren’t for the courageous lawyers who risked the power of the Church in places like Boston and Philadelphia to end their careers, hundreds of thousands of more children around the globe would have been destroyed. I personally know one attorney who had to quit taking these cases because they sickened him so much, it affected his health.

  • SNAP changed the Catholic Church and how they deal with the crisis of child abuse! This law suit is a joke from a fired employee trying to get revenge and get paid.

  • Christians think they can bring morals and values back into our schools with their dogma, but they cannot keep perverts out of their churches.

  • “…donations from the attorneys have no connection to those referrals.’ Perhaps. But you gotta admit the donations do look like bribes, if you like, retainer payments in reverse.

    From a legal standpoint, proving corruption here may be difficult (if not impossible), unless there is written documentation of such an arrangement, or an audio/visual record of it. But the public perception of “kickback schemes” will remain; this perception can only harm SNAP’s reputation and fund-raising drives in the long-run.

    It was always a risky business accepting donations from the very law firms to which SNAP referred its clients. Seriously, did it never once cross anyone’s mind that such a practice could look highly suspicious in the public eye? At the very least, there was a lack of prudence and good judgement by SNAP officials in this matter, and it may cost the organisation dearly, whatever the legal outcome.

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