Culture Ethics Faith Institutions News

Leading clergy abuse group to stay the course despite lawsuit, departures

Catholics and sexual abuse survivors protest in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis on June 11, 2014. The group gathered in response to a deposition given by St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson. Photo courtesy Barb Dorris/SNAP

(RNS) The head of a major advocacy group for children sexually abused by clergy said the organization will not change course despite the departure of its two founders and a lawsuit filed last month alleging SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, colluded with lawyers to refer clients and profit from settlements.

“We’re really not talking about anything changing,” said Mary Ellen Kruger, chair of the five-member board of directors of SNAP. “Our everyday mission is the same: helping survivors, protecting kids through education, and exposing predators. So that’s not changed.”

Mary Ellen Kruger. Photo courtesy of SNAP

Mary Ellen Kruger. Photo courtesy of SNAP

If anything, she said in a telephone interview from St. Louis, the organization is trying to build up its local chapters to strengthen its core mission as a support group for victims and their families.

Kruger said it also wants to continue to expand beyond its original focus on the Catholic Church  (SNAP began nearly 30 years ago as a response to priest abuse cases) to include chapters with victims from other churches and religions.

“Being out there in the public is obviously not the greater part of what we do. It is part of it,” Kruger said.

But she added that the public advocacy that SNAP became known for, especially as the clergy abuse scandal snowballed after 2002, “is going to be determined by what’s going on in each city or what’s coming across the news.”

“The information has to be out there for us to react to it.”

Right now, SNAP itself is the focus of the news on this topic, and not the way the organization intended.

Last month, a former employee, Gretchen Rachel Hammond, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit claiming that SNAP “does not focus on protecting or helping survivors — it exploits them.”

Hammond alleged 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, who worked on fundraising for SNAP from 2011 until 2013, said she feared reprisals from the group’s 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.

Those are explosive allegations, and SNAP leaders – including Kruger – have said they are completely unfounded.

But a week after that suit was filed, one of SNAP’s first and most active leaders, David Clohessy, announced he had recently left his role as executive director. Then last Saturday (Feb. 4), Barbara Blaine, who founded the group 29 years ago, revealed that she was leaving, too.

Both said their departures had been in the works and had nothing to do with the lawsuit – claims that were met with skepticism.


READ: Founder of abuse group quits in second major loss following lawsuit


Whatever the reason, the loss of Blaine and Clohessy, who were the public faces of SNAP for decades, represents a major upheaval for the organization, even leaving aside the legal threat.

Barbara Blaine in 2005. Photo by Rene Shaw

Barbara Blaine in 2005. Photo by Rene Shaw

In her farewell 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.”

Speaking to RNS, Kruger did not detail how giving the five-member board greater oversight might change SNAP’s operations or management style.

She said the organization has a good, professional staff and a new headquarters in St. Louis; it recently moved from Chicago, where Blaine lives.

SNAP’s new director, Barb Dorris, a longtime staffer who will now be in charge of day-to-day operations, has been working to launch a chapter on Long Island and in Atlanta. The group recently started chapters for Mormons, Mennonites and Baptists who have been abused in each of those denominations or churches.

Kruger said they also want to help those abused in other venues and organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and public and private schools. “The heart and soul of SNAP, since the beginning, is a very dedicated core of volunteer leaders, and that’s not going to change,” she said.

“SNAP is full of vibrant leaders,” Joelle Casteix, the organization’s Western regional director, told Catholic News Service. Casteix said the timing of Blaine’s departure “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.”

Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus of Duquesne University School of Law and former chairman of the U.S. Bishops National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth, told The Associated Press that SNAP still has a place “in making sure the topic never does get buried again.”

“They’ll be relevant as long as the problem is with us,” Cafardi said.

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.

7 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Considering that Blaine and Clohessy’s statements about their departures being long in the works is contradicted by the regional director’s statement, skepticism is certainly due.

  • Gibson’s latest article is again poor journalism, even by Gibson standards.
    Let’s look at the balance of citations and quotations in his article:

    PRO-SNAP:
    – Mary Ellen Kruger
    – Barbara Blaine
    – “Barb” Dorris
    – Joelle Casteix
    – Nicholas Cafardi

    ANTI-SNAP:
    – Gretchen Hammond (only citing her lawsuit)

    Good grief. If a Catholic bishop has resigned amidst multiple scandals and said that the scandals had nothing to do with it, Gibson would have gone through his entire Rolodex to dredge up multiple sources to challenge and refute such a questionable claim.

    Yet in this article, Gibson does not even cite a single individual challenging the embarrassing and laughable announcements by Clohessy and Blaine! Zero!

    David Gibson – like his friends in the left-wing media – throws his journalistic cynicism and professionalism out the window when it comes to reporting on forces that hate the Catholic Church.

  • The dedicated volunteer SNAP leaders are continuing to support victims, help expose the truth, and therefore protect kids today. We are not stopping our mission..

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511, [email protected]

    SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests,

  • Here we get the view from the right wing! D Pierre and his site, The Media Report, are that, and more. Dave Gibson is the one who got it right, here.

  • Except that the regional director’s statement is actually more corroborative than “contradictory.” There would be no reason for the regional directors to know of these departures until public announcement was imminent, or later. Most organizations work that way!

  • Good grief, Gretchen Rachel Hammond a whistle blower, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit claiming that she was concerned about survivors being exploited and neglected. I am so glad that she cares about survivors. I am sure that the professional Catholic pedophile priest apologist from the faux media report………….David Pierrie can tell all of us why she waited 4 years to blow the whistle.
    Why did Hammond wait 4 years to file her lawsuit, ensuring that the survivors she claims to care about were neglected and exploited for 4 additional years?

  • God bless SNAP and their attorneys. Without attorneys, who in the beginning risked having their careers tanked by powerful local hierarchs, the hundreds of thousands of sexual assaults around the globe would still be only “ALLEGED” crimes and we would have only “ALLEGED” victims.

ADVERTISEMENTs