The New York Times would have you believe that the Catholic Church is on a heartless crusade to expose the names, addresses, and phone numbers of anonymous victims of atrocious clergy abuse. According to a recent Times editorial, Church leaders are “threatening to expose private files compiled by advocates for abuse survivors [and] are giving victims new reason to retreat into fear and secrecy.”
Then there is the reality.
The Times has been reporting on the growing conflict between the Church and the vocal advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. The clash has swelled in recent months after lawyers for an accused priest in Missouri deposed SNAP’s national director, David Clohessy, in January.
The Times predictably paints the clash between the two parties as a case of the big, bad Catholic Church bullying an innocent group of abuse victims. In fact, in a front-page story about the adversarial situation, the Times portrays the Church as callously disregarding victims. Reporter Laurie Goodstein relays:
[I]n 2002, American bishops met at their conference in Dallas with [SNAP] members who gave emotional testimony about the toll of the abuse. But relations have deteriorated since then, and SNAP members say bishops now refuse to meet with them.
Goodstein fails to explain, however, the many good reasons why some bishops have distanced themselves from SNAP. While SNAP has most certainly given a much-needed voice to those who were so grievously damaged by criminal clergy, the group’s tactics and public presentations have been demonstrably mean-spirited and unfair.
The Times ignores SNAP’s record of attacks
For example, as Goodstein’s own paper reported in 2010, Cardinal Timothy Dolan is one cleric who once believed that making himself available to the group would be a constructive expression of support to abuse victims.
Dolan soon learned that such an overture would not be welcomed.
Years ago, when he was archbishop of Milwaukee, Dolan made a visit to a parish, only to have a member of SNAP spit in his face. The man then roared that he would not be silent “until there was a ‘going out of business’ sign in front of every Catholic parish, church, school, and outreach center.”
“That’s when I knew I should have listened to those who told me that working with [SNAP] would not be helpful,” recalled Dolan.
And a couple of months ago, SNAP’s Clohessy actually suggested in a press statement that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was faking painful cancer and dementia to avoid testifying at the current clergy abuse trial in Philadelphia. Only 36 hours after Clohessy aired his shocking remark, Bevilacqua passed away in his sleep. The former archbishop had been visibly ill for years, and a coroner later determined that he suffered from an array of maladies, including heart disease, prostate cancer, and “fairly advanced” dementia.
Clohessy never apologized for his insensitivity.
Then, in a recent commentary, Father Thomas P. Doyle, a longtime cohort of SNAP and a notorious critic of the Church, actually claimed that “nothing has changed since 1985” with regard to the Church’s approach to clergy abuse.
In the last several years, the Catholic Church has paid over $2 billion in settlements for victims. It has undertaken a radical overhaul of its screening processes and the training of seminarians and employees. It has issued countless public apologies. It has mandated an unprecedented implementation of review boards to investigate abuse accusations.
All of these measures constitute “nothing” in the eyes of SNAP, apparently.
And Goodstein wonders why Church officials are wary of working with SNAP?
A deposition from SNAP: The New York Times vs. the facts
The Times and SNAP have openly mischaracterized the nature of and reasons behind a court-deposition given by SNAP’s David Clohessy earlier this year in Missouri. They have since branded the episode a cold-hearted attempt by Church officials to expose victims’ personal information.
This portrait flies in the face of number of truths about the case:
1. The Church already knows the names and information of the accusers who sue it. Although an accuser may file a suit under the name of “John Doe,” this pseudonym is used for public purposes only. The Church knows the real identities and information of all the “John Does.”
2. When SNAP’s David Clohessy appeared at his deposition, a priest’s lawyer made it very clear that neither he nor the Church had any desire to acquire the names of abuse victims.
The lawyer addressed SNAP’s leader:
Let me state at the beginning of this deposition that I do not want the names of any victims that have contacted you other than those that have contacted you and filed suit against [the accused priest in this particular case] or the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Do you understand what I’m saying? I don’t want the names—I don’t want you to reveal to me the names of any victims other than those that have put their names forward in lawsuits. Do you understand that?
Contrary to the impression given by the Times that the Church is seeking to violate victims’ privacy, it is clear that the Church has no desire to do so.
SNAP disobeys the law, the Times looks the other way
In the months leading up to his deposition, David Clohessy resisted his court-imposed order to appear and turn over requested documents. Clohessy lost numerous court appeals, including one to the Missouri Supreme Court.
When Clohessy appeared at his deposition, he steadfastly refused to answer many questions, and he did not turn over the documents he had been ordered to produce.
One can imagine that if the tables were turned and a Church official had done this, the outrage in the media would be nothing short of monumental. It would not be hard to imagine the New York Times making a very big deal out of this.
Yet in its coverage of the Church-SNAP kerfuffle, the Times made no mention of Clohessy so obviously flouting the law.
Indeed, SNAP has given a voice to those who have been so grievously harmed by clergy. We must continue to demand justice and compassion for victims of clergy abuse. The protection of children is paramount.
But the New York Times has mischaracterized SNAP’s activities and misrepresented facts in an attempt to attack the Catholic Church.