Anyone who has watched the Catholic Church abuse narrative unfold in the media over the past several years has likely encountered SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a body which bills itself as the “largest, oldest, and most active support group” for clergy abuse victims. The organization has been quite successful in building its presence and influence in the media, as journalists and writers often turn to the group when seeking a voice critical of the Church for its handling of abuse cases.
Barbara Blaine, a woman who claims to have been abused by a priest as a teenager, founded SNAP in 1988. The group convened its first meeting in 1991, and David Clohessy, a Missouri man who has also claimed abuse by a priest, joined the group in a leadership role a year later. Prior to joining SNAP, Clohessy worked for nearly a decade for the now-disgraced, radical activist group ACORN.
However, while SNAP’s stated mission is “to provide support for men and women who have been sexually victimized by members of the clergy,” the group’s leadership has allied itself with a progressive social agenda and a full-scale assault on the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
The real agenda at play?
This past March in Washington, DC, SNAP President Blaine appeared as a featured guest at a high-voltage conference called “Women Money Power,” hosted by Feminist Majority, a very influential pro-abortion lobbying group. At the conference Blaine was joined noted activists Eleanor Smeal, Sandra Fluke, and Dawn Laguens (a vice president at Planned Parenthood) for a panel discussion titled “Bishops, Politicians, and the War on Women’s Health.”
The panelists took turns railing against Catholic leaders for their positions on “reproductive freedom” (read: contraception and abortion) and their opposition to the Obama administration’s healthcare mandate. Needless to say, the venom in the room against the Catholic Church was palpable.
Most notably, Blaine sat right next to Rev. Barry Lynn, the well-traveled president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State whose progressive views have made him a fixture on cable television talk shows.
Blaine must have really appreciated Rev. Lynn’s talk (which can be viewed on YouTube), because just a few months later he appeared as a headline speaker at SNAP’s annual conference in Chicago. On that occasion, the energetic Lynn—a minister in the United Church of Christ—simply built upon his Church-bashing speech from the Feminist Majority conference, claiming that Catholic bishops have “no moral authority” to speak on women’s issues and human sexuality and asserting that the Church’s opposition to the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate was a “total fraud” and an “unimaginable distortion of the very idea of freedom.” According to Lynn, the Church’s objections to the HHS mandate were not really about religious liberty, but about being given “special treatment” and the “power” to impose their religious doctrine on others.
What did any of this have to do with the topic of clergy sex abuse? Why did Blaine choose Lynn to speak at her conference? They are good questions. Lynn made a brave attempt to tie the subject of clergy abuse to his talk, but ultimately the issue served as little more than a vehicle for a larger assault on the Catholic Church and advocacy for left-leaning social policies.
Child abuse is “allowed” in the Catholic Church?
Another speaker at SNAP’s Chicago conference was author Judy Braun (she has also published under the names “Judy Brown” and “Eishes Chayil,” which means “woman of valor”). In a wild presentation titled “Monotheism and Child Sacrifice,” Braun argued that Jewish communities and the Catholic Church view the sexual abuse of children as an acceptable form of child sacrifice, with roots in the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Although Jews and Catholics have been “sworn enemies” for 2,000 years, says Braun, “both popes and rabbis are united in rare agreement that child sexual abuse is allowed, as long as it is done in secret and its victims are buried deep under the fear of God.”
According to Braun, child abuse is actually permitted in the Catholic Church. It was an alarming premise, indeed, but SNAP conference attendees did not seem to have much of a problem with it, and met Braun’s speech with affirming applause a number of times, according to sources present.
Another dissident voice
Then there was Father Thomas Doyle, a favorite at SNAP’s conferences. Doyle, a Dominican priest and canon lawyer, has a very long record of dissent and animosity against the Church. He has appeared in media venues such as NBC’s Dateline and the 2006 documentary film Deliver Us From Evil to criticize the Catholic Church. SNAP has made Doyle a regular speaker at its annual conferences, and the group awarded him its “Red Badge of Courage” award in 2007.
Doyle also has a record of misrepresenting and belittling the Church. He has degraded Catholic teaching as “childish, unrealistic beliefs” and “magical thinking,” and he has described priestly vestments as “dresses.” He once claimed that the Catholic Church is “the most corrupt political entity on the globe. At least with the Nazis you knew what you were dealing with.”
In his conference talk about the clergy scandals, titled “1982 to 2012: Thirty years – What’s changed, and what hasn’t,” Doyle aggressively attacked American bishops, claiming that bishops’ treatment of abuse victims has gotten worse in recent years and asserting that bishops exhibit a “disdain for the victims” by “slandering” them and seeking a “semblance of superiority” over them.
Many may wonder why Doyle still remains a priest, as he essentially acknowledged to the SNAP audience that he anything but a Catholic. He said that he remains “legally a priest” for “a number of reasons,” but that he has “nothing to do with the Catholic Church” and “nothing to do with the clerical life.”
“I am not associated with the Church in any way,” said Doyle, according to sources present at the conference. “I operate on my own. My belief system is about as far away from the Vatican as you can get.”
SNAP claims it “does not hate churches”
In a talk at the beginning of the conference, SNAP’s National Director David Clohessy maintained that the group “does not hate churches.” This statement is not very convincing, however, given the politically charged, Church-bashing presentations from Lynn, Braun, Doyle, and others. The group’s alliances with these individuals call SNAP’s motivations into question.
As Catholics have read with horror about criminal abuse and cover-ups committed decades ago by Church clergy, many have asked themselves how they can provide support and compassion for the victims who have experienced so much pain and suffering. Certainly the Gospels call Catholics to reach out to those who have been so profoundly harmed by abusive priests.
While SNAP remains the most prominent group advocating for victims of clergy abuse, the group’s alliance with left-leaning political causes and attacks on the Church itself may raise questions for Catholics who would otherwise support the group’s efforts.
Let us pray for the victims of abuse, and let us pray for our clergy.