Joelle Casteix, Southwest regional director of SNAP, attaches pictures to a wall before a news conference in Rome in June 2010. (CNS)
Years ago, a number of Catholic World Report articles argued the case that the group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) whom the media has called upon repeatedly over the years as a reliable voice to bash the Catholic Church over its handling of the sex abuse crisis was actually nothing more than a front group for contingency lawyers and was driven by a deep ideological animus against the Church.
Now, recent lawsuits against the organization, including one by SNAP’s own former director of development, have, if anything, revealed that those arguments were too modest in their estimation of SNAP’s inner workings.
And in the wake of these lawsuits, SNAP’s most high-profile leadersits founder and president, Barbara Blaine, and the group’s national director, David Clohessyhave suddenly announced their resignations.
SNAP has now quickly dissolved from a group awash in money and international media admiration into an organization that is near-broke, mired in costly litigation, and on the brink of extinction. What happened?
Barbara Blaine and David Clohessy in 2012 (CNS)
Enter Gretchen Hammond
In the summer of 2011, SNAP hired Gretchen Hammond as its director of development. By the end of 2011, Hammond, who had a background in the nonprofit world, had already helped to increase contributions to SNAP by more than double.
However, as Hammond became more familiar with the inner workings of SNAP, the more she became concerned that SNAP was not simply an innocent "victim advocacy group." She was especially troubled by the group’s cozy relationships with Church-suing lawyers and the “donations” that poured in from them.
But most notably, Hammond an abuse victim herself also noticed that SNAP was not only not serving the needs of victims, but actually ignoring them. Abuse victims were simply being used as props and tools to get funds from lawyers.
When Hammond finally took her concerns to SNAP leadership, that is when her relationship with the group soon deteriorated. SNAP fired Hammond in 2013, but before she left she gathered extensive internal documents from the group, which expose SNAP’s shifty relationships with lawyers and the group’s brazen disregard for actual victims.
In February of this year, Hammond filed her lawsuit against SNAP for “retaliatory discharge,” meaning the group had fired her for reporting to leadership the acceptance of kickbacks from attorneys.
While many lawsuits are often rife with mundane legal language and layered legal arguments, Hammond’s suit is an eye-opener. From the very first page, Hammond lays out a portrait of SNAP as a group of committed leftists who hate the Catholic Church and who have used sex abuse victims as pawns in a craven money-making scheme with plaintiffs’ lawyers to damage the Church. From Hammond’s suit:
- “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping victims it exploits them.”
- “SNAP routinely accepts financial kickbacks in the form of donations. 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.”
- “[A]ttorneys and SNAP work together in developing the legal theories and strategies of survivors’ lawsuits. Attorneys and SNAP base their strategy not on the best interests of the survivor, but on what will generate the most publicity and fundraising opportunities for SNAP.”
- “SNAP claims status as a tax-exempt organization … In reality, SNAP is a commercial operation motivated by its directors’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.
- “SNAP callously disregards the real interests of survivors, using them instead as props and tools in furtherance of SNAP’s own commercial fundraising goals.”
The exodus begins
Leaders at SNAP were surely hoping that news of Hammond’s lawsuit would not spread very far. But soon, a number of major news outlets, including the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, took notice.
However, less than a week after Hammond’s suit, on January 23, David Clohessy, the group’s long-time national director who was a favorite among journalists seeking punchy quotes for their articles bludgeoning the Catholic Church, announced his resignation.
Yet Clohessy insisted to various media outlets that Hammond’s lawsuit and the revelations that accompanied it somehow had nothing to do with his resignation. And some of Clohessy’s explanations for his departure bordered on the comical. In an interview with the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Clohessy actually cited “high cholesterol” as a contributing factor for his decision to resign.
Clohessy also gave conflicting statements to the media regarding the timing of his resignation, including saying that he had actually resigned back in October. But even as he claimed this, Clohessy’s name was still listed on SNAP’s web site as its director.
Then, less than two weeks after Clohessy’s resignation, Barbara Blaine, SNAP’s founder, announced her own resignation. And just like Clohessy, Blaine claimed her resignation “had absolutely no bearing on my leaving” and that “the discussions and process of my departure has been ongoing.”
SNAP now claims that the organization will continue as “99.9%” volunteers with Barbara Dorris, the group’s longtime “outreach director,” now taking the leadership role.
The road to the end
There were, however, several signs that SNAP was in trouble even before Hammond’s lawsuit.
Back in 2012, major red flags were raised when a lawsuit against SNAP by a Missouri priest exposed that SNAP was closely collaborating with Church-suing attorneys. The suit uncovered that SNAP was actually publicizing lawsuits that had not even been filed in court yet.
But a more serious blow to SNAP came in June of 2015, when a priest in St. Louis, Rev. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang, sued SNAP in federal court for defamation, claiming that the group had conspired to falsely accuse him of child abuse. In news articles, media statements, and posts on its web site, SNAP branded Fr. Jiang as a “child molesting cleric” and a “cunning predator” even after law enforcement twice cleared Jiang of any wrongdoing.
SNAP, however, refused the judge’s orders to turn over relevant documents in the case. Eventually, last August, the judge entered a judgment against SNAP and also ordered SNAP to “pay the reasonable expenses, including plaintiff's attorney's fees, caused by their failure to comply with the Court's orders.”
In retrospect, it should have been little surprise that SNAP’s aggressive, over-the-top approach to attacking the Catholic Church would eventually catch up with it. The ruthlessness and recklessness with which SNAP, especially its director David Clohessy, would attack the Church cannot be overstated.
And if there were any doubt as to what motivated Clohessy in his attacks, a 2011 email exchange with an alleged victim cited in Hammond’s lawsuit should resolve the matter. Clohessy wrote:
“i sure hope you DO pursue the WI [Wisconsin] bankruptcy … Every nickle (sic) they don’t have is a nickle (sic) that they can’t spend on defense lawyers, PR staff, gay-bashing, women-hating, contraceptive-battling, etc.”
Such angry opposition to the Church and its teachings should not have been surprising to anyone. As we reported here at CWR back in 2012, SNAP dedicated itself to aligning with left-wing causes. SNAP President Blaine appeared as a featured guest at a charged conference called “Women Money Power,” hosted by the Feminist Majority Foundation, the very influential pro-abortion lobbying group. At the conference Blaine joined noted pro-abortion activists, including Eleanor Smeal, Sandra Fluke, Rev. Barry Lynn, and Dawn Laguens (a vice president at Planned Parenthood), for a panel discussion titled “Bishops, Politicians, and the War on Women’s Health.”
And within months of the Feminist Majority get-together, SNAP invited Rev. Barry Lynn, the “progressive” president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, to speak at its annual conference. And a year later, at the 2013 conference, Eleanor Smeal, the president of Feminist Majority, was SNAP’s keynote speaker.
Add to these episodes the fact that David Clohessy was once a local leader of the far-left activist group ACORN, and SNAP’s political agenda is established with little doubt.
In pursuit of his left-wing campaign against the Church, Clohessy would make countless media appearances and press statements in which he would attack Church officials and accused priests with little regard for veracity. In a 2012 deposition, Clohessy even admitted under oath that he provided false information to the media. Yet even after making this embarrassing admission, Clohessy continued to let falsehoods fly.
But it is Clohessy’s fearless mean-spiritedness over the years that cannot go without mention. Aside from his countless attacks on innocent priests and bishops, Clohessy has clearly made it his mission to torment priests, bishops, and the Catholic flock any way he can imagine.
Clohessy actually once led a court campaign to allow SNAP to harass and intimidate parishioners outside of Sunday Mass. He has also incited the harassment of accused Catholic priests by publishing the personal phone numbers and email addresses of them on the SNAP web site.
The examples are legion. But the lowest of the low may have occurred in late January of 2012, when Clohessy actually suggested that Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was faking his cancer and dementia to avoid appearing in court for an abuse case. Less than 36 hours after Clohessy made his cruel remark, Bevilacqua passed away in his sleep at age 88. Clohessy never apologized.
Mixed media reaction
While nearly every significant news outlet in the country has excitedly cited at one time or another SNAP’s Clohessy and Blaine in attacking the Catholic Church, the media’s reaction to the pair’s sudden resignations has been muted.
Newspaper and television outlets in Chicago reported on Hammond’s lawsuit and the resignations. The Kansas City Star and the Boston Globe, both of whom have covered clergy abuse cases extensively, also generated modest articles about Hammond’s lawsuit against SNAP.
The most notable silence, however, has come from the New York Times and its crack “National Religion Correspondent” Laurie Goodstein. Over the years, the Times and Goodstein have made reporting on the Catholic Church sex abuse story an obsession, and they have repeatedly quoted SNAP leaders. On March 13, 2012, the Times and Goodstein even ran a sympathetic page one story on SNAP when SNAP and David Clohessy were flouting court orders to turn over documents. The Times then followed the article with a crazy editorial the very next day, claiming that the Catholic Church was somehow “hurting victims’ advocates” by expecting SNAP to obey the law and follow a judge’s orders.
Yet even as the ship at SNAP has been quickly sinking, Laurie Goodstein and the Times have gone radio silent, not publishing a single syllable about the group’s demise.
And in this sense, nothing has changed.