Response from SNAP’s National Director to a recent post on Off My Knees

Through an email released by SNAP to its leaders a few days ago, David Clohessy responded to the blog of  “a relatively new leader” (that would be me), specifically the post entitled What’s the SNAP Game Plan for the New Bishop of Scranton?

Some thoughts from David Clohessy

When SNAP issues public statements, like we did with Bambera, we have several goals.

Our first goal is to try to prevent future harm and betrayal. We feel it’s our obligation to point out recklessness, deceit and callousness in decision-makers. (If you know your neighbor’s dog has bitten kids, it’s your job, we believe, to warn the parents who move onto the block.) This is especially true when such a decision-maker is promoted and/or gets fawning public attention (as most incoming bishops do). That’s because there’s a natural, but dangerous temptation to assume that the new guy will automatically be better than the old guy. So when a new bishop is named, some survivors, witnesses and whistleblowers often think “Well, instead of calling the police, or the prosecutor, or a lawyer, or a journalist or SNAP, I’ll go to the new bishop and give him a chance to take action here.” We think that’s unwise and often leads to two unfortunate consequences. The individual ends up feeling hurt and betrayed again and the meeting ends up giving church officials more information and opportunities to better hide clergy sex crimes and better prepare themselves, PR-wise, for the day those crimes are revealed.

A second goal is to deter future recklessness, deceit and callousness by decision-makers. One way to do that is to show decision-makers that if they hurt victims or endanger kids, their wrong-doing will be remembered and exposed.

Put another way, we can’t change or control the actions of decision-makers. We can, and should, make people aware of those actions, so that individuals can be forewarned and protect themselves, and so that other decision-makers realize “Geez, if I am mean or deceptive or insensitive now, it may come back to  haunt me later.”

Now the issue of meeting with church officials. . .

As a moral matter, it seems to me that those who ignore or conceal child sex crimes should be the ones offering to meet with those who’ve been harmed. Many survivors, in fact, feel it’s unhealthy for us to go back time and time again to the same rigid, ancient, secretive, all-male church hierarchy seeking help, much as it’s often unhealthy for a battered spouse to keep reuniting with a violent partner again and again, just because the batterer says he or she will change.

As a practical matter, it seems that non-profits have a duty (especially small ones) to use scarce resources in the most productive ways possible. That’s certainly what we in SNAP try hard to do. We have essentially three choices.

1.We can focus our energies doing the things that we KNOW work: exposing predators, helping police, educating citizens, prodding whistleblowers and witnesses to act, setting up support groups across t he country, consoling the many survivors who contact us, and changing archaic, arbitrary, predator-friendly laws.

2. We can try things that MIGHT work, good new ideas and approaches that are suggested to us.

3. Or we can go back to again trying things that have NOT worked in the past, and hope that somehow they’ll work now.

For us, the first two choices seem wise and safe and productive. The latter, for the most part, doesn’t.

For years, from 1988 through much of the 1990s, we met with a number of bishops, sometimes over and over again. The meetings were at best, a stunning waste of time, and at worst, hurtful and distracting, taking valuable time and energy that could and should have been put to more productive use.

No one really knows what’s in the hearts and minds of others. So we have to make assumptions. There are, I think, two basic assumptions. One is that bishops act the way they do because they lack knowledge. The other is that bishops act the way they do because they lack courage. For years, we believed the former. Experience, history and common sense, however, have convinced us of the latter.

Our view is NOT that we spend too little time meeting with church officials. It’s that we spend too much time doing so. Because we are good people, with good intentions, and want to protect kids, we give church officials more and more and more opportunities to make excuses, shift blame, posture as victims, and mislead us, instead of concentrating on doing the outreach we’ve always done that we know really works. And we talk with bishops, which gives them more and more chances to posture as “pastoral” to the public and parishioners, just because they’re willing to spent a few minutes in the same room with us.

So our advice to our dedicated, caring volunteer SNAP leaders, and others, is this: Use your precious time, energy and resources prudently. If a church official asks you to meet, give it serious consideration. Be open-minded. Don’t immediately reject any new or unusual offer or approach.

But think about it long and hard first. Talk with other experienced SNAP leaders. Keep in mind that you, and others, may end up being or feeling betrayed and used. You will likely end up believing it was a waste of time.

If you still may want to arrange such a meeting, here’s a suggested safe, reasonable first step. Ask, before agreeing to meet, for a tangible, helpful action from the bishop as a sign of “good faith.” Ask the bishop, in advance, to put

  • a link to SNAP in his diocesan newspaper first,
  • a notice (that WE write or approve) urging victims to call police in his parish bulletins first, or
  • a list of predator priests on his diocesan website first.

Don’t like these ideas? Come up with your own. (It’s best to make them quick, inexpensive, practical ‘action steps,’ preferably ones other church officials have done. It’s best to avoid vague, symbolic self-serving public relations stuff like ‘hold a healing service.’) Then tell the church official “Do one of these first. That’ll show us you’re sincere and that sitting down face-to-face might be fruitful. Surely you understand our hesitancy and skepticism. So just do one thing now to heal the wounded or protect the vulnerable. Then we’ll feel more reassured and optimistic and we’ll consider meeting with you.”

But our bottom line recommendation is

  • Persistently educate others about corrupt decision-makers, so people can protect themselves, and
  • Relentlessly focus yourself on the efforts that we KNOW make a difference (rather than gamble on activities that may or may not make a difference and might well end up further harming those already in pain).

In any organization there will be disagreements. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Clohessy on a couple of points and I do have some suggestions, some of which I brought up at the August 2009 SNAP conference in Northern Virginia. I suggested that we make use of social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, etc…) to better communicate with each other. When the conversations all go through one point there is the potential of filtering. Survivors should be able to talk to other survivors, especially those in remote locations where the SNAP organization is either not available or not active. I recommend that we come up with a listing of survivors who are blogging or managing websites that cover this subject. We should link our sites or blogs to each other. We can use those resources as an additional way to get the word out. They could be grouped under the “Speaking Out” page.

One of the core principles that I have stuck to with my blog is to do no harm to another survivor. I have talked to some survivors who wish to remain anonymous. I have had long phone calls and email exchanges with classmates or siblings of victims. I have kept their comments in confidence. I have advised them to seek out help from law enforcement, district attorneys, and referred them to organizations that could assist them, including SNAP. I specifically advised them not to go to the diocese with the initial report.

I take issue with Mr. Clohessy insinuating that I am hurting other victims. 

As for meeting with the Bishop-elect of Scranton, that will be my decision, when and if an agreement to meet is reached. I do have conditions, although not necessarily those mentioned by SNAP’s National Director. I have and will continue to seek the advise of those who I trust. If I do go and meet with him, I will not be doing so as a SNAP representative, I will not be calling for a press conference and I will not represent myself to be anything else than a survivor who would like some answers. I understand that I may be ultimately disappointed, however that is for me to determine.

I am hoping there is room in SNAP for differing opinions.

5 thoughts on “Response from SNAP’s National Director to a recent post on Off My Knees”

  1. They keep referring to their tiny budget, yet refuse to let people see their financial papers? So how tiny is it since 2008 when the Calif settlements came in and SNAP got a large influx of donations and moved HQ to Nevada so they could hide financial docs? And also, when has SNAP ever listened to a new idea or entertained a new approach from a survivor in 21 years? Never. DC’s statement from my read is more doubletalk from a tight knit closed hierarchy who run things from the top, same thing they always say. We do this because it works, and they never identify who “we” really is. They’ve never polled their membership, never had an election, a vote on policy. But hey what do I know, I’m just one of the people who have experienced the true Snarl of SNAP. That remark he makes, try something on your own, was said with a true snap snarl. Try something on your own and see how long it is before you are sabotaged. Just try it. Look at what happened to City of Angels. It was not the Church who shut us up, it was SNARL.

  2. In my experience going to a bishop or cardinal with anything but low low low expectations leads to disappointment and possibly damage to a fragile psyche. Moreover, most victims of abuse are not versed in the law, and most bishops are supported by very smart lawyers (whether or not the lawyers are in the room) so beware of what is said on either side of the conversation. Without a doubt some survivors find healing by confronting the devil by entering its den. However, generally seem to be the survivors who are already down the road a fair ways in his or her process.

    the deeper question I’ve come to ask is: why even go to a bishop or any given diocese? Sex abuse is a crime and I think it best that the police or a district attorney confront a bishop or other church leader. That way power speaks to power and there are consequences and a credible paper trail if a bishop or his appointee misleads or outright lies.

    the front yard of this scandal is littered with conversations where a bishop met with a well intentioned person (advocate, parent, neighbor) and bought time by saying what the person wanted or needed to hear.

    In the meantime, kids are exposed to danger.

  3. Surely Michael you were not referring to the clear lakes, clean air, pristine wildlife areas and world reknown agricultural region of the good ole USA where I live when you made this comment: “Survivors should be able to talk to other survivors, especially those in remote locations where the SNAP organization is either not available or not active.

    I assume you were not referring to the SNAP-GreatPlains website, the MN SNAP page on YouTube, the 4 year history of message association with Voice from the Desert blog, nor my long term association with the members of the National Survivors Advocated Coalition or the publisher of NSAC News when you stated: “When the conversations all go through one point there is the potential of filtering.”

    Michael, “up here” we message from our igloo decks with drum beaters, smoke signalers, high speed interneters, hand shakers, a media address book with 5,500 addresses of every media outlet in the USA [including Virginia], and etc.

    From a SNAP Leader who has met or talked to upwards of 1,000 anonymous survivors and/or their loving “survivor” family members and another 1,000 that have been able to step from the shadows of anonymity,
    Bob Schwiderski
    952-471-3422 [my home phone # I list every time I can with hopes to give communication opportunities] [ my email address I list for the same reason as above ]

    ps: I’m looking for more gifted wordsmiths to help educate society about the “primary social sickness in the USA” – sexual abuse. Bob

  4. although snap is the oldest and largest organized group that claims to help victims of abuse by clergy.. it is not the only force for good and change..

    There are many smaller groups and
    MANY INDIVIDUALS who do not want or choose to be part of snap or any other groups.

    These individuals and small groupings do not get paid.. they have no money matters at all,, they give of themselves by themsleves and many have ideas and do things snap does not support.. or does not know about.

    Many of these individuals and small groups have been hurt by snap and other groups, some have not been ever involved with snap or other groups..

    snap has done a lot for victims but like the church hasalso done some harm.
    snap putting themselves on a pedestal or others putting snap on a pedestal is the same as laity putting priests on pedestals or priests putting bishops and cardinals on pedestals.

    i found that instead of fighting a group or the church or a religious order it is more beneficial to find ones place in the abuse by clergy movement and go with that.. do and say what is right for you

    if you dont like what a group says or how they operate why waste time arguing when you can leave the group and be your own voice and you be the change you want to see.

    everybody counts

  5. I agree with both of you.

    I agree with David— a bishop is not the aggrieved party, and if any bishop wishes to reach out to a local or national SNAP leader, well it isn’t as if those numbers aren’t right there on the web site. What local SNAP leader can ever say that his phone rang or her email box suddenly had in it something that started “Hello, I’m Bishop N of the X Diocese, and I’d really like to sit down with you and a few other individuals of your choice in order to listen to your concerns and to share some of my own?”

    I’ve tried to reach out to clergy I’ve known in the past as mentors and to other religious on the subject and by and large haven’t gotten anywhere. The couple of letters I have from bishops are a bit patronizing and very much assurances that they have no intention to change course. I’m afraid that in the current Church of Rome, bishops aren’t ordained and appointed if they don’t have it ingrained in them to “manage upwards.”

    I recently was working with the principal of a Catholic school, a member of a religious order for which I was once a candidate, concerning a policy which put potential abuse victims at risk and discouraged them from obtaining legal counsel under pain of expulsion. This brother asked to have a phone call with me. I have him my numbers and the times I am available. It has been some weeks, and he has not kept his committment to call. I conclude it is because he doesn’t want to; he has no intention of changing his policy. I also have no doubt that if I publish an Op-Ed, I will be accused of “running to the press” rather than engaging in constructive dialogue. I am (we are) used to it.

    On the other hand SNAP is indeed not without its problems, not the least of which is a leadership style which is anything but transparent and which suffers from a severe “not invented here” syndrome.

    A few of us remember that SNAP indeed *had* a very fine internet BBS for survivors, one that was responsible for the first name of dozens and dozens of names of abusers. Such activities were really most possible under the legal protection and weight borne by SNAP.

    It was also the initial, anonymous, safe point of contact for many, many survivors.

    That site died because it was poorly managed and moderated. That was not due to the bad intentions of the primary moderator but due the hard-headedness of one otherwise decent individual who just couldn’t get his head around the idea of “community moderation.” He responded to suggestions he didn’t want to hear by threatening to ban members.

    Eventually the most active moderator and then the other individual abandoned the project. The SNAP BBS, which at one time united survivors nationally, lies dead today, a couple of years later. SNAP leadership has refused to either take up the challenge of reactiviating it or to let someone else do so.

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