Thursday, October 13, 2011


SNAP is No Fit Advocate for Sexual Abuse Victims
Oct 13, 2011
Russell E. Saltzman
Copied from First Things

I no longer believe the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) is in any way primarily an advocacy organization for sexual abuse victims. Instead, I think it is more a noisy little group that hates the Roman Catholic Church and has discovered a way of making a living off the victimization others have suffered. My poor opinion of SNAP was formed some time ago, but the organization returned to my attention as I’ve followed the most recent scandal unfolding in the Kansas City–St. Joseph diocese.

As regular readers know, I am a Lutheran with no axe to grind against the Roman Catholic Church, not even on the subject of priestly sex abuse involving adolescent boys. We Lutherans have our own sex scandals though they rarely make the press because they usually involve a male pastor and a female parishioner. Ho-hum, some might say. Even the rare incidents involving young boys get passed over because headlines about Lutheran pastors aren’t nearly as invitingly lurid as “pedophile priests.”

This doesn’t mean I have any sympathy for abusers or church officials who mishandle such cases. A now-deceased parishioner of mine experienced egregious sexual abuse committed by her father’s brother in a “secret room.” It began when she was small and continued on into young adolescence. Those who should have protected and loved her best abandoned her to predation.

I am certain it ruined her life. I think I was the only person she ever told about the abuse, and it took me five years to tease it all out. Despite the many times I told her she wasn’t to blame and was not at fault, she died, I believe, despairing of God’s love. What I think should happen to people violating positions of trust with children cannot be repeated in an On the Square column.

All of this has brought to mind my own past experience with SNAP. In early 2004 I was gathering information on an abuse case involving a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for a report in Forum Letter, an independent Lutheran publication I then edited. This pastor had already been convicted in a Texas criminal trial and sentenced to three hundred and ninety-some years in prison on top of a federal conviction. The victims were suing the ELCA, the synod and bishop, and the seminary and its officials.

The judge hearing the case imposed a gag order at the request of the ELCA defendants, but with a little dodging here and a phone call there I soon had all the major portions of the sealed depositions in hand. They were pretty damning, and my possession of them earned me a subpoena—served during a church potluck by a Texas Ranger who came with ten dollars cash provided by the State of Texas for travel expenses. I pocketed the ten and ignored the subpoena.

SNAP initially was very helpful in aiding me in obtaining these materials and others. But I quickly learned they did not want my help. The background material contained numerous errors and half-truths I knew to be factually inaccurate. I thought SNAP might like to correct them and brought the errors to their attention. But SNAP had no interest in fixing the record.

The case was found in favor of the plaintiffs in a $32 million award. Deserved, no doubt. What struck me as peculiar, though, was a demand in the original claim by the plaintiffs for a $100,000 ELCA “donation” to SNAP. I tried to question the plaintiff’s attorney about the requested “donation,” with no response. I also tried to ask SNAP about the money, but they had already broken off contact with me. (I have not made any attempt to contact SNAP for this article.)

SNAP gives every appearance of having a relationship with a number of lawyers involved in this kind of litigation. When a lawsuit was announced in Kansas City last week in front of the diocesan chancery, SNAP made the announcement. While the organization has a relatively small budget, there is no question some portion of it is provided by attorney donations. There is nothing illegal about it. Still, lawyerly coziness with organizations in a position to send them referrals, I have read elsewhere, is an “ethically complicated” question.

SNAP did as of 2009 meet all the IRS requirements for a charitable organization, but it fails examination by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. The BBB allows board-member compensation for no more than one individual or ten percent of the board (whichever is greater). Two of eight SNAP board members receive payment for their work. Nor does SNAP provide the BBB with “effectiveness assessments” on its work or adequate information on the allocation of fund raising expenses. In the 2009 IRS filing SNAP reported $419,607 in income; $396,661 of that received in donations. Salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits were reported at $342,599.

But iffy bookkeeping is not my major problem with SNAP. Despite that one small foray into one Lutheran scandal, SNAP focuses almost exclusively on Catholic clergy, as a brief excursion through nine years of SNAP press release archives will show. The 2004 archive doesn’t even mention the lone Lutheran from Texas.

SNAP has never to my knowledge examined scandals among mental health professionals. It never says anything of public school districts, where reports say children are at far greater risk of abuse. Nor has it said anything of volunteer youth organizations. The simple fact is SNAP targets Roman Catholics. If SNAP routinely seeks “donations” from settlements, well, Catholic pockets are easier to reach, for a lot of reasons starting with media bias.

Whatever genuine aid SNAP may provide victims of priestly sex abuse is well matched by the harm SNAP does by mounting little less than an anti-Catholic smear campaign and wantonly portraying every priest as a sexual predator waiting to happen and every bishop an enabler.

Do not mistake what I am saying. Victims of clergy sexual abuse, victims of any sexual abuse by any trusted adult, do need ready and generous listeners. They also need openhanded charitable support from the institutions that employed their abusers. Victims most assuredly also need independent advocates to speak and even raise a loud clamor on their behalf.

But SNAP is not the outfit to do it.


Anonymous said...

I read this post with great interest as my own Diocese has been involved in a Priest sex scandal in which SNAP is involved.

My personal contact with SNAP has been limited, but I have not felt comfortable with what little I have experienced. Though I applaud SNAP's apparent commitment to the victim & his rights, their approach did not seem to be conciliatory in any way.

I have also been concerned with the stance that my Diocese seems to have taken on this issue. While the Priest in question was immediately suspended, he was also left completely adrift in the civil courts with no apparent aid or recourse by our Diocese.

As a Catholic who actually believes in the adage,"Priest for Life", this lack of human support in this time of crisis concerned me. It was as if our Diocese considered this Priest anathema at the drop of the hat, perhaps out of fear regarding SNAP's aggressive presence in our Diocese & what this might cost financially if a lawsuit were brought.

So, the question that concerns me is what about this Priest? Where does our commitment to this man who has given his life to the Church end? Yes, he is a sinner. Yes, he does need to be tried for his crimes. But because he is a Priest,he appears to be abandoned by the very Church he has given his life to serve.

I do not understand this. It does not seem Catholic. It does not seem Christian.

Guilty or Innocent, this man is a Priest & I feel he has been abandoned by his Church. If this is out of fear of organizations like SNAP or lawsuits in civil courts, then God help us all. How do we expect young men to discern a vocation to the Priesthood when they not only see a generation of Priests so malformed, but also a Church that abandons Her servants out of fear of man or manna?

I do not have any answers to this, but I am deeply disturbed by what we are experiencing in my Diocese.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thoghtful comment and the angst you experience with the tragic and sad state of affairs that revolve around the many facets of tgis scandal. On all fronts it is a failure to embrace our Catholicism as it pertains to the crinal and the victim.

Robert Kumpel said...

I've interviewed people at SNAP at various levels at different times and it always seems like their focus is more on "getting" someone than seeing justice done. By and large, they seem to despise the hierarchical structure of the Church and have no interest in orthodoxy. Worse, they have a special hatred of all bishops and speak of them, no matter who with seething contempt. It strikes me that they are hiding behind a veneer of "concern for victims" as an excuse to attack the Catholic Church.

I do not trust SNAP. It is obvious that they hate the Church. None for me, thanks.

Frajm said...

I believe they are a hate group mascaraing as a victims' support group. Revenge is a terrible thing and it will cause this group to implode with time.

Anonymous said...

We must acknowledge that the position of SNAP is logical and reasonable. Considering not only the terrible nature of the abuse but that the hierarchy was involved apparently at all levels in the coverup. It is not the previous concern for the preists that seemed to trump concern for the victims or even in stopping the abuse nor is it the complete reversal that now seems to assume guilt of the clergy. It is the apparent lack of influence of the Holy Spirit on the natures of these men throughout the hierarchy. This fundamentally questions the exists of God and His ability to affect human behavior. At this point in history the Church is, for many, merely an alternate ethos no different from Islam or Buddhism. Is that true?

We have created a barrier between people and God that is far worse than persecution of the faithful. Through our behavior we have validated SNAP and others who hate the Church. In their minds they are simply fighting a syndicate that oppresses people through superstition and mind control. Who could argue against that?

The unique element of the Christian Catholic Church is that through the real presence of God through Christ sin may be over come. This is an example that is both easier to see and harder to deal with than the previous question concerning radical and wayward clergy. The strength of our actions, well considered draw strength through Christ that we can take even from the hands of bad priest. It is our gift to him and our gift to God to help the shepherd sometimes with a finger in the chest.


Vianney1100 said...

If you really look at SNAP on one side and the hotbeds for abuse on the other side, they have more in common with each other than either does with the authentic Church. What I mean by this is that both seek to use this scandal to bring down the Church and advance their own agenda. What agenda could they possibly have in common you ask? The usual stuff; women priests, married priests and gay marriage. What proof do I have? As I have mentioned before, at a Benedictine college in central Minnesota that is home to numerous homosexual abusers we have progressive, rebellious priests, professors and monks who openly flaunt their views that go against Church teaching. SNAP has been involved in press releases concerning these abuse cases and never fails to try and implicate the moral authority of the Church. This college is also the mother ship for the PrayTell blog and many of those who are allowed to post on it are graduates or teachers at the school of theology. On numerous occasions, if you read this blog, they will bring up the abuse scandal as proof that the Church has no moral authority, especially concerning their pet issues which I previously mentioned. I have given up trying to make this point at PrayTell, they don’t want to hear about what is going on in their own house while they cast stones at the Church’s house. An article in the university student paper about the home-grown abuse got the faculty advisor removed. No free speech there. So there you have it, SNAP and Benedictine homosexual abusers, strange bedfellows.