National Catholic Reporter
Aug 21, 2017
by Tom Roberts
ALEXANDRIA, VA. — SNAP, the organization that has become synonymous with uncovering the clergy sex abuse scandal, may be outpacing its acronym.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, established in 1988, has been at the forefront of advocating for victims of clergy abuse and at pressing for accountability by church leadership. However, it was evident at a gathering of 300 victims, advocates and supporters Aug. 11-13 in Alexandria, Virginia, that the organization is in the midst of change.
“We’re in transition,” said Barbara Dorris, who took over as president when the group was left leaderless when founder Barbara Blaine and longtime national director David Clohessy, resigned within weeks of each other. Both longtime leaders said their resignations has been in the works for months and were not connected to a lawsuit filed in January in which both were named.
“We’ve gone from founder-led into an organization that is going to work more trying to build partnerships with other organizations, to build a stronger voice to protect children and do more outreach,” said Dorris. She also expressed a willingness to discuss a suggestion advanced by an expert that SNAP do more to connect victims with professional counselors.
The outreach is evidently underway. Dorris said this year’s conference included representatives of a number of other denominations as well as organizations such as the Boy Scouts.
“So, where we were focused on Catholics, we feel we’ll be stronger and have a better chance of accomplishing our goals if we become more inclusive,” she said.
If there is a natural expansion to the project — Joelle Casteix, a western regional leader for SNAP, reports that the vast majority of calls she now receives are not related to church abuse — the Catholic Church remains a central component of the group’s work. Survivors of abuse by priests are still predominant in its membership, the preponderant conversation is about elements of the church scandal and the new areas of the globe where reports of priest abuse are now beginning to surface.
Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle and former Benedictine priest Richard Sipe both took the main stage at different times to recount their personal history in the struggle and to exhort survivors to work together in support of each other and the pursuit of justice.
The back page of the conference program was further evidence that the Catholic piece of the problem is still prominent. Bishopaccountability.org, an extensive digital repository of information and data about the scandal, lists 59 new names of those considered credibly accused that made it into the organization’s database in the past year. The database, which contains voluminous documentation, including legal transcripts and depositions as well as correspondence, currently lists as credibly accused of sexual abuse 27 bishops, 3,774 priests, 59 deacons, 23 seminarians, 290 brothers and 95 women religious. Not included, according to those managing the website, are 2,645 priests counted as credibly accused by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops but not yet identified.
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