Editorial | Another big step in Johnstown man’s mission on behalf of abuse victims

Tribune-Democrat [Johnstown PA]

July 22, 2021

Shaun Dougherty’s quest to support victims of child sexual abuse has reached a new level with his appointment as board president for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

The Westmont man is the face of the push for justice on behalf of adult victims in Pennsylvania, and now takes his knowledge, energy and passion to the national and international levels with his SNAP appointment, where his fierce lobbying efforts can have an even greater impact.

We’ve stood with Dougherty on this issue since he stepped into the spotlight following the release of the 2016 grand-jury report on abuse and cover-up within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, and marvel at his relentless efforts – despite often swimming against the tide of politics and public sentiment.

In an interview with reporter Dave Sutor, Dougherty called the SNAP role “an enormous undertaking, an enormous responsibility.”

We are certain he’ll be up to the challenge.

Prior to that 2016 report, Dougherty said he kept his own experiences of abuse by a priest private.

But he was moved to become an advocate for victims – pushing for changes in the law concerning the statute of limitations on sexual abuse.

He met with elected officials in Harrisburg, then eventually traveled to the Vatican, where he had the ears of key Catholic leaders at a gathering called “The Protection of Minors in the Church.”

Dougherty, who became a SNAP national board member in 2019, has done interviews with statewide, national and global media outlets – including MSNBC, CBS, CNN, The New York Times and the National Catholic Register.

And his message has been clear and consistent: We need to do more for abuse victims – professionally and legislatively – and we need to pull this issue out of the shadows and into the light.

Certainly, Dougherty has earned the right to lead SNAP forward, succeeding outgoing president Tim Lennon.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat, an abuse victim and Dougherty’s frequent collaborator on statute-related efforts, said: “He has worked harder than everyone else out there on this issue in Pennsylvania, trying to rally support, working legislators.

“We have always worked very well together since the first time I met him in 2016.”

SNAP Executive Director Zach Hiner called Dougherty “a dynamo” for the cause who “puts a great face on the survivor movement publicly.”

Hiner told Sutor: “I’m excited to be working with someone like that who has such a good ability to speak for other survivors, and on behalf of other survivors, and advocate for things that make a difference for children and survivors.”

Dougherty was disappointed that his 2020 campaign for the Pennsylvania Senate was not successful.

But we believe that effort helped position Dougherty for even greater work specifically in the area of abuse – where the job is not done until states change their laws to allow victims to experience justice through civil suits and legal channels.

He pledged to “get the word of SNAP and contact information of SNAP to as many survivors of childhood abuse that I can” and to “make sure that people out there know that there’s an organization of support for them that can help talk them through these things that are going on, their feelings, their anxieties, their frustrations.”

Fundraising will be a central duty for this position, while Dougherty and Hiner touted SNAP’s growing support structure, and pointed to efforts to expand the group’s reach into “diverse communities” across the globe – especially Spanish- speaking countries with deep Catholic ties.

“We are the largest organization in the world, close to 50,000 members in multiple countries, fighting one common tragedy, which is childhood sex assault,” Dougherty said. “I’m a firm believer one ant can’t do a hell of a lot. But a colony of ants does anything they set out to.”

With Dougherty’s leadership, we see even greater milestone moments ahead for SNAP on behalf of the victims with whom the organization works.