Parting Company with SNAP

By Michael Baumann
Off My Knees
August 3, 2010

I began writing this post over a month ago. It was put aside as my attention went to other, more important events in my life. But now I have a moment, so I thought I would finish my thought process and assess my relationship with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

I sent a note to the National Leadership of SNAP to request that my name be removed from their website as the Point of Contact for the Southeastern Virginia area. In effect, I was removing myself from SNAP because I no longer think that the organization speaks for me as a survivor. This is a step took after a great deal of thought and it was not easy for me to make. But I have decided that for me, personally, I am more comfortable being on the outside of the organization than within. I have too many questions and I have some concerns about leadership, vision, and technology as well as the tone of the conversation between the leadership of the organization and its members.

SNAP is not a network, as the name of the organization would lead you to believe. In the time that I have interfaced with the organization (I reported my abuse in 2007 and started searching the web for organizations of people like myself), I have been frustrated by the lack of communications with other members. My perceptions have been that in order to communicate within the organization, all conversations seem to flow through the National Director. Most of my experience with the National Director seems to surround him squashing any ideas or initiatives that did not originate with the National Leadership. The organization is not networked to facilitate communication between survivors, it does not make use of the various forms of social media to bring an important story to a larger audience. Instead, SNAP seems to be focused on handing out leaflets outside of churches, writing letters to editors and many other methods of discourse that are not as effective today in the digital age as they may have been 22 years ago when SNAP was born.

I find the tactic of holding short notice press events that seem to be focused on promoting the National Director at the expense of survivors with ties to the community where the hit and run event takes place to be pretty odd. I also think that holding vigils and protests that more resemble prayer meetings than actual protests is ineffective. It almost seems that the Catholic Church has a hand in the organization. I am beginning to believe some in leadership positions in the organization may be trying to keep the survivors separate and without an effective way to communicate. Funny, that is precisely what the Catholic church does to victims.

Last spring, when I promoted a letter writing campaign to the Pope organized by an Irish activist, the National Director made a point to email me to tell me that writing letters to church leaders was ineffective. A few weeks later I see that the National Director, in contradiction to his own admonishments, had a letter to the Pope published for all the world to see. The message I take from all this is that any effort by survivors outside of the organization is frowned upon, but when the National Director pens a letter, it is newsworthy. Mr Clohessy was quick to express his concern that the Irish letter writing campaign was a waste of time. So what? If it makes people feel like they are participating in getting the word out, especially to the boys in Rome, that they are not going to sit by and allow business as usual from the bishops, I think it is a good thing. Mr. Clohessy knew better than all of us and recommended that others not participate in letter writing.

A SNAP event I did attend was a vigil in front of the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C.. Billed as a show of solidarity with the victims in Ireland, we stood outside of the embassy with candles while a Catholic Folk group from Maryland played spiritual songs. The embassy was dark, no media was in attendance and only passing motorist and the law enforcement officials that safeguard foriegn embassies watched from a respectful distance. We should have been in front of the Vatican Embassy, only a short distance away, expressing our continued outrage very loudly at the Holy Seeís inaction.

Although the technology is available, the SNAP website does not promote the blogs of people, many of whom are survivors, that regularly discuss the challenges of survivors, pass information to survivors or provide information on predator priests and others involved with the ongoing cover-up of the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church. The discussion boards are old and outdated and the list of points of contacts is not updated on a regular basis. (despite my request to be removed from the listing, my name still appears). The website, for the most part has become a cob-website.

There is some buzz out there about the origins of the organization. Was it a formed by the church itself? I donít think that really matters. Is it funded by lawyers? Is it funded by the Catholic Church? Good questions! We donít really know because financial records for this non-profit are not available for review. But, I am not sure if the source of funding is really relevant. When it comes right down to it, this organization has the potential for doing so much more for survivors and to force a public discussion that could lead to real change and progress in the development of laws that will force organizations to safegaurd children and vulnerable adults. It could work with other like organizations to try to open a dialogue or force a change in the Catholic Church. It has the potential to force the truth out in the open. Instead it seems to have become stagnant.

The other complaint I have concerns SNAPís lack of information for local points of contact or leaders. When I volunteered to be the SNAP point of contact in Southeastern Virginia, I was promised a binder of information on the organization, information on what was expected of local leaders and a listing a resources that I could pass along to survivors in my area. That never materialized. I did have limited contact with the leaders in Northern Virginia, but not a lot of support from the National folks. I was invited to attend a 4 hour leaders training in Ohio recently. That would have been a 12 hour trip to attend 4 hours of training. SNAP needs to train local leaders, especially in areas that do not have active chapters, allow the organization to grow and to allow for effective communications with survivors.

After thinking about the organization and the way they conduct business I am increasingly uneasy with what I see as a disconnect between the organizationís mission and their methods. I would like to see a change, maybe one or two fresh faces on the national scene. (That does not equate to removing existing leaders). I would like to see an overhaul of the way technology and social media is used as a tool. I want to see this organization actually network survivors. If the national leadership would embrace such a change I will return, volunteer again and do my part to keep the network going.

For now, I will continue to blog my ideas and talk to the survivors that write to me after they find me on line. I welcome a discussion on SNAP, I just wonít take dictation from the organization.


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