Barbara Blaine, Who Championed Victims of Priests’ Abuse, Dies at 61

By Laurie Goodstein
September 23, 2020

Barbara Blaine, who was sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest as a teenager and went on to found the nation’s most potent advocacy group for abuse survivors, died on Sunday in St. George, Utah. She was 61.

The cause was a sudden tear in a blood vessel in her heart, which she sustained on Sept. 18 after going hiking on a vacation, her husband, Howard Rubin, said. She lived in Chicago.

Ms. Blaine, a lawyer with a degree in theology, served for nearly 30 years as president of the group she founded, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. She stepped down this year and had recently started a new international organization to hold the Vatican and church officials overseas accountable for covering up abuse cases.

Ms. Blaine was an ardent Catholic who spent her years after college serving and living with homeless people in a Catholic Worker house in Chicago, part of a social justice movement for the poor founded by the activist Dorothy Day. Ms. Blaine applied that same activist sensibility to creating a new movement to fight for abuse survivors.

“She was relentless in the cause of justice, and in that sense she’s a true disciple of Dorothy Day,” said Jason Berry, who was among the first journalists to break news of the abuse scandal. “I think the damage she did to the hierarchy and its credibility was enormous, because she kept demanding that they be truthful.”

Ms. Blaine’s life changed after she read Mr. Berry’s articles in 1985 in the newspaper The National Catholic Reporter about a serial pedophile priest in Louisiana. She, too, had been molested for years as a teenager in Toledo, Ohio, by a priest who she said had convinced her that she was an “evil temptress.”

Mr. Berry’s articles helped her realize, she later told him, that the priest’s actions had been a crime and that she was not at fault. After Ms. Blaine confronted the priest, the Rev. Chet Warren, and his superiors, the church agreed to pay for therapy for her, but the priest was allowed to remain in ministry for years.

She started SNAP in 1988 as a support group, finding fellow victims through an ad placed in The National Catholic Reporter. Some of the early meetings were at the Catholic Worker house in Chicago, but there were also gatherings in San Francisco, St. Louis and other cities.

“We had the idea this would be necessary only for a couple of years,” said David Clohessy, an abuse survivor who soon joined Ms. Blaine as a leader of the organization. “Honestly, we thought there were maybe only 200 people like us across the country.”

Before long, the mission broadened to include advocacy. Members would stick fliers on the windshields of cars parked at a church during Mass warning that an abusive priest was inside. Victims stood outside cathedrals and even on St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican holding photographs of themselves as children when they were first molested.

Ms. Blaine told her story to the local news media in Toledo, and her abuser was removed from ministry after more of his victims came forward. She received a settlement from the church.

“She wasn’t trying to change the world; she was trying to heal herself,” said Barbara Dorris, the managing director of the Survivors Network and an early participant in the group. “She was trying to work within the church, but Barbara couldn’t because the systems failed her and her perpetrator was still out there. She felt, like every victim feels, that there’s this responsibility to speak up before what happened to you happens to someone else.”

In 2002, after a vast cover-up of abusive priests in Boston was revealed by The Boston Globe, and after similar accounts emerged across the country, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops asked Ms. Blaine and Mr. Clohessy to address them at a pivotal meeting in Dallas. American bishops eventually adopted a zero-tolerance policy and pledged to remove priests credibly accused of abuse.

But since then SNAP has often accused bishops of failing to keep these promises, and the group continues to be seen by the church as an adversarial force.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, who was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the height of the scandal in 2002, recalled on Monday that he had first met Ms. Blaine when he was an auxiliary bishop in Chicago. He had helped her obtain a closed church to use as a Catholic Worker house.

“She was a woman of faith; may God be merciful to her,” Archbishop Gregory said.

Besides her husband, Ms. Blaine is survived by her stepsons, Brett and Joshua Rubin; two step-grandsons; three brothers; and four sisters, one of them her twin.








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