David Clohessy, activist director of the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), resigned after a SNAP employee sued citing a lawyer kickback scheme.
We do not have many headlines like this one on These Stone Walls. It has the look and feel of descending into tabloid journalism, but when the headline is true, there is just no higher road to take. This is a story that must be told.
And I am not the first to tell it. In late January, David F. Pierre, author of several books including Sins of the Press and host of TheMediaReport.com published a report entitled, “Lawsuit by Ex-SNAP Insider Exposes Lawyer Kickback Schemes.” And to the surprise of many, the left-leaning, usually SNAP-friendly National Catholic Reporter broke the story first in a January 18 account by NCR Editor Dennis Coday, “Sex Abuse Advocacy Group SNAP Sued by Former Employee.”
One day later, The National Catholic Register carried the story by Catholic News Agency writer, Kevin Jones entitled, “Did SNAP Receive Kickbacks for Suing the Church?” All three versions of the story have been sent to me by multiple TSW readers who asked me to write about it. A week after these accounts emerged, SNAP’s longtime Executive Director, David Clohessy, has mysteriously resigned. This is a development of immense importance in the arena of Catholic Priests Falsely Accused, one of David F. Pierre’s most revealing books.
I have an angle on this story that none of the other accounts have, and I’ll get back to that, but first the story itself. In a lawsuit filed on January 17 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, Gretchen Rachel Hammond, SNAP’s former Director of Development, charged that she was terminated from her position after discovering what many have long suspected. The lawsuit alleges…
“…that SNAP routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys, and in exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to [these] attorneys, who then file lawsuits … against the Catholic Church. These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”
The named defendants in the lawsuit are [the now-resigned] SNAP President Barbara Blaine, the now-resigned Executive Director David Clohessy, and “Outreach Director” Barbara Dorris who declined to comment for the NCR article. The lawsuit alleges that SNAP claims non-profit federal tax exempt status as an organization with the purpose of providing. “support for men and women who have been sexually victimized by members of the clergy [with] moral support, information and advocacy,” while in reality it is a commercial operation “motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”
FOLLOW THE MONEY
The lawsuit alleges that SNAP and its directors received substantial ‘contributions’ from the same attorneys to whom they refer clients, as much as 81 percent of SNAP’s annual budget in some years. In 2007, a full 38% of SNAP’s income for that year came from one “prominent Minnesota attorney who represents clergy abuse survivors.” That attorney is alleged to have provided $169,716 in kickbacks to SNAP in 2007, and $415,000 In 2008. The lawsuit claims that lawyers in California, Chicago, Seattle and Delaware also made major “donations,” some of them in six figures.
Former SNAP official Gretchen Rachel Hammond concludes in her lawsuit that “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors – it exploits them.” She alleges that SNAP leaders ordered her “not to reveal to anybody that SNAP received donations from attorneys.” She also alleges that in 2011 and 2012, SNAP leaders “concocted a scheme to have attorneys make donations to a front foundation” to conceal “attorneys’ kickbacks” to the organization.
The lawsuit alleges a pattern of collusion between plaintiff lawyers and SNAP officials to maximize publicity for the purpose of fueling bigger payouts while SNAP “callously disregards the real interests of survivors.” It claims that attorneys gave SNAP the drafts of plaintiff claims and other privileged information to generate sensational press releases.
In 2009, at the invitation of Bill Donohue, I wrote a feature article for Catalyst, the Journal of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights entitled “Due Process for Accused Priests.” The article researched and exposed the practice of mediated settlements and SNAP’s demands to eliminate statutes of limitations for suing Catholic institutions – and only Catholic institutions – decades after civil laws allowed.
Up until that time, I had been spared SNAP’s pattern of public attack and character assassination, but my Catalyst article put me squarely on SNAP’s radar screen. Catholic writer Ryan A MacDonald – in “Why Do SNAP and VOTF Fear the Father Gordon MacRae Case” – quoted a comment by SNAP Director David Clohessy describing me as “a dangerous and demented man.”
On August 6, 2009, RenewAmerica.com writer Matt C. Abbott gave David Clohessy a soapbox for a rebuttal to my article which Mr. Abbott titled, “Imprisoned Priest, Clergy Abuse Survivor Clash.” Seeming to be in fear of the very exposure that the present lawsuit against SNAP now brings, Mr. Clohessy laid out a wildly false set of defensive statements and accusations: “The burden is on the victims, not the accused priests to prove these cases,” he wrote.
At the same time, Clohessy was well aware, and went on to describe, that the vast majority of the claims brought against priests are settled out of court with no findings of fact at all. Clohessy blamed this practice on the bishops who, he wrote, “insist on group settlements” because “they are scared to defend themselves in court.”
Clohessy knew very well that the machinery of making decades old claims followed by financial compensation depended on asking few questions before writing lucrative checks. Still, he claimed that “many victims desperately want and could benefit from having their ‘day in court’ to expose not just their predator, but those who shielded and protected him.”
Now, according to Ms. Hammond’s lawsuit, it seems that David Clohessy’s annual salary and SNAP’s annual bottom line depended on keeping the machinery of blanket settlements going. In his landmark book, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused David F. Pierre described the quality of due process and distinguishing true from false claims in my own diocese:
“In 2002, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, faced allegations from 62 individuals. Rather than spending the time and resources looking into the merits of the accusations ‘Diocesan officials did not even ask for specifics such as the dates and specific allegations for the claims,’ New Hampshire’s Union Leader reported. ‘Some victims made claims in the past month, and because of the timing of the negotiations, gained closure in just a matter of days.’ ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ a pleased and much richer plaintiff attorney admitted.” (Catholic Priests Falsely Accused, p. 80)
Two of the reporters covering this story – Dennis Coday for the National Catholic Reporter and Kevin Jones for Catholic News Agency – do a disservice to the cause of truth and justice in their reporting of it. They both refer repeatedly to SNAP’s (and the lawyers’) clients as “sex abuse victims” or “sex abuse survivors.”
It is true in some cases, of course, but it is true in most cases only if one accepts SNAP’s and the lawyers’ mythology that the claims against priests for which clients received blanket settlements were demonstrably true, and were measured and tested in some form of investigation. Most were not. Simply throwing money at an accuser does not constitute due process or a determination of truth. Some have been victims of little more than their own greed.
POPE BENEDICT’S ‘CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY’
SNAP successfully generated and manipulated a climate of outrage to fuel accusations and keep the money flowing. It was a climate few Catholic leaders had the courage to challenge, but one did. In his series of columns entitled “Scandal Time” in First Things magazine, Father Richard John Neuhaus tried to call upon American Catholics to put the brakes on the outrage fueled by SNAP:
“Priests, too, are deemed innocent until proven guilty. In the current climate of outrage, we need to be reminded of that fact… News reports claiming that a certain number of priests have been charged with abuse and that the claims were settled out of court must not be interpreted to mean that the priests were guilty. Some of them insisted and insist that they are innocent, but bishops were advised by lawyers and insurance companies that a defense of the claims could cost much more than settlement out of court.” (Scandal Time, April 2002)
After Father Neuhaus published this cautionary statement, the bishops of the United States met in Dallas in 2002. Under the watchful eyes of a scandal hungry media, the bishops invited two “victim-activists” to address the conference that resulted in the Dallas Charter and the undoing of any priest accused. They were David Clohessy and SNAP president, Barbara Blaine.
SNAP’s national director, David Clohessy previously worked for over a decade for ACORN (Association of Community Organization for Reform Now), a group with aggressive, manipulative, and confrontational activism modeled after the tactics of 1960’s radical Saul Alinsky. Keeping the money flowing depended on creating and maintaining sufficient moral panic.
In August, 2011, the Catholic League published what should have been an explosive document if it had been given fair treatment in the news media. “SNAP Exposed” described in detail the ways David Clohessy and SNAP coached accusers in framing claims in order to maximize and manipulate media coverage.
One of the many egregious examples was SNAP’S recommendation for accusers and their lawyers to “display holy childhood photos” before news cameras adding, “If you don’t have holy childhood photos, we can provide you with photos of other kids that can be held up for the cameras.”
A month later, seemingly in retaliation for exposing the truth, SNAP co-opted a radically left legal activist group, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, to file a “Crimes Against Humanity” charge against Pope Benedict XVI with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
And in seeming retaliation for my 2009 article, “Due Process for Accused Priests,” I became an unwitting pawn in the attack on the Pope. David Clohessy and the Center for Constitutional Rights used an untrue and thoroughly debunked claim against me to bolster the charge against Pope Benedict. In her courageous article “Oscar Hangover Special: Why ‘Spotlight’ Is a Terrible Film,” journalist JoAnn Wypijewski unmasked the shame of this tactic in her indepth coverage of the film, “Spotlight”:
“The film’s advertisement for SNAP, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests… elides SNAP’s belief that wrongful prosecutions are a small price to pay in pursuit of a larger mission … something the [Boston Globe] didn’t much concern itself with as it collected its Pulitzer for service in the public interest; something even the Center for Constitutional Rights disregarded in 2011 when it joined with SNAP to file a grotesque brief to the International Criminal Court demanding ‘investigation and prosecution’ of the Vatican for crimes against humanity.
The CCR brief failed, but its unchallenged acceptance of accusations, anonymous complaints, prosecution arguments… with no benefit of cross examination and no recognized rights of the accused is breathtaking, especially when one considers that CCR was simultaneously and courageously arguing on behalf of Guantanamo detainees…
To CCR’s shame, Father MacRae is specifically mentioned in that brief, with respect to allegations … for which there is no evidence according to the lead detective in the case cited by [The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy] Rabinowitz.”
When I learned of this grave injustice, I tried to write to the Center for Constitutional Rights – It seemed a prophetic sign that its headquarters is located at 666 Broadway in Manhattan – but there was never a response. I wrote of the final outcome of CCR’s shameful complicity with SNAP in a TSW post, “The International Criminal Court has Dismissed SNAP’s Last Gasp.”
Perhaps I was premature. SNAP’S last gasp now seems to be the current lawsuit by one of its own directors. David Clohessy has claimed that his resignation has nothing to do with the current lawsuit exposing SNAP’s alleged financial kickbacks from clients’ lawyers.
It now remains to be seen whether David Clohessy and SNAP will follow their own advice about out-of-court settlements, and allow this lawsuit to go to a full and open trial before a civil jury.
And perhaps a RICO investigation – the government’s acronym for organized Racketeering, Influence, and Corruption – might also now be in order.
As I come to the end of this post, it has just been announced that SNAP founder, Barbara Blaine, has also tendered her resignation. In her brief statement she insists that it has nothing to do with the lawsuit which she says has no merit “like all the other lawsuits” against SNAP. [See the report on David F. Pierre’s TheMediaReport.com: SNAP Founder and President Barbara Blaine Now Resigns As Pressure Mounts From Multiple Lawsuits.]