02/4/17

Founder of clergy abuse group quits in second major loss following lawsuit

Barbara Blaine, center, founder and president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), found herself — literally — in the center of controversy at an impromptu 2005 press conference at the Vatican following the death of Pope John Paul II. The recent global sex abuse scandal has thrust Blaine and SNAP back into the spotlight.

 
The founder of a prominent advocacy group for children sexually abused by Catholic priests has resigned, the second major departure in the wake of a lawsuit filed last month by a former employee alleging that the organization colluded with lawyers to refer clients and profit from settlements.

In an email to supporters Barbara Blaine said her decision to leave SNAP, which stands for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, had nothing to do with the legal action.

“(P)lease know that the recent lawsuit filed against SNAP, as the others in the past which have no merit, had absolutely no bearing on my leaving,” Blaine, herself a victim of clergy abuse as a child who started SNAP 29 years ago, said in an email sent on Saturday (Feb. 4). “The discussions and process of my departure has been ongoing.”

Blaine’s resignation was effective a day earlier, on Feb. 3.

The surprise announcement comes less than two weeks after David Clohessy, SNAP’s executive director and also a fixture in the organization for nearly 30 years, announced he too was leaving.

Clohessy and SNAP officials had also insisted that his departure had been in the works for months and had nothing to do with do with the lawsuit, filed in Illinois on Jan. 17.

The lawsuit by Gretchen Rachel Hammond names Blaine, Clohessy and other SNAP leaders as defendants and alleges that “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors – it exploits them.”

The group, which more than any other is responsible for revealing the scandals that have continued to rock Catholicism in the U.S. and around the world, “routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of ‘donations,’” Hammond alleges.

“In exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church. These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

Hammond, who worked on fundraising for SNAP from 2011 until 2013, said she feared reprisals from SNAP leaders over her objections to the lawyers’ payments and suffered serious health problems as a result. She says she was fired in 2013, allegedly because she confronted her bosses over their practices with victims’ attorneys, and that the dismissal has hurt her career.

It’s long been assumed that SNAP received substantial donations from some of the high-profile attorneys who specialize in these cases and who have won multimillion-dollar settlements from the Catholic Church in the U.S. and its insurance companies.

But Hammond’s filing shows how critical such donations are to SNAP’s survival: It claims, for example, that 81 percent of the $437,407 in donations SNAP received in 2007 came from victims’ lawyers, and 65 percent of the $753,596 it raised in 2008 came from lawyers.

More problematic is Hammond’s claim that SNAP worked hand in glove with victims’ attorneys and received “direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

SNAP officials have from the outset denied Hammond’s claims.

In a statement last Wednesday, SNAP board chair Mary Ellen Kruger said that victims who come to SNAP are indeed often referred to attorneys “in an effort to bring accountability to those that have condoned and perpetuated this abuse for decades.”

But she said the donations from the attorneys have no connection to those referrals.

“Like all nonprofits, SNAP solicits and accepts donations from anyone who believes in our cause,” Krueger said.

“This includes individuals from all walks of life. This has also included attorneys who have filed lawsuits against priests and ‘the system.’ To be clear, SNAP has never and will never enter into any ‘kickback schemes’ as alleged by Ms. Hammond in her lawsuit, nor has SNAP ever made donations an implied or express condition of the referral of victims.”

In her email to supporters, Blaine portrayed the personnel moves as part of SNAP’s natural transition “from a founder led organization to one that is board led.”

“I have every confidence that the strength you and the board members have shown as survivors will keep the organization strong,” she wrote.

Complete Article HERE!

01/25/17

Longtime leader of clergy victims group leaves as SNAP faces lawsuit

L-R Robert Brooks and David Clohessy speak outside the Catholic Diocese on September 7, 2006. Brooks and Clohessy are calling for the diocese to post on its Web site the names of any clergy who have been disciplined in any way related to abuse allegations.

By DAVID GIBSON

A fixture in the organization working for children sexually abused by Catholic priests has resigned his post, an announcement that coincides with a lawsuit from a former employee alleging the group colluded with lawyers to refer clients and profit from settlements.

David Clohessy, longtime executive director of SNAP, or the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Tuesday that he left in December and his departure had nothing to do with the lawsuit, which was filed in Illinois on Jan. 17.

“Not at all,” Clohessy said by phone from his home in St. Louis, where SNAP has its main office. “My last day was five weeks ago, before this lawsuit ever happened.”

The lawsuit by Gretchen Rachel Hammond names Clohessy and other SNAP leaders as defendants and alleges that “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors — it exploits them.”

The group, which more than any other is responsible for revealing the scandals that have continued to rock Catholicism in the U.S. and around the world, “routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of ‘donations,’ ” Hammond alleges.

“In exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church. These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

Hammond, who worked on fundraising for SNAP from 2011 until 2013, said she feared reprisals from SNAP leaders over her objections to the lawyers’ payments and suffered serious health problems as a result. She said she was fired in 2013, allegedly because she confronted her bosses over their practices with victims’ attorneys and that the dismissal has hurt her career.

The lawsuit was first reported by National Catholic Reporter.

It long has been assumed that SNAP received substantial donations from some of the high-profile attorneys who specialize in these cases and who have won multimillion-dollar settlements from the Catholic Church in the U.S. and its insurance companies.

But Hammond’s filing shows how critical such donations are to SNAP’s survival: It asserts, for example, that 81 percent of the $437,407 in donations SNAP received in 2007 came from victims’ lawyers, and 65 percent of the $753,596 it raised in 2008 came from attorneys.

More problematic is Hammond’s allegation that SNAP worked hand in glove with victims’ attorneys and received “direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

“The allegation is explosive because it’s unethical,” Jeff Anderson, a prominent Minnesota attorney who has represented victims of clergy sex abuse, told the Chicago Tribune.

“I’ve never done it nor would I ever do it,” said Anderson, who added that he regularly donates to SNAP but not in exchange for referrals.

In a statement, SNAP President Barbara Blaine, who founded the group along with Clohessy, said the allegations “are not true.”

“This will be proven in court,” Blaine said. “SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: to help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse.”

Clohessy would not comment to Religion News Service on the lawsuit, but he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the charges were “utterly preposterous.” And he told RNS that SNAP “didn’t have any clue at all” that it was coming.

“We’ve heard nothing from her for four years since she quit. So that caught everybody by surprise.

“We have always been under attack by somebody at some point, legally and otherwise,” Clohessy added. “So it’s never been a factor in any decision making, at least not for me certainly.”

Complete Article HERE!

01/20/17

Ex-worker sues priest sex-abuse victims advocacy group, says it exploited survivors

Gretchen Rachel Hammond answers reporters’ questions during a news conference, as her attorney, Bruce Howard, listens at his law firm Jan. 19, 2017, in Chicago. Hammond is suing Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, her former employer.

 

By Manya Brachear

A former employee of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has sued the victims advocacy group, alleging that SNAP exploited victims of sexual abuse by clergy in return for financial kickbacks from attorneys.

According to a lawsuit filed this week in Cook County Circuit Court, Gretchen Rachel Hammond worked as a director of development from July 2011 until she said she was fired in February 2013, shortly after asking superiors whether SNAP was referring potential clients to attorneys in exchange for donations.

In addition to the organization, defendants named in the lawsuit are Barbara Blaine, its founder and president; David Clohessy, executive director; and Barbara Dorris, outreach director.

Blaine said in a statement that “the allegations are not true.”

“This will be proven in court,” she said. “SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: To help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse.”

Neither Clohessy nor Dorris could be reached for comment.

Though it did not name attorneys, the lawsuit said donations from several high-profile litigators across the country comprised a large percentage of SNAP’s income.

Jeff Anderson, a prominent Minnesota attorney for victims of clergy sex abuse who was not named in the lawsuit, confirmed that he makes regular donations to SNAP, as well as other nonprofit organizations that advocate for the safety of children. But he said he does not do it in exchange for referrals.

“I have supported SNAP and a lot of other organizations that help survivors throughout the country, unapologetically,” he said.

“The allegation is explosive because it’s unethical,” he added. “I’ve never done it nor would I ever do it.”

According to the lawsuit, Hammond grew suspicious of SNAP’s methods when she was not permitted to participate in an internal audit of SNAP by an accounting firm and was barred from attending survivors’ meetings, group therapy sessions or counseling sessions to help generate material for grant proposals.

She also was given access to a list of lawyers who regularly donated to SNAP but was told to never tell anyone that lawyers donate to the organization, according to the lawsuit. At a news conference, Hammond said she raised more than $950,000 for SNAP during her 19 months there.

A Missouri judge ruled in 2012 to open more than two decades of correspondence with victims, lawyers, witnesses and journalists to shed light on whether SNAP had coached victims to fabricate claims of repressed memory.

Shortly after that, Hammond said, she was accidentally copied on an email from Clohessy to an attorney, asking when he could expect the next donation, the lawsuit said. It was then she began to ask questions and the workplace climate dramatically changed, she alleged in the lawsuit.

She said she began to collect evidence of what she believed to be a kickback scheme, copying reams of documents and downloading records on a flash drive she used to do work at home. When SNAP sent a volunteer to her apartment to collect the flash drive, she did not disclose that she had copied it, the lawsuit said. She was fired two days later, she said.

Though she decided not to go to authorities at the time, the movie “Spotlight” renewed her concerns and she sought legal counsel. Hammond alleges she could not find employment that paid as much as she made at SNAP and is seeking compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and expenses.

Complete Article HERE!

10/25/16

NY cardinal’s new compensation program for victims will keep sex abuse hidden

By  

Archbishop Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is trying something new. After years of successfully opposing legislation that would give New York abuse victims more time to sue, he has launched a victims’ compensation program — a first for the New York archdiocese.

This is the Year of Mercy, and the cardinal said he was inspired by the “grace and challenge” of this fact.

“I just finally thought: ‘Darn it, let’s do it,’ ” he told The New York Times.

The surprise move is winning the cardinal praise. The often critical New York Daily News commended him, citing his “remarkable moral courage.”

As a researcher of the Catholic abuse crisis, I see his plan differently. While the fund certainly will help some victims, its biggest beneficiary will be Dolan and his management team. This is a legal strategy in pastoral garb, a tactic by the powerful archbishop to control victims and protect the church’s assets and its secrets.

On its face, the plan is reasonable. A victim submits a claim form with documentation about rape or molestation by a priest or deacon. If deemed credible, the victim receives an award, which the archdiocese promises to disburse quickly — within 60 days.

The program is being administered by Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the 9/11 fund and mediated the settlements between Jerry Sandusky’s victims and Penn State.

But there’s a catch — two catches, actually. Victims must sign a legal agreement to abide by “all requirements pertaining to privacy and confidentiality,” and they must release the archdiocese from future liability — i.e., never sue it. (See section III, paragraph G of the IRCP’s Protocol webpage.)

So the fund implements a strategy. If the Child Victims Act ever passes in New York — and Gov. Andrew Cuomo promises it will be a priority in 2017 — Dolan will have already flushed out and shackled many of the victims who might have filed suit.

And unlike the Penn State claimants, the victims in Dolan’s program will be signing releases without the benefit of any information about how their perpetrators were managed. Did archdiocesan officials know or suspect that the priest was a risk to children before the victim suffered abuse? Did the priest have other victims? What happened to him after the archdiocese learned of his crimes? Are children protected from him now? Under Dolan’s plan, all of this stays hidden.

Of course, agreeing not to sue is an easy concession right now for child sex abuse victims in New York. Thanks in part to lobbying by Dolan and his brother bishops, victims remain effectively powerless: the state’s restrictive civil statute of limitations gives them only until age 21 to sue complicit employers. For the vast majority of victims, this is not enough time.

In terms of its statute of limitations for child sex crimes, New York state is an outlier: only Alabama and Michigan limit victims as severely.

This is bound to change. While the Child Victims Act was defeated yet again last year, it generated tremendous public support.

When it passes, the Act will give future victims more time to take action, and it will include a “look-back” clause: for a limited period, it will revive the currently expired civil claims of all abuse victims in New York.

This retroactivity is what worries Dolan. Lawsuits by victims will result not only in payouts by the church, but the disclosure of its secret abuse files, revealing what archdiocesan managers knew and when.

To date, because of New York’s predator-friendly statute of limitations, the massive archdiocese’s abuse problem has appeared tiny. Its only tally of accused priests occurred in 2004, when Cardinal Edward Egan claimed an implausible total of 49 accused priests since 1950 — one percent of its active priests for that time period.

Consider that in Boston, with far fewer total priests, Cardinal Sean O’Malley conceded in 2011 that 250 priests since 1950 had been accused. In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony counted 244 accused clergy. Even the small rural diocese of Manchester, N.H., concedes more accused priests than Dolan has acknowledged in New York.

Obviously, Dolan knows that his potential exposure is enormous, and one victim at a time, his new program will chip away at this perceived threat. Every participant will represent a case that will never be brought to light; a perpetrator’s name that may never be made public; and perhaps, a story of archdiocesan mismanagement that will never be revealed.

Inevitably, his plan will exploit those who are desperate: I’ll give you quick money, but you must keep my secrets.

Dolan has pre-empted victims before. In his prior post in Milwaukee, shortly before an expected state Supreme Court decision that would allow victims to sue for fraud, the archbishop quietly transferred $57 million in church funds into a special cemetery trust that would be off-limits to plaintiffs.

In this year of “grace and challenge,” the cardinal should do things differently. Mercy cannot come with chains. Dolan should eliminate requirements for the victim to stay silent about any aspect of the mediation. And he should accompany the fund with radical transparency.

After all, there is the promise of his fund’s title: the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. The cardinal is using our church’s language to sacramentalize his scheme, so let him follow through. As every First Communicant knows, “reconciliation” occurs only with disclosure and confession. Dolan should come clean, before the courts force him to do so. He should publish a list of accused clerics, as more than 30 other U.S. bishops have done. He should release the archdiocese’s secret files on all of its abusers. And he should tell his lobbyist in Albany to cease and desist.

Without transparency and honesty, Dolan’s fund becomes just another tactic to make sure the New York archdiocese doesn’t answer for its actions — an accountability dodge that ultimately hurts children, victims, parishioners, and the church’s own chance for redemption.

[Anne Barrett Doyle is co-director of BishopAccountability.org, an independent non-profit based in Waltham, Mass., founded in 2003, to research child abuse by priests and religious and on the management of those cases by bishops, religious orders and the Holy See.]

Complete Article HERE!

07/6/16

Deep pocketed interests denied justice to church abuse survivors

By Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

child sex abuse

I have said it before and I will say it again:

Accountability and transparency for the crimes of childhood sexual abuse today and in the future absolves no one from the accountability and transparency for the sexual crimes committed against children in the past.

Deep pockets denied the rights of all those who were sexually abused as children.

Their right to access justice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was denied them by groups that had much to lose; the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese along with the other Pennsylvania dioceses as well as the insurance industry and  and several business lobby groups.

Mostly, however, the opposition to the retroactive measure, statute of limitation reform, was led by Archbishop Charles Chaput, by way of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference which he leads, and the heads of the Pennsylvania dioceses who dutifully follow orders.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish

And why? Is it money? Hardly.

Keep in mind that about $10 million dollars has been spent defending Msgr. William Lynn.

One can only guess at how much the public relations firm and the lobbyists from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference are costing [the church]. That will likely never be known.

Then what is it?

It’s the fact that the bishops, the members of the hierarchy, will continue to do whatever they have to do, and what they have done for decades if not centuries.

And that is to do whatever it takes to protect a powerful institution and its secrets.

The safety and protection of the most vulnerable, the children, was never their priority regardless of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Complete Article HERE!