THE TRUTH ABOUT SNAP: The Real Agenda of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Catalyst September Issue 2011, Essay

The following is an excerpt from the “SNAP Exposed” report; the complete report on the July 8-10 conference in D.C. is available online at catholicleague.org.

There were approximately 110-130 people in attendance. All  were white and approximately 60% were female (one male wore a Voice of the Faithful T-shirt). The ages ranged from about 40-75; the majority were 55-65.

The recurring theme of the conference was the evil nature of the Catholic Church. The word “evil” was used repeatedly to describe “the institution.” There was no presumption of innocence: accused priests were spoken of as if they were guilty, and this was true of all the participants, including the attorneys.

William Spade, who was an Assistant District Attorney in the Philadelphia D.A.’s Office from 1995-2004, gave an overview of his work in that office. His relationship with Catholicism is eclectic. “I don’t like the institution,” he allows, “but I like the faith.”

When Spade was in the D.A.’s office, the man he wanted to get more than anyone else was Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the former Archbishop of Philadelphia (they always go after the top cleric). To Spade’s chagrin, he noted that Bevilacqua was able to escape again and again. He did not say why he always failed. After striking pay dirt, Spade went into private practice. What he drew from his experience, he told the audience, was that the best way to prosecute the Catholic Church was at the federal level.

When it comes to attorneys who have made a career out of suing the Catholic Church, Jeffrey Anderson has no equal. The Minnesota lawyer was raised as a Lutheran. But that didn’t work out so he became a Catholic. Then he became an atheist. Not just an ordinary one—he became a self-described “dedicated atheist.” Then he had another conversion: last year he described himself as “deeply religious.” His religious convictions, however, proved not to be too deep, which is why he is now touted as an “agnostic.”

Anderson led a legal panel at the conference that included Church-suing lawyers Jeffrey Herman and Mitchell Garabedian. Virtually the entire session was devoted to discussing the legal impediments to suing the Church. The biggest problem, they said, was the way the statute of limitations differed from state to state. Never once was it even hinted at that these statutes were written to protect the constitutional rights of the accused. Without due process, civil liberties are a sham. No matter, Anderson said he wants to see this happen globally, making it easier to sue the Catholic Church around the world.

When Anderson said that the lawsuits are not about the money, he was speaking honestly. To be sure, money is a major motivator for his clients. But greed is not what fires him. No, what inspires him, and those of his ilk, is something deeper, something money can’t buy. Hatred. That’s the only way to understand why Anderson continues to file suit after suit against the Vatican—nothing would make him happier than to bring down the pope. Even though Anderson continues to lose, the outside chance that he might get the pope is enough to get his juices going.

Garabedian, a Boston attorney, isn’t interested in balancing the scales of justice: he wants to go for the kill. “This immoral entity, the Catholic Church, should be defeated. We must stand up and defeat this evil.” That’s exactly what he told the true believers. Candid statements like this give the lie to the argument that those who routinely bring suits against the Church are doing so out of fidelity to the law.

Richard Sipe, Tom Doyle and Marianne Benkert presented the most inflammatory address of them all. Indeed, it was so bad that the anger was described as “off-the-charts.” Here is another description of what transpired: “Each presenter in this session exhibited a very high level of hatred and anger towards the Church. They exhibited a visceral, deep-seated hatred of the Church.” The persons who offered this commentary, it should be noted, are not given to hyperbole, making their report all the more disturbing.

Sipe is a former Benedictine monk who has been ripping the Church for years. He bluntly told the crowd, “The Church is corrupt.” Worse, he opined, “Abuse is only the tip of the iceberg.” He did not allude to what was next.

Benkert, a psychiatrist, maintained there are many ways in which the Church manifests narcissism, the alleged cause of sexual abuse. Among them, she said, are the following: the Church refuses to acknowledge sin; it engages in scapegoating; it sacrifices others; it is a master of disguise and pretense; it fosters intellectual deviousness; it lies; it forces the faithful to submit their will to the Church; it is controlling; it causes “religious duress”; etc. She stressed that the narcissist is the personification of evil. “It can be evil in a person or in an institution,” suggesting we are dealing either with evil priests or the evil Catholic Church. Finally, she told the gathering, “Sue the Church because they understand money; they are not empathetic.”

It was sad to learn that the worst anti-Catholic rant of the day was delivered by Thomas Doyle, an ordained Dominican priest. The recovering alcoholic has butted heads with bishops before, and after one such confrontation he was removed from a military chaplain post. He also likes to blame Pope John Paul II for the abuse scandal. At the conference, Doyle spewed out every anti-Catholic canard possible. Here are a few examples:

• The Church was established by Constantine—not Jesus Christ.

• The Church = fear, power, and guilt.

• The Church is inauthentic and there is a “toxic religiosity” in this institution. The toxicity keeps people subjugated.

• There needs to be a radical restructuring of the priesthood.

• The Mass = magic words. People are compelled to sprinkle water on the forehead of babies (he snidely said) or they will go to minimum security Hell if they die.

• He referred to priestly vestments as “dresses.”

One of the most revealing aspects of the conference occurred when Anderson shamelessly conducted a fundraising appeal on the spot, matching dollar for dollar any donation made by an attendee. But even the multimillionaire has limits: he made it clear that he wouldn’t match a $10,000 donation made by fellow attorney, Jeffrey Herman. An appeal was also made to become “a sustaining member of SNAP for $25 per month”; everyone was encouraged to sign up with a credit card right then and there.

[Note: A few weeks after the conference ended, attendees were provided with a summary of its highlights. The fundraising appeal was described as an “amazing event,” so much so that it was touted as “an emotionally charged moment.” The final tally: “The people in the room set a record for fundraising at the conference by contributing over $30,000.”

Let’s do the math. If Herman gave $10,000, and Anderson pledged to match all donations save for Herman’s contribution, that means the attendees dished out $10,000. In other words, two steeple-chasing attorneys accounted for two-thirds of all the money raised. Absent their input, SNAP folds. Not exactly the face of a grass roots movement.]

Author Jason Berry discussed “Human Rights Movements in the Church.” He also spoke about his new book, Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, and his documentary, “Vows of Silence.” According to Berry, the “face of corruption in the Catholic Church is Cardinal Angelo Sodano.” It was Sodano’s handling of the Father Marcial Maciel Degollado case that prompted the accusation. Berry also charged that the Church uses “property and money to blunt the force of justice,” and asked attendees to write letters demanding that Cardinal Sodano be removed from office.

As it turns out, Berry is the one who has little interest in justice. For example, in Render Unto Rome he says that Father Maciel “cultivated powerful conservatives.” He lists me as one of them. But I never met, corresponded with, or in any way had anything to do with, the disgraced priest. Nor did I ever defend him. Berry knows all of this because I’ve corrected him before, putting forth the evidence. Yet he persists in lying.

BishopAccountability founder and president, Terry McKiernan, showed what he is made of when he boasted, “I hope we can find ways of sticking it to this man.” The man he wants to “stick it to” is none other than the head of the New York Archdiocese, and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

McKiernan went on a rant against the New York Archbishop. Dolan was accused of being a “doctrinal enforcer” who “only cares about climbing the ladder.” Without a shred of evidence, he said that Dolan is “keeping the lid on 55 names” of predator priests in his archdiocese. It must be a pretty tight lid: not a single person in the entire country has ever made such a scurrilous accusation. It’s time to either put up or shut up.

David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP, took the time to share some of the ways he manipulates the media. For example, attendees were instructed that to get media attention, it is best to hold press conferences outside a chancery or a police station. If it’s held outside the chancery, it makes it easy for the media because they only have to go to one location. After you are interviewed as a SNAP representative (they evidently have lots of deputies), he said, reporters will go inside to interview the diocesan PR person.

Talk, however, is not sufficient. Here are more of their schemes:

• “Display holy childhood photos!” Attorneys should conduct an interview in front of the parish where the priest was assigned (on public property). Why? Because then you will get clients and you’ll also have whistleblowers call you after they see the interview on TV.

• Use “feeling words” in interviews: “I was scared. I was suicidal.” Be sad and not mad. The goal is to make an emotional connection with the audience. If you don’t have compelling holy childhood photos, we can provide you with photos of other kids that can be held up for the cameras.

• Use the word “kids” as often as possible when being interviewed.

It is not certain whether the media, which generally give a sympathetic hearing to SNAP, care how orchestrated these events are. But Catholics should care. After all, what is at stake is an attempt to manipulate public opinion, rallying Americans against the Catholic Church. Staging sadness is not only phony, it is unethical.

SNAP and its allies have long pulled the wool over the eyes of many in the media—it’s time we all looked under the mask.


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Written by Bill