New Orleans Blaming the victim may be more American than apple pie at this point. Apple pie is less and less a staple of the American diet, but blaming the victims seems to be the default mode for institutions large and small that are unable to correct their cultures.
It is inarguable that the Catholic Church is an historic institution with a mass base of adherents that has been beset by a cloistered culture which has tragically shielded bad apples guilty of abhorrent, unspeakable abuses by some of its priests of some of their parishioners, including children. Some dioceses have gone bankrupt and many have paid multi-million dollar settlements to victims of abuse. Many of us have hoped over the years that the Church was mending its ways and its culture as this tragedy has tarnished this institution and its abuses of people and power in country after country. Now unfortunately the news is unavoidable that the Church is changing strategy once again to its long discredited posture of attack and cover-up.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) founded and directed by David Closhessy over 20 years ago is an organization I have followed closely over the years. Dave was an excellent organizer for ACORN first in Boston, then Memphis, and later in St. Louis. He was never especially easy to supervise largely because he is stubborn and straightforward, both of which are excellent qualities for an organizer. I would usually run into these two character traits when trying to get Dave to commit to longer service and greater responsibility with ACORN. I was sorry to lose him, but proud of what he went on to later build with SNAP and the great good its accomplished and the change I thought he was bringing to the church as an institution at a great personal price. I know his family. I count him as a friend.
Part of this new culture of resistance to righteous claims according to the Times seems to be driven by a church advocacy and front group called the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Its president is quoted as claiming that “leading bishops” had “resolved to fight back more aggressively against the group: ‘The bishops have come together collectively. I can’t give you the names, but there’s a growing consensus on the part of the bishops that they had better toughen up and go out and buy some good lawyers to get tough. We don’t need altar boys.” Where has this dude been the last few decades? Did he not get the memo that the Church has shielded pedophiles and criminals who abused children? Does he not understand that perhaps the reason the Church doesn’t “need altar boys” is because they seem unable to categorically protect them from priests!
The good news is that SNAP is not a defendant in any of these suits or a direct party to them. The bad news is that a smaller, fledgling nonprofit like SNAP is ill-prepared to defend itself. It is a little understood injustice embedded in the inequity of our legal system that resource imbalances can cripple the smaller parties to proceedings. I can remember a $100,000 bill for copying and presenting records on a witch hunt involving our local union during the first George Bush administration. David’s operation seems to only spend in the mid $300K range annually, so the legal strategy seems to be to bleed them down to a weakened state.
This is not a strategy that will work.
Without talking to him I can tell that David seems to have taken a page from the Planned Parenthood playbook and realized that he had to abandon his quiet behind the scenes strategy for SNAP and go public with this attack just like Cecile Richards did on the Komen for the Cure fiasco. Knowing David, he would have probably preferred to walk barefoot in the snow in his St. Louis neighborhood asking for donations than allow a photographer to take pictures of garage at home where boxes of records are stacked up as he tries to respond to the subpoenas. David is appealing to his base through the Times and getting the word out to people of good will throughout the country including millions in the Catholic Church who believe in their dogma and want to believe that their Church has changed and is not the Church of these retrograde bishops and the errant advocate. I hope he is planning to ask for donations for the SNAP legal defense from these vultures and apologists just as Cecile did to replace the Komen funds. I may not be Catholic, just as I was not a woman, but I know when a wrong is being done, and the easiest thing to do is send a check to help guarantee a fair fight and a fair shake.
The other reason that this strategy will not work goes back to the character of David Clohessy and those two obnoxious traits that I often confronted: stubbornness and straightforwardness. He would always unnecessarily go out of his way to make sure there was no way that I could possible characterize him as saying I had a commitment from him, until and unless he was good and damned ready. I can imagine him being a piece of work in a deposition for exactly the same reason. I hope the Church lawyers put him on the stand with a jury. They may not like him every minute, but any jury anywhere in America will believe Dave is telling the truth and not some priest or some high priced lawyer.
And, then there’s the stubborn. The Church could break SNAP like a twig, but this is a lifetime commitment for Dave. The kind of commitment that I couldn’t get to ACORN, but that he embraced personally and professionally to reform an institution that he cared about that had done wrong. It’s not about money or publicity or anything else for Dave. They could bankrupt SNAP tomorrow, and it will just be another day at the office for Dave in dealing with victims who need his help and advice. There’s no stopping David Clohessy on this mission.
The tide of history is with him. The Church needs to learn to surf and stop believing there’s any dam they can build that can stop the flow of justice to those who have been abused.
You have an extra $10, $20, or $100 hanging around. Click on this link: Send it to Dave Clohessy and SNAP today!