After the SNAP conference wrapped up on 9 August just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.  I hopped in my car and headed out to enjoy a nice Sunday Drive down I -95 towards my home in Chesapeake, Virginia.  On a good day, the trip should have taken around 3 hours.  Sunday was not a good day on I-95 South!  My 3 hour trip ended up being about 6 hours thanks to heavy volume and a few accidents that slowed the usual break-necked pace down spine of the eastern seaboard.

The trip gave me time to think about the SNAP Conference.  It was my first and I was more than just a little apprehensive about attending.  I had no idea what to expect.  I was struggling to sort out my notes, my observations and my reactions to all that I participated in over the weekend and I had no idea how I was going to present what I brought home from the conference.

It was my wife who solved my dilemma by asking a simple question.  She wanted to know what was the best and the worst of what I had experienced.  This is a question I can answer.

We’ll start with the best.  The three presentations that I found to be the most informative, useful or thought provoking were by (and this is in no particular order) Governor Frank Keating, Wendy Murphy and Angela Shelton.

Governor Keating gave an overview of the problems he experienced with the United States Council of Catholic Bishops when they asked him to head the National Review Board in 2003.    Even though he was libeled by the very group that appointed him to chair the board, his faith remains intact.  He is disheartened by the actions of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church but he sees the continuation of the struggle to hold the pedophiles and their protectors and apologists accountable as the way to save his church.   He gave me hope that people still active in the church are hoping to make a change and are willing to stand up and demand that the Catholic Church face its problems and right the wrongs that have fractured the church and victimized the most vulnerable

Wendy Murphy gave a very animated, engaging  discussion on the language used in the discussion of the problems of sexual crimes.  Although many in the room saw this conversation as controversial and some even left the room having been upset or offended by her candid remarks, I felt that Ms. Murphy drove home that words have meaning and that words are important.  She was brilliant in her delivery and made me rethink the words I use in this blog and in my discussions with others when I am advocating for reform and justice for survivors of sexual crimes committed by priests.  I will be heading to the bookstore to get her book.

Angela Shelton was the highlight of the weekend.  Although the write-up in the program guide made me a little leary of the presentation, I stayed and listened to this strong willed woman talk about overcoming trauma and finding a way to find laughter, joy and happiness.  This  presentation was a wild ride.  Ms. Shelton had an incredible story to tell and very helpful advise on moving forward.  She did it with humor without demeaning anyone.  She had the room rolling with laughter.  Let me tell you, that was a rough room.  I’m a fan!

I also want to send a nod the folks at Bishop Accountability. They are working tirelessly to archive all the data on the ongoing sex scandal in the Catholic Church. They have several useful projects in the works on tracking the history of Bishops in the United States and developing cross referencing techniques to make research easier for those of us using the information. My hat is off to them, they really are doing great things for all of us.

As for the worst of SNAP, I did not enjoy Marie Fortune’s speech entitled “Called to Make Justice”.  It started going down hill when she brusquely corrected the gentleman who introduced her for mispronouncing her name as “Mary” vice “Marie”.  I am not sure about everyone else in the room, but I heard her introduced as “Marie”.  The message was supposed to have been on “justice as the foundation of healing, accountability and reforms in our churches”.  Reverend Fortune lost me early.  I felt as if my junior high school principle was lecturing us in an assembly that was going over its allotted time.  For me, there was just not much of a connection.

My biggest beef was the room.  We were on the ballroom level of the hotel, two floors down below street level.  WiFi in the hotel was just not working here.  The WiFi service in the hotel came with a $10 a day user fee.  As frequently as I stay in this area for business (at least monthly) I found the fees and the quality of the service to be lacking.  If you were in the Hyatt lobby you were able to get free WiFi from other providers in the area.  I was not able to twitter (from my iTouch) or blog from the conference  room as I had intended.  I hope that next year we will be in a location that will allow the use of computers to get information out quickly.

The most useful part of the conference were the conversations I was able to have with people from all over the country who were on a similar journey as I was on.  Some were very active in writing legislation, working with other survivors, running SNAP programs on local, state, national and international levels.  Some were just trying to keep themselves from falling apart.    As in any organization, some are very critical of the organization and others profess the group can do no wrong.  I think that the truth of the effectiveness of SNAP lies somewhere in between.  There were axe grinders in attendance as well as cheerleaders.  But mostly I saw dedicated, motivated individuals trying to turn a very ugly destructive part of their lives into a force for change, justice and hope.  For me, there were some genuine heroes in the room such as a young woman named Meagan (forgive me if I spelled your name incorrectly), a 19 year old  who had the courage to stand up and fight for justice against the priest that took advantage of her vulnerability during her  father’s terminal illness to prey on her.  I also saw parents who supported their son and went after the priest that committed sexual batteries against him.  There were volunteers who were working to get the Child Victims Act of New York to a vote on the floor of the New York State Legislature who earned their battle scars to protect children.  There were many courageous men and women in the room who were working, without seeking glory for themselves, to help themselves and others find peace.

Despite what the Bishops say about this organization, we can move forward because we have the truth on our side.  As long as the Catholic Church hides pedophiles and tries to isolate survivors we have the moral high ground. There is much that needs to be done.

Still unresolved is the location of SNAP 2010.  The speakers offered Chicago as the most likely location.  Shouts of “San Franciso”, “New Orleans” and even advocates of a state park with a lake (not sure that this is an event conducive to tents, smores and vats of Deep Woods Off, but who am I to judge?).  Where ever it is, I hope I will be able to go back.  I wonder if my wife is up for a road trip?

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