Through an email released by SNAP to its leaders a few days ago, David Clohessy responded to the blog of  “a relatively new leader” (that would be me), specifically the post entitled What’s the SNAP Game Plan for the New Bishop of Scranton?

Some thoughts from David Clohessy

When SNAP issues public statements, like we did with Bambera, we have several goals.

Our first goal is to try to prevent future harm and betrayal. We feel it’s our obligation to point out recklessness, deceit and callousness in decision-makers. (If you know your neighbor’s dog has bitten kids, it’s your job, we believe, to warn the parents who move onto the block.) This is especially true when such a decision-maker is promoted and/or gets fawning public attention (as most incoming bishops do). That’s because there’s a natural, but dangerous temptation to assume that the new guy will automatically be better than the old guy. So when a new bishop is named, some survivors, witnesses and whistleblowers often think “Well, instead of calling the police, or the prosecutor, or a lawyer, or a journalist or SNAP, I’ll go to the new bishop and give him a chance to take action here.” We think that’s unwise and often leads to two unfortunate consequences. The individual ends up feeling hurt and betrayed again and the meeting ends up giving church officials more information and opportunities to better hide clergy sex crimes and better prepare themselves, PR-wise, for the day those crimes are revealed.

A second goal is to deter future recklessness, deceit and callousness by decision-makers. One way to do that is to show decision-makers that if they hurt victims or endanger kids, their wrong-doing will be remembered and exposed.

Put another way, we can’t change or control the actions of decision-makers. We can, and should, make people aware of those actions, so that individuals can be forewarned and protect themselves, and so that other decision-makers realize “Geez, if I am mean or deceptive or insensitive now, it may come back to  haunt me later.”

Now the issue of meeting with church officials. . .

As a moral matter, it seems to me that those who ignore or conceal child sex crimes should be the ones offering to meet with those who’ve been harmed. Many survivors, in fact, feel it’s unhealthy for us to go back time and time again to the same rigid, ancient, secretive, all-male church hierarchy seeking help, much as it’s often unhealthy for a battered spouse to keep reuniting with a violent partner again and again, just because the batterer says he or she will change.

As a practical matter, it seems that non-profits have a duty (especially small ones) to use scarce resources in the most productive ways possible. That’s certainly what we in SNAP try hard to do. We have essentially three choices.

1.We can focus our energies doing the things that we KNOW work: exposing predators, helping police, educating citizens, prodding whistleblowers and witnesses to act, setting up support groups across t he country, consoling the many survivors who contact us, and changing archaic, arbitrary, predator-friendly laws.

2. We can try things that MIGHT work, good new ideas and approaches that are suggested to us.

3. Or we can go back to again trying things that have NOT worked in the past, and hope that somehow they’ll work now.

For us, the first two choices seem wise and safe and productive. The latter, for the most part, doesn’t.

For years, from 1988 through much of the 1990s, we met with a number of bishops, sometimes over and over again. The meetings were at best, a stunning waste of time, and at worst, hurtful and distracting, taking valuable time and energy that could and should have been put to more productive use.

No one really knows what’s in the hearts and minds of others. So we have to make assumptions. There are, I think, two basic assumptions. One is that bishops act the way they do because they lack knowledge. The other is that bishops act the way they do because they lack courage. For years, we believed the former. Experience, history and common sense, however, have convinced us of the latter.

Our view is NOT that we spend too little time meeting with church officials. It’s that we spend too much time doing so. Because we are good people, with good intentions, and want to protect kids, we give church officials more and more and more opportunities to make excuses, shift blame, posture as victims, and mislead us, instead of concentrating on doing the outreach we’ve always done that we know really works. And we talk with bishops, which gives them more and more chances to posture as “pastoral” to the public and parishioners, just because they’re willing to spent a few minutes in the same room with us.

So our advice to our dedicated, caring volunteer SNAP leaders, and others, is this: Use your precious time, energy and resources prudently. If a church official asks you to meet, give it serious consideration. Be open-minded. Don’t immediately reject any new or unusual offer or approach.

But think about it long and hard first. Talk with other experienced SNAP leaders. Keep in mind that you, and others, may end up being or feeling betrayed and used. You will likely end up believing it was a waste of time.

If you still may want to arrange such a meeting, here’s a suggested safe, reasonable first step. Ask, before agreeing to meet, for a tangible, helpful action from the bishop as a sign of “good faith.” Ask the bishop, in advance, to put

  • a link to SNAP in his diocesan newspaper first,
  • a notice (that WE write or approve) urging victims to call police in his parish bulletins first, or
  • a list of predator priests on his diocesan website first.

Don’t like these ideas? Come up with your own. (It’s best to make them quick, inexpensive, practical ‘action steps,’ preferably ones other church officials have done. It’s best to avoid vague, symbolic self-serving public relations stuff like ‘hold a healing service.’) Then tell the church official “Do one of these first. That’ll show us you’re sincere and that sitting down face-to-face might be fruitful. Surely you understand our hesitancy and skepticism. So just do one thing now to heal the wounded or protect the vulnerable. Then we’ll feel more reassured and optimistic and we’ll consider meeting with you.”

But our bottom line recommendation is

  • Persistently educate others about corrupt decision-makers, so people can protect themselves, and
  • Relentlessly focus yourself on the efforts that we KNOW make a difference (rather than gamble on activities that may or may not make a difference and might well end up further harming those already in pain).

In any organization there will be disagreements. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Clohessy on a couple of points and I do have some suggestions, some of which I brought up at the August 2009 SNAP conference in Northern Virginia. I suggested that we make use of social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, etc…) to better communicate with each other. When the conversations all go through one point there is the potential of filtering. Survivors should be able to talk to other survivors, especially those in remote locations where the SNAP organization is either not available or not active. I recommend that we come up with a listing of survivors who are blogging or managing websites that cover this subject. We should link our sites or blogs to each other. We can use those resources as an additional way to get the word out. They could be grouped under the “Speaking Out” page.

One of the core principles that I have stuck to with my blog is to do no harm to another survivor. I have talked to some survivors who wish to remain anonymous. I have had long phone calls and email exchanges with classmates or siblings of victims. I have kept their comments in confidence. I have advised them to seek out help from law enforcement, district attorneys, and referred them to organizations that could assist them, including SNAP. I specifically advised them not to go to the diocese with the initial report.

I take issue with Mr. Clohessy insinuating that I am hurting other victims. 

As for meeting with the Bishop-elect of Scranton, that will be my decision, when and if an agreement to meet is reached. I do have conditions, although not necessarily those mentioned by SNAP’s National Director. I have and will continue to seek the advise of those who I trust. If I do go and meet with him, I will not be doing so as a SNAP representative, I will not be calling for a press conference and I will not represent myself to be anything else than a survivor who would like some answers. I understand that I may be ultimately disappointed, however that is for me to determine.

I am hoping there is room in SNAP for differing opinions.