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The SNAP Conference is coming up this weekend in Northern Virginia.  Beginning Friday evening at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, just south of Washington, D.C., SNAP members from all over the country and perhaps from around the world will come together to listen to speakers, mix and exchange stories and try to draw some comfort and strength from other victims of sexual crimes committed by clergy.

I attended the conference a few years ago when after I went public with my own story of abuse.  The weekend was eye-opening.  There were people in the room who had made great strides towards recovery while others were still on their personal journeys.

At the conference I sought out some of the leaders of SNAP and talked to them about really networking the membership, setting up a blog roll for the people blogging on the topic of sexual crimes committed by clergy and lay employees of religious organizations and finding a way to use social media to bring this group together.  There was lots of enthusiasm, but no action.

I withdrew my support for SNAP after I started seeing a pattern of odd behavior and  an effort by the National Director to stifle any kind of initiative to do new things or come up with a more coherent strategy to lobby for changes in the laws of states that have not extended statutes of limitation to allow for more time to protect the rights of children or vulnerable adults who have been the victims of crimes committed by clergy.

There are some people who have contended that SNAP is controlled by the church while others say it is an organization that funnels clients to attorneys who make a lot of money suing the church.  I think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.   I also think that the current leadership is rehashing a strategy that is not working.  If you look at the schedule of events for the upcoming conference you do not see any sessions in the main room, or as breakouts, about how to actually network the community through social media or to encourage blogging or other modern methods of harnessing the power of the community.  You don’t see sessions on enabling survivors to work on local and state lawmakers to lobby for changes in existing laws.

You also do not see an open discussion of the organization’s budget, the decision-making process of National Leaders or the selection of board members out of the people who allegedly make up the membership of this organization.

You do see a lot of diverse groups talking about victimization and you will most likely hear a request for donations.  What we have is not activism, it is passive submission to an agenda set by a very few, with those few having a direct financial stake in the agenda.

I would attend a SNAP Conference where the state of the organization to include a detailed discussion of budget and financial issues is encouraged.  I would like to see an organization that would see the election of board members out of the membership in good standing.  I would like to see National Leaders held accountable for their methods, tools and strategies.  If they fail to meet goals agreed to by the membership, it should be the right of the members to demand a change in leadership.

There are many questions that don’t seem to be answered.  There are many who would like to ask questions without fear of retribution from the National Leaders and their more zealous disciples.

I find it ironic that many of the tactics that the Catholic Church has used to control and isolate victims are part of the SNAP leadership strategy to remain firmly in place, collecting a paycheck and controlling a dialogue that is not really theirs to control.

Have a dialogue with all Survivors, encourage a conversation and realize that there is value in differing opinions.  Take time to discuss the business of SNAP and establish procedures that will encourage confidence in those who donate to non-profit organizations that comply with established standards and best practices.  Make this organization a true network and you will see results.

Finally, stop wasting everyone’s time changing the church.  It is never going to happen.  This fight will not be won in the pulpit or the pews, it has to be fought and won in the state legislatures and the courtroom.  I have said it before and will continue to say it.  There will be no profound change in the way the Catholic Church deals with pedophile priests until the church, as an institution,  has to pay a price set by civil society that is so terrible that it has no choice but to change as an institution or perish.  SNAP can be on the leading edge of that change or remain a self licking ice cream cone that does little more than offer a paycheck to a select few who may not really know where to lead the organization.

We will see what happens in northern Virginia over the weekend.  Unfortunately, I do not hold out hope for any new direction!

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Michael Baumann


Credit: Michael Baumann at "Off My Knees"

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