SUPPORTING AND ENDORSING THE WORK OF SNAP — by Brian Mark Hennessy
SNAP, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, will be well known to most readers of this Blog as it is the world’s oldest and largest support group for persons abused by priests – but not only priests of the Catholic Church. It has also provided a place of focus to nuns, rabbis, bishops and Protestant ministers. Their basic quest is to urge “every single person who saw, suspected or suffered child sex crimes and cover ups in Catholic churches or institutions to protect kids” by calling the police, getting help by calling therapists, exposing wrongdoers by calling law enforcement agencies, getting justice by calling attorneys, and being comforted by calling support groups like theirs”.
The Comboni Survivors Group support these aims wholeheartedly – as this is the only way that children will be safer, adults will recover from the traumatic and long-term impacts of childhood abuse, criminals will be prosecuted, cover ups will be deterred, the truth will surface, lessons can be learned and safeguards can be put in place to protect the children of the future. In order to achieve these aims – and to encourage participation – an essential ingredient of the process is total and permanent confidentiality
The aims of SNAP are, indeed, also very closely aligned to those that the United Kingdom’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse also fosters. The ultimate aims of both are to relieve suffering, examine wrongdoing and bring institutions that have failed to protect children to full public account. That is why the Comboni Survivors Group (also known as “The Mirfield 12”) have given their full support to that Inquiry and why they have fully supported the “Truth” Project” that is associated with the Inquiry and which legally provides them with total anonymity. Indeed, the Comboni Survivor Group are also dignified as victims by being granted “Core Participant Status” within that Inquiry. This grants the Group a range of privileges that includes anonymity and a formal role, defined by legislation, in the Inquiry. They also have special rights in the Inquiry process which include receiving disclosure documentation, being represented and making legal submissions, suggesting questions and receiving advance notice of the Inquiry’s Report.
It is with some alarm, therefore, that a report by Brian Roewe, in the National Catholic Reporter on 2nd September 2016, stated that a “St. Louis federal judge levied sanctions last week against the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests for resisting a court order to turn over documents containing victim information”. SNAP had resisted the Order, it seems, as it had genuine concerns that to hand over the documents would have given rise to serious issues about survivor confidentiality going forward. The judge enforced the sanctions, which included a hefty fine, against SNAP after determining that SNAP had refused to comply with the court order and, in so doing, “had been willful and in bad faith.”
Brian Roewe further explained that David Clohessy, representing SNAP, had said that the order had worried the organization’s members. He had explained that he considered the pursuit of the documents was “part of an escalating campaign to discredit us and defund us” and to prevent victims, witnesses and law enforcement officials from seeking SNAP’s help”.
Lorenz-Moser, acting on behalf of SNAP, added that SNAP had turned over between 600 and 700 pages of documentation that included internal communications, but had omitted or redacted those concerning victims and advocacy work on their part. “If victims are scared that they don’t have confidentiality or their names might be disclosed to their abuser or to others, or that their private communications might be disclosed, they don’t come forward. Not only do they not come forward, but they don’t seek services that they need, they don’t feel protected, they don’t report crimes, and they don’t end up in a position to be able to vindicate themselves, and to stop the abuser from abusing other people,” she said.
The UK Comboni Survivor Group are not competent to comment on the niceties of US State Law. Yet, we do insist that any Justice procedure in any land should, in its pursuit of justice, examine the serious effects that any legally enforced disclosure of documentation relating to a vulnerable victim of abuse might have on that victim. Documentation, such as an abused victim’s voluntary statement, are made by the victim with an expectancy of absolute confidentiality. I suggest that it would be essential that a qualified medical doctor, cognizant of the effects that disclosure might have on the victim, be called as a witness before any such disclosure is made legally binding. An organization such as SNAP, should be able, without penalty, to honour the expectancy of confidentiality of a vulnerable victim of abuse – unless that victim has rescinded confidentiality – and medical evidence supports that is safe for the victim so to rescind it.
Written by Brian Mark Hennessy