Ethics & Religion
September 28, 2017
Barbara Blaine & Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
By Mike McManus
Few people change history. Barbara Blaine, who died this week at 61, was
such a pioneer on behalf of children who were sexually abused by
She created the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP,
in 1988. She had been molested by a priest from age 13-17, and years
later as a lawyer, thought there might be 200-300 other victims who had
been similarly sexually abused. However, there are now 20,000 SNAP
members who suffered from such abuse in America and 5,000 SNAP members
What sparked her leadership was a series of articles in The National
Catholic Reporter by Jason Berry who was one of the first journalists to
write about a serial pedophile priest in Louisiana. It reminded her of
Rev. Chet Warren, the priest who ravished her, yet told her that she was
an "evil temptress."
Berry's articles helped her realize that the priest's actions had been a
crime and that she was not at fault. As an adult she confronted him and
his superiors. They agreed to pay for therapy for her, but the priest
was allowed to remain in ministry for years.
She conceived of SNAP as a support group for others who had been
molested. However she "became an heroic figure who forced church
officials to reckon with the long history of concealing sex offenders,"
Berry asserted in an interview.
"She spearheaded a survivor's movement, unlike anything the Catholic
Church has ever seen. Today literally millions of kids are safer,
millions of parents no longer think a priest or a person with an
illustrious title - means you can't be a predator."
David Clohessy, an abuse survivor who served as SNAP's Director for
decades, said that Barbara Blaine "showed that support groups and
collective action is the only real way to prevention. Support groups
help victims of sexual violence realize that they are not alone - and
it's not their fault, and recovery is possible. Collective action helps
them to realize that they were once powerless, but now are not."
A group called BishopAccountability.org has collated data from all
dioceses and reported that there were 6,721 priests and 27 bishops who
have been "credibly" accused of sexually molesting 18,565 minors from
1950-2016 according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
However, the late Father Andrew Greeley estimated that 2,500 priests -
less than half the total - might have molested "well in excess of
After all, there are 20,000 SNAP members, and there are only 18,565
officially identified victims.
Barbara Dorris, the current director of SNAP, said that Barbara Blaine's
"relentless advocacy enabled millions to eventually accept a long
unbelievable reality - that tens of thousands of priests raped and
fondled hundreds of thousands of kids while bishops hid these heinous
In fact, bishops are still hiding many molesters! Of the 6,721
identified priest molesters, 2,836 accused clerics have not had their
names published. "In other words, of the current 6,721 total, at least
42 percent of the names are still being kept secret by bishops," charged
SNAP's visibility was elevated after the Boston Globe published its 2002
investigative series on clergy sexual abuse and the "culture of silence"
in the Catholic Church. It reported that one priest had molested 130
children while the church moved him from parish to parish. That series
won a Pulitzer Prize. One result: Boston's Catholic Church paid $85
million to victims of Boston's priests. The Globe's pioneering reporting
was documented in the recent movie "Spotlight" that won the 2015 Academy
Award as best film.
Barbara Blaine's work is unfinished. She resigned from SNAP earlier this
year to start the Accountability Project, an effort to pressure Vatican
officials to stop clergy sexual crimes around the world, where there are
1.2 billion Catholics. She had only just begun when she died
unexpectedly of a sudden tear in a heart blood vessel.
In fact, SNAP's first meetings were held in a Chicago homeless shelter
which Blaine managed. SNAP had no budget or staff, but developed a
network of sex abuse victims. Only after the Globe series was she able
to raise money for full-time work.
One reason clergy sexual abuse was unknown is that children who have
been molested - repress the memory, as Blaine did. When they awaken to
what happened to them, they are often unable to sue for damages due to
statutes of limitations. Alabama requires that claims be filed within
two years of the injury!
However, thanks to SNAP these laws are being changed and 5,679 victims
have sued the church and received $3 billion in settlements.
Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus,
President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous
columns go to
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