Ten years after Catholic bishops swore to clean up their act after decades of sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by their leaders, the Catholic Church is proving that old habits die hard.
The New York Times reported last week that attorneys for the church have subpoenaed records from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known to most people as SNAP, as part of sex abuse lawsuits in St. Louis and Kansas City. The subpoenas demand e-mail records and, in some cases, testimony — even though SNAP isn’t directly involved in the suits.
The church demanded 23 years of SNAP’s communication with victims, though the victim in the suit is only 19. They’ve wasted hundreds of hours of staff time and cost SNAP $50,000. Now, SNAP is begging lawyers to work pro bono.
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, outlined the strategy to the Times: “SNAP is a menace to the Catholic Church,” he said. “There’s a growing consensus on the part of the bishops that they had better … buy some good lawyers and get tough.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denied turning up the heat, but the Missouri strategy is clear: Make victims afraid to talk to SNAP and bury them under legal fees — the tactic corporations such as tobacco firms use to silence smaller opponents: Intimidate, outspend.
For decades, the Catholic hierarchy — behind the backs of its innocent clergy and millions of parishioners — used intimidation and secrecy to hide accusations that priests molested children. Now, it’s using the same tactics to silence a group that gives aid and comfort to the priests’ victims.
So far, the new tactics appear limited to Missouri. None of SNAP’s four New Jersey chapters has been targeted.
SNAP is a support group, a referral center for victims. But the church sees SNAP as ringleaders and organizers. They want to bust SNAP the way sweatshops busted labor unions.
The church’s new legal assault on SNAP is unconscionable. For decades, pedophile priests created thousands of voiceless victims. SNAP gives those victims a voice — and now the bishops want to silence that, too.