Lawyers of the Roman Catholic Church and priests accused of sexual abuse in two Missouri cases have approached the court to compel the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests to disclose more than two decades of e-mails including correspondence with victims, lawyers, whistle-blowers, witness, police, prosecutors and journalists. Though the SNAP is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the litigation, it has been subpoenaed five times in recent months and its national director, David Clohessy, was interrogated by a full battery of church lawyers for more than six hours in 2012.
The SNAP claims that the coordinated legal action against the group from courts in Kansas City and St. Louis is integral to the Catholic Church’s campaign to silence victims of priestly sex abuse.
Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor told the media, “If there is one group that the higher-ups, the bishops, would like to see silenced, it definitely would be SNAP. And that’s why they’re going after. They’re trying to find a way to silence SNAP.”
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, New York said that targeting SNAP was fully justified as “SNAP is a menace to the Catholic Church.” Mr. Donohue further added that the leading bishops he knew about have resolved to fight back aggressively against SNAP. He said, “The bishops have come together collectively. I can’t give you the names, but there’s a growing consensus on the part of the bishops that they had better toughen up and go out and buy some good lawyers to get tough. We don’t need altar boys.”
Donohue also said that the bishops were rethinking their approach of paying large settlements: “The church has been too quick to write a check, and I think they’ve realized it would be a lot less expensive in the long run if we fought them one by one.”
However, Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said that Donohue was wrong and that “there is no national strategy” that indicates bishops have agreed to get tough on SNAP.
SNAP was initially formed two decades back as a loose collective of people victimized as children by Catholic priests. They had the goal to help others return to normalcy and ease the pain by making referrals to therapists and lawyers. Later, with continuous rise in numbers, the group began to protest outside churches.
Last year, after Bishop Robert W. Finn becoming the first American bishop to be criminally indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse in Kansas City, SNAP started receiving pressure.
The SNAP director had received the first subpoena in the case of John Doe B.P. v. The Rev. Michael Tierney and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. In the case four plaintiffs recently came out in the open and accused Father Tierney of sexually abusing them years ago. The case was barred by the law of limitations in Missouri but the plaintiffs contend that they recovered their memories of abuse only recently.
Ten victims’ groups have filed a brief arguing that the subpoena was unconstitutional. The Missouri Press Association also filed a supporting brief challenging the constitutionality of the subpoena upon SNAP.