Why targeting SNAP is a bad idea …

Legal action taken by two Missouri dioceses against the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests is starting to gain traction in the media–op-eds here and here–beginning with a New York Times story by Laurie Goodstein, which quoted the ever-ready-to-talk Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, saying that the U.S. bishops were acting "collectively" against SNAP: "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," he said. Bishops' spokesperson Sister Mary Ann Walsh says that there has been no such meeting.

(Side note: Why does Bill Donohue get to speak for the church without correction from the bishops on anything he wants, while Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association gets criticized from none other than N.Y. Cardinal Timothy Dolan for expressing her own "Catholic" opinion about health care reform and the contraceptive mandate? Discuss.)

Donohue aside, it is clear that lawyers for the dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph and St. Louis have taken aggressive legal action–what some call a fishing expedition–against SNAP, seeking discovery of years of internal documents. Already hit with $50,000 in legal bills, SNAP is looking for donations and fears being forced to shut down. (You can read SNAP's David Clohessy here on the matter.)

I admit that sometimes I wonder if SNAP is interested in being part of the solution to the clergy sex abuse crisis, since it never seems that they have any positive things to say about any step that has been taken in the past 10 years to keep children safe. At the same time, it was SNAP that insisted all along, well before the 2002 crisis broke, that the bishops had not cleaned up their act on clergy sex abuse–and they were right. And they have done great things in helping victims tell their stories and get their day in court.

I think the legal action by the bishops against SNAP–whether it is just based in those two dioceses in Missouri or whether a larger group of bishops is in on it–is unwise to say the least. (OK, I think it's dumb.) No matter what motivates it, to the outside it looks like another case of Big Mean Church ganging up on abuse victims, even victimizing them again. That's just perception–there are also matters of justice at stake here. This is especially true in the case of Kansas City–where the failure on the part of Bishop Robert Finn was so egregious that he now has to regularly meet with a prosecutor to avoid jail–it signals another instance of a cleric being simply unwilling to take responsibility for putting children in harm's way.

If the bishops don't like SNAP, then they should eliminate the problem that makes SNAP necessary. If Philadelphia and Kansas City are any indication, we're not there yet.

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.