Faith

Longtime leader resigns from priest sex abuse victims’ advocacy group

David Clohessy, who recently stepped down as leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was sometimes seen in Kansas City through his work with the advocacy group. In this 2011 photo, Clohessy wiped a tear from his eye during a news conference in Kansas City.
David Clohessy, who recently stepped down as leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was sometimes seen in Kansas City through his work with the advocacy group. In this 2011 photo, Clohessy wiped a tear from his eye during a news conference in Kansas City. The Kansas City Star

David Clohessy, who for more than two decades was the face of a national victims’ advocacy group that pressured the Catholic Church to take a more aggressive stance on the priest sex abuse issue, has stepped down from the organization.

An official with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said this week that Clohessy voluntarily resigned as executive director on Dec. 31. The announcement, sent to SNAP volunteers, came seven days after a former employee filed an explosive lawsuit against the organization claiming SNAP was exploiting sexual abuse victims and receiving kickbacks from attorneys for sending clients their way.

Clohessy told The Star on Thursday that the lawsuit had nothing to do with his resignation and called the allegations in the case “preposterous.”

“I told the board in October that I would be resigning,” he said. “We had no idea the lawsuit was coming. It caught all of us completely off guard.”

Clohessy, 60, who lives in the St. Louis area, said he decided it was time for him to step aside. For now, he said, he will remain on the SNAP board. SNAP is based in the Chicago area.

“It’s been an absolutely wonderful almost 30 years,” he said. “I could not have had a more fulfilling and rewarding job or role. They talk about the top 1 percent in terms of wealth. I’m in the top 1 percent in that I’ve spent my entire professional life doing work that I believe in.”

In an email Tuesday announcing the resignation, the chairwoman of SNAP’s board thanked Clohessy.

“We are eternally grateful for David’s dedication to SNAP and its mission over the past almost thirty years,” said Mary Ellen Kruger. “His passion, his voice and his kindness have touched us all.”

SNAP founder and president Barbara Blaine said in an email to The Star: “David will always be a member of SNAP!”

The lawsuit was filed Jan. 17 in Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois by Gretchen Rachel Hammond, who alleged that instead of protecting or helping survivors of sexual abuse, SNAP neglects and exploits them. Hammond claimed she was fired after questioning what she said was evidence that the organization was accepting kickbacks for referring sex abuse victims to attorneys.

Besides SNAP, others named in the lawsuit include Blaine, Clohessy and outreach director Barbara Dorris. All have denied the claims.

SNAP was founded in 1988 and today calls itself the nation’s largest, oldest and most active self-help group for clergy sex abuse victims. The organization has more than 20,000 members, and support groups meet in more than 60 cities in the United States and other countries, according to its website.

Clohessy, himself a victim of priest sexual abuse as a teenager, joined SNAP in the early 1990s, first as a volunteer. In 2002, the group gained prominence when the Boston Globe’s stories on a priest sexual abuse scandal rocked the Catholic Church. That same year, U.S. bishops asked Clohessy to speak at a historic meeting at which they drafted a new set of policies designed to prevent future abuse.

SNAP leaders have been familiar figures in the Kansas City area over the years, often holding news conferences to announce the dozens of lawsuits that have been filed against area priests and pressing diocesan officials to be more aggressive in reporting abuse.

In 2011, when child pornography charges were filed against the Rev. Shawn Ratigan and then-Bishop Robert Finn was charged with failing to report suspected child abuse, Clohessy and other SNAP members became fixtures in the community, converging on public places across the metro area on a regular bases.

The news of Clohessy’s resignation saddened Kansas City SNAP volunteer Michael Sandridge.

“This was his whole life,” Sandridge said. “He’s selfless; he’s very dedicated to protecting children. He just wants to help people and correct a great wrong.”

Judy L. Thomas: 816-234-4334, @judylthomas

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