Abuse advocacy group denies kickback charges as 'inflammatory, untrue'

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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The board chairwoman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests on Wednesday defended the advocacy group from what she called “inflammatory and untrue allegations” made by a former employee, including a forceful denial of the existence of a kickback scheme swapping client referrals for attorney donations.

In a statement, Mary Ellen Kruger, chair of the SNAP board of directors, cast the lawsuit brought by former development director Gretchen Hammond in mid-January as “containing false and inflammatory allegations.”

“We are saddened and disappointed that Ms. Hammond would sue a group of volunteers — a group with whom she has never spoken about her concerns — in an attempt to challenge our mission,” Kruger wrote. “… Our work is its own reward. We do it because we want to stop the cycle of abuse.”

Hammond, who worked for SNAP from July 2011-February 2013, filed the lawsuit Jan. 17 for what she describes as her retaliatory discharge, and seeks compensatory damages and the cost of legal fees. The suit specifically names SNAP president Barbara Blaine, outreach director Barbara Dorris, and David Clohessy, its now-former national director, who resigned at the end of 2016. His decision to leave SNAP was made in October and was not related to the lawsuit.

The most inflammatory charge in Hammond’s suit is that SNAP engaged in a scheme where they referred survivors of abuse to various lawyers suing the church in exchange for the lawyers making sizeable donations to the organization. She highlighted in the lawsuit four years — 2003, 2007, 2008, 2011 — where lawyers’ contributions accounted for more than half of all donations, and described a “Rose’s List” she kept of anonymous attorney donations. She also said in November 2012 she was inadvertently copied on an email from Clohessy to “a prominent attorney” that shared a survivor’s contact information, and at its end asked when SNAP could expect a donation.

“And my heart just sank, because everything that I suspected suddenly turned out to be true,” Hammond said of the email.

Kruger said that “it is correct that victims of abuse are referred to attorneys in an effort to bring accountability to those that have condoned and perpetuated this abuse for decades,” and that “like all nonprofits, SNAP solicits and accepts donations from anyone who believes in our cause,” which has included attorneys.

“To be clear, SNAP has never and will never enter into any ‘kickback schemes’ as alleged by Ms. Hammond in her lawsuit, nor has SNAP ever made donations an implied or express condition of the referral of victims,” she said.

Kruger added that Hammond “never voiced any concerns whatsoever” to the board. That included Hammond’s accusations that SNAP’s focus on fundraising had eclipsed and skewed the organization away from its founding mission of supporting survivors of sexual abuse.

To back up her claims, Hammond pointed to the absence of a grief or rape counselor employed by SNAP, and said she was barred from attending survivor support meetings and had no indication that such outreach efforts ever occurred — details she sought to include in newsletters and grant proposals.

“SNAP is not and has never claimed to be a counseling organization,” Kruger said in her statement. “We are a volunteer-based, peer support network of survivors who help each other in support group meetings, over the phone, through the internet, in person, and through public events.”

Kruger referenced comments Hammond made to reporters that she did not speak with SNAP chapter leaders in her time with the organization, about their support efforts or otherwise, nor did she have knowledge about their activities.

The bulk of SNAP’s outreach efforts occurs through its chapters, with its leaders trained and supported by the main office. On the SNAP website are details about more than three dozen survivor support meetings held in 22 states, in addition to contact information for each of its chapter leaders. In interviews with NCR, several SNAP chapter leaders confirmed that their monthly group meetings occur, and for those where they did not, regular outreach occurs either electronically or in one-on-one sessions.

“Ms. Hammond’s allegation that SNAP has abandoned its survivor outreach work is highly uninformed, if not malicious and defamatory,” said Kruger, alleging herself that Hammond raised the suit “for personal promotion and financial gain four years after she separated from SNAP.”

The board chairwoman cited privacy concerns as why Hammond wasn’t allowed to attend support meetings, and that her presence as a support staff member and non-survivor would be intrusive. She added that all support meetings are closed to non-survivors.

“SNAP has zealously and unapologetically guarded its members’ rights to privacy and anonymity, and will continue to do so,” Kruger said.

Kruger’s statement did not address SNAP’s next steps with regard to the lawsuit, beyond inviting Hammond to meet with the board to discuss her concerns and their work.

“We’re going to fight it,” SNAP president Blaine previously told NCR. The advocacy group has also sought financial assistance to cover its own legal costs and is pursuing pro-bono legal help.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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