Sex abuse advocacy group SNAP sued by former employee

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A former employee of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is suing the advocacy group, claiming she was fired after she learned that SNAP's principal officers collude with attorneys representing sex abuse survivors and that SNAP accepts financial kickbacks for referring abuse victims to attorneys.

The charges by Gretchen Rachel Hammond were made in papers filed with the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, yesterday, Jan. 17. Hammond worked as a director of development, raising funds for SNAP from the summer 2011 until February 2013 when she was fired.

The filings say Hammond was fired after she "learned ... [that] SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors — it exploits them. SNAP routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of 'donations.' In exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church. These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors' settlements."

Defendants in the lawsuit are SNAP, Barbara Blaine, the founder and president of SNAP, David Clohessy, the executive director of SNAP, and Barbara Dorris, SNAP's outreach director.


​Update: "The allegations are not true," SNAP president Barbara Blaine said in a statement sent to Catholic News Service as well as other news organizations. "This will be proven in court. SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: To help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse."

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Dorris told NCR by telephone Wednesday night that she "heard about the lawsuit late [Wednesday] afternoon" but she could not comment on it.

"I haven’t seen the lawsuit. I haven't read it. I don't know what's going on. I haven't talked to Barbara [Blaine] or David [Clohessy] about it. I just don't have any information to answer your questions."

She confirmed that Hammond had been an employee of SNAP but could not comment on the terms of her leaving SNAP's employ.

Hammond, who says after the firing she was forced to take a job outside her professional field and "for a substantially lower salary," is seeking "compensatory damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest." She is also seeking a jury trial, according to the court filing.

The court filing says that SNAP claims nonprofit, tax exempt status as an organization with the purpose of providing "support for men & women who have been sexually victimized by members of the clergy" and that its "mission is to meet the needs of membership through moral support, information & advocacy," it is in fact "a commercial operation motivated by its directors' and officers' personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church."

The court filing says that SNAP receives "substantial contributions from attorneys." For example, according to the document, of the $437,407 in donations SNAP received in 2007, more than 81 percent came from attorneys.  

That year "a prominent Minnesota attorney that represents clergy abuse survivors" donated $169,716.67 to SNAP, 38 percent of the year's total contributions, and "a prominent California attorney that represented clergy abuse survivors" donated $100,000, over 22 percent of the year's total. SNAP also received $20,000 from another California lawyer and $50,000 from a Chicago lawyer in 2007, according to the court document.

Hammond became concerned about SNAP's operations when she was not allowed to participate in an internal audit of SNAP by an accounting firm. As development director, Hammond expected to be involved in the audit, but she was not.

She was also barred from attending SNAP programs, such as survivors' meetings, group therapy sessions or counseling sessions, the court filing says. "When [Hammond] asked Ms. Dorris when survivors' meetings were last held, Ms. Dorris responded that she did not know," the filing says.

According to the court document, Hammond is represented by Bruce C. Howard and Richard S. Wilson of the Chicago law firm Siprut PC.

[Dennis Coday is NCR editor. His email is dcoday@ncronline.org]

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