When Pope Francis visited America in 2015, one topic that seemed mandatory to address was the old scandal over priests found guilty of sexually abusing children. Despite more than a decade of reforms and a more liberal-pleasing pontiff, some activists never stopped bashing the Catholic hierarchy.
The group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, disparaged Francis' meeting with victims as an empty public relations gesture, a dodge. On CNN, SNAP spokesman Manny Vega exclaimed: "If he really ... wants to put an end to this, he has to be completely transparent, allow the names to go unredacted, allow the files — allow researchers to get into the Vatican files and take a look at everything that's happened. There has to be complete disclosure. That hasn't happened yet."
But CNN and the other television networks haven't touched the amazing story of the shoe going on the other foot in the last few weeks. Suddenly, SNAP is falling apart after a lawsuit alleging it has been largely funded by kickbacks from attorneys to whom the group refers clergy abuse victims.
On Jan. 17, former SNAP Development Director Gretchen Rachel Hammond filed a lawsuit claiming to have been fired after discovering that SNAP has been "colluding with survivors' attorneys." The lawsuit says: "SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors — it exploits them. ... Attorneys and SNAP base their strategy not on the best interests of the survivor, but on what will generate the most publicity and fundraising opportunities for SNAP."
According to Catholic News Agency, "The lawsuit claimed that the organization receives 'substantial contributions' from attorneys sometimes totaling more than 40 or 50 percent of its annual contributions." An unnamed Minnesota attorney has reportedly donated multiple six-figure annual sums, one of which was over $415,000. (Local news reports mention Jeff Anderson, who admitted he donates to SNAP but denied there being a quid pro quo arrangement.)
Hammond brought some eye-opening transparency. The agency also reported on an email sent by then-Executive Director David Clohessy on April 26, 2011, in which he recommended that an alleged victim pursue a claim against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. See the ideology peeking through. He said, "Every nickle (sic) they don't have is a nickle (sic) that they can't spend on defense lawyers, PR staff, gay-bashing, women-hating, contraceptive-battling, etc."
For years, the national media have routinely and reflexively sided with lawyers and alleged abuse victims and rarely noticed when SNAP failed the transparency test. Last August, federal Judge Carol Jackson sanctioned the group for defying a court order in a lawsuit by St. Louis Rev. Xiu Hui "Joseph" Jiang. Local prosecutors had named Jiang on criminal abuse charges, but the charges were later dropped. Jackson declared that SNAP's public statements were made "negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth."
Transparency for SNAP has arrived, and the networks are bored to death. The anti-religious left is never a hypocrite. Apparently, it's only the religious right. The Associated Press offered a report with the nebulous headline "Watchdog group that fought Catholic Church faces upheaval." The Boston Globe, which propelled SNAP to fame in 2002 with revelations of the horrible sexual abuse in Boston parishes, offered a single sad story.
This court case could signal the end of SNAP. Clohessy recently resigned and claimed it had nothing to do with the lawsuit. A few days later, SNAP founder and President Barbara Blaine also resigned and claimed it had nothing to do with the lawsuit. These developments should spark a lot of media curiosity. But that would only happen if the media were truly fair and balanced, and if they were to act on that ineffectual old defense that "We're only biased in favor of a great story."
L. Brent Bozell III is the president of the Media Research Center. Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org.