Chicago, Ill., Jan 26, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A longtime leader of a controversial advocacy group for clergy sex abuse victims resigned weeks before a former employee filed a lawsuit charging the group was receiving kickbacks from attorneys who filed sex abuse cases, the group has said.
David Clohessy resigned as executive director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests effective Dec. 31, SNAP told CNA on Wednesday. As of Jan. 17, Clohessy was still listed as executive director on the group's website. The organization voiced gratitude for Clohessy’s dedication; he had worked for the organization since 1991.
Clohessy told the St. Louis Dispatch that the lawsuit had nothing to do with his departure. “I am just ready for something different,” he said. “It was almost 30 years. I’ve read a lot about nonprofits and organizational development. It’s clear that some new blood always helps.” He said the lawsuit’s claim that SNAP was getting kickbacks from attorneys was “utterly preposterous.”
The news of his resignation followed the Jan. 17 filing of a lawsuit from former SNAP development director Gretchen Rachel Hammond, who claimed wrongful termination for challenging the organization’s misbehavior. She had worked at the organization from July 2011 through February 2013. Accusations against the group included alleged kickbacks from attorneys who were suing the Church on behalf of sexual abuse victims. Donations from sex abuse attorneys made up more than 40 percent of its annual contributions, Hammond said.
The lawsuit alleged that the organization disregarded the interests of abuse victims, neglected to provide sufficient counseling for victims, and used publicity about the victims to drive fundraising. SNAP, together with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, had asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Benedict XVI and other Vatican leaders for crimes against humanity related to sex abuse by U.S. clergy. The group traveled to The Hague to make its case.
Hammond claimed SNAP used the funds raised for the trip “for lavish hotels and other extravagant travel expenses for its leadership.” The lawsuit charged that “SNAP is a commercial operation motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”
The lawsuit prompted a flat denial from SNAP president Barbara Blaine. “The allegations are not true. This will be proven in court,” she said. Previous legal cases have also involved Clohessy and SNAP. In a January 2012 deposition, Clohessy declined to answer whether SNAP has a list of attorneys to whom it refers people. He also denied to answer how much money the group receives from attorneys. He additionally refused to respond to questions about how he has been able to publicly post lawsuit information on the group’s website before it was filed with the court, although he did admit that part of what SNAP does “is to publicize lawsuits against priests.”
That deposition took place after Clohessy lost an effort to avoid being forced to testify in court concerning whether a court-imposed gag order had been violated in the case of a Missouri priest accused of abuse. In August 2016, a federal judge in Missouri ruled that SNAP made false statements “negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth” against a St. Louis priest to try to convict him on abuse charges. The court established that SNAP sought to convict the priest due to “discriminatory animus against plaintiff based on his religion, religious vocation, race, and national origin.”