ST. LOUIS • The advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has for decades pressured Catholic church officials and helped expose clergy sex abuse cases that resulted in large payouts to victims and their attorneys.
Now the table is being turned on SNAP.
A former development director for the nonprofit organization claims that SNAP fired her in retaliation for confronting the organization for “colluding with survivors’ attorneys.”
Gretchen Rachel Hammond, 46, of Chicago, who raised money for SNAP from July 2011 until February 2013, filed the lawsuit last week in Cook County, Ill.
Hammond alleges that the advocacy organization, which was based in Chicago until moving to the Central West End in late 2016, didn’t have grief or rape counselors on the payroll and that SNAP ignored some victims seeking help.
“SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors — it exploits them,” the lawsuit says. “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.”
Those cases often settle out of court, the suit alleges, which financially benefits plaintiff attorneys and sometimes SNAP.
“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,” the lawsuit claims.
SNAP denies the allegations.
“That’s simply just not true,” outreach director Barbara Dorris said about misrepresenting the best interest of abuse victims. “We have been and always will be a self-help support group for victims.”
Dorris said she couldn’t remember if Hammond had been fired from SNAP.
“It’s been four years,” she said. “I need to find my notes and find my files.”
Hammond alleges in the lawsuit that leaders didn’t allow her to sit in on SNAP programs for victims, such as group therapy meetings. She alleges leaders told her not to tell anyone about donations from attorneys and was to use the moniker — “Rose’s list” — to discuss the donations.
Of $440,000 in total contributions to SNAP in 2003, 54 percent of the contributions came from plaintiff’s sex abuse attorneys, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiff attorneys in question are not named in the lawsuit but described, including a “prominent Minnesota attorney” who donated $179,000 to SNAP in 2003, or 41 percent of total donations. The same attorney was reported to donate $170,000 in 2007, or 38 percent of total contributions to SNAP that year.
Jeff Anderson, a prominent Minnesota attorney who has represented victims of clergy sex abuse, told the Chicago Tribune he makes regular donations to SNAP and other child safety organizations but not in exchange for referrals.
“The allegation is explosive because it’s unethical,” he said. “I’ve never done it nor would I ever do it.”
Hammond alleges in the lawsuit that she accidentally received an email sent by SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy to an attorney who represents abuse victims: “In that email, Mr. Clohessy provided information regarding a survivor to the attorney for the purposes of filing a lawsuit on behalf of the survivor. Also, in that email, Mr. Clohessy asked the attorney when SNAP could expect a donation.”
Reached by telephone, Clohessy said the idea that SNAP was getting kickbacks was “utterly preposterous.”
Asked about the specific email, he said: “I have written tens of thousands of emails. I can’t imagine that that’s true.”
Clohessy, of St. Louis, started with SNAP in the late 1980s. In 2007, he received the Lifetime Achievement in Advocacy Award from the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, according to the SNAP website. He’s been interviewed by “60 Minutes” and countless media outlets across the country.
He confirmed Monday that he no longer works for SNAP. He said he quit about five weeks ago. He said the recent lawsuit had nothing to do with his departure.
“I am just ready for something different,” said Clohessy, 60. “It was almost 30 years. I’ve read a lot about nonprofits and organizational development. It’s clear that some new blood always helps.”