WASHINGTON — A former director of development for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has charged in a wrongful termination lawsuit that SNAP is more interested in fundraising and taking kickbacks from lawyers suing the Catholic Church than in helping survivors.

Tears roll down as David Clohessy describes the pain of victims of clergy sexual abuse as he addresses U.S. bishops at their June 2002 meeting in Dallas. In the lawsuit against SNAP, Clohessy allegedly recommended an abuse survivor pursue a claim in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy settlement. (CNS photo by Bob Roller)

Gretchen Rachel Hammond, in her suit filed Jan. 17 in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, further accuses SNAP of being “a commercial organization” and “premised upon farming out abuse survivors as clients for attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors and collect settlement checks from the Catholic Church.”

Hammond worked for SNAP from July 2011 to February 2013, and is now a journalist for the Windy City Times. She claims she was fired in retaliation for a series of discoveries she made about the way settlements were being handled, and that the stress caused by SNAP’s treatment of her sent her to the hospital four times and resulted in a series of health problems.

She also asserts that SNAP “is motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.” In 2011, SNAP helped publicize the attempt in Europe to bring charges against Pope Benedict XVI for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court.

“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.”

SNAP, founded in 1989 and based in Chicago, is considered the largest and best-known advocacy organization for survivors of clerical abuse.

The lawsuit alleges that after abuse survivors are referred to attorneys, “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.”

SNAP, Hammond claims, “regularly communicates with attorneys about their lawsuits on behalf of survivors, receiving drafts of pleadings and other privileged information.” Attorneys and SNAP “base their strategy not on the best interest of the survivor, but on what will generate the most publicity and fundraising opportunities for SNAP.”

Hammond further claims that the bulk of donations to SNAP have come from attorneys – as much as 81 percent of the $437,400 in donations made in 2007 and 56 percent in 2011.

“Tellingly, at one time during 2011 and 2012,” the suit, says, “SNAP even concocted a scheme to have attorneys make donations to a front foundation, styled the ‘Minnesota Center for Philanthropy,’ and then have the Minnesota Center for Philanthropy make a grant to SNAP in order to provide a subterfuge for, and to otherwise conceal, the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ kickbacks to SNAP.”

It also accuses SNAP’s executive director, David Clohessy, of recommending that an abuse survivor pursue a claim in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy settlement.

It quotes a Clohessy email: “I sure hope you DO pursue the WI bankruptcy … every nickle (sic) they don’t have is a nickle that they can’t spend on defense lawyers, PR staff, gay-bashing, women-hating, contraceptive-battling, etc.”

Religion News Service reported Jan. 24 that Clohessy had resigned from his SNAP position, quoting him as saying he left in December and his decision was unrelated to the lawsuit. “My last day was five weeks ago, before this lawsuit ever happened,” he told RNS. The suit was filed Jan. 17.

In response to an email query from CNS to confirm the information Jan. 26, Blaine said: “David resigned Dec. 31, 2016, and it had nothing to do with the lawsuit.”

Attorney Bruce Howard, of the Siprut firm in Chicago, which is representing Hammond, told CNS in a phone interview late Jan. 20 said he likes their chances in the case. “Generally, we don’t bring frivolous cases,” he said.

He emphasized that the case is strictly a wrongful termination case and that his firm has never been associated with “any case involving SNAP or any case remotely tangential to SNAP.” Howard added that his firm takes a lot of whistleblower cases, which usually start out as wrongful termination cases.

Howard noted the firm’s client “is Jewish and was raised in the Church of England and has no connection to the Catholic Church. I have never been involved in a case dealing with the Catholic Church.”

Hammond is not seeking a specific sum in damages but is asking for “compensatory damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest.”