April 15, 2014

Summary: The Catholic Church, tired of paying out large settlements to victims of clergy sexual abuse cases, is trying a new tactic.  Instead of dipping into their $170 billion per year budget to take care of victims, they have begun bullying victim advocacy groups in the courts in an attempt to discredit these organizations.  Flatly, it’s unconstitutional and morally bankrupt; however, the tactic is effective – the U.S. Catholic Church is decisively bigger with more money to throw around to bully such groups.  The Church, in essence, is more willing to pay money to bully victim advocacy groups and re-victimize the abused than they are to fix the problems that their clergymen created.

When members of the clergy commit the atrocity of child sexual abuse, the appropriate response from the Catholic Church should be to work diligently with these victims to ensure they are taken care of – if that comes in the form of paying out settlements to their victims, it seems to be the least they could do.  However, that is not what the Church is interested in doing; instead, they have chosen to fight back against victim advocacy groups, and their first battle sites are in Kansas City and St. Louis.

According to the New York Times, the Church’s lawyers are going to the Missouri courts to compel the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to disclose more than two decades of emails that include correspondence with victims, lawyers, whistle-blowers, witnesses, police, prosecutors, and journalists, under the auspices that SNAPs information is relevant to the two Missouri sexual abuse cases.  Furthermore, it appears the Church is coordinating their attack against SNAP, targeting the leadership and paid workers in these dispositions and subpoenas in both St. Louis and Kansas City courts.  On paper, it would seem that the Church is taking diligent steps in their defense in these cases; however, it would seem that the Church has ulterior motives:

  • Advocates for clergy sex crimes assert that if there is one group the bishops in the Catholic Church want to see silenced, it’s SNAP.
  • The leader of the Catholic League, William Donahue, says targeting SNAP is justified because they are a “menace to the Catholic Church.”
  • More from Donahue; leading bishops he knew had resolved to fight back more aggressively against SNAP.  “The bishops have come together collectively…they had better toughen up and go out and buy some good lawyers to get tough.  We don’t need altar boys.”  Naturally, this conflicts with the ‘official line’ from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, that there is “no national strategy.”
  • Lastly from Donahue; bishops were rethinking the strategy of paying out settlements, coming to the realization that it’s less expensive to fight victims individually.

In the dispositions to SNAP, the questions have rarely been about the cases themselves; rather, it’s been about how the ‘network’ is organized – leading questions to try to prove that SNAP is not qualified as a “rape crisis center,” which comes with legal protection in Missouri.  Without the legal protection, SNAP would be in a perilous situation – trying to fight the Catholic Church by itself.  SNAP is a very small organization; there are only three paid employees, two part time administrators, and volunteers.  In 2010, they made just over $350,000; some of it donations from lawyers.  The U.S. Catholic Church, on the other hand, has over 1 million employees, and brings in $170 billion per year.  Here’s some context as to how much money we are discussing here, and why the bullying tactic the Church is employing on SNAP is effective, if morally bankrupt.  The $170 billion dollar ‘business’ the U.S. Catholic Church represents:

  • The 61st largest national budget in the world; that’s larger than countries like New Zealand, Cuba, and Kuwait.
  • A budget larger than Apple
  • 17th largest ‘company’ in the world

Consider the 2000 report that indicated that the Vatican gross income was over $422 billion.  That total represents the 33rd largest national budget in the world – that’s larger than the economies of Belgium and Sweden, and a budget larger than the combined budgets of 34 African countries.

Thus far, SNAP has refused to turn over the subpoenaed documents, nor answer all questions in dispositions – nor should it.  If SNAP were to turn over all of its documentation over the past 23 years over to the courts, the effects would be crushing for the organization, the law, and for the victims:

  • The scope of the summons request by the Catholic Church is massive.  Clearly, unearthing 23 years of communication is much too broad to be germane to the specific cases.  Most of the information uncovered would be unrelated to the suit; it would really just provide the Church a means to search them for inconsistencies, so they could file suit against SNAP.  It’s not a ‘fishing’ expedition, according to the director of SNAP; it’s a “fishing, crabbing, shrimping, trash-collecting, draining the pond” expedition.
  • SNAP is not involved in the litigation; it’s one thing if a person decides to sue the church and having to release pertinent communications, but an advocacy group should not be required to.  SNAP is not legally involved in these cases.
  • Reduces consumer confidence in SNAPs for lack of anonymity, and future litigations against SNAP by the Church for any inconsistencies could bankrupt SNAP.  The desired effect, according to SNAP, is to harass and discredit their organization, while discouraging victims, witnesses, whistle-blowers, police, prosecutors, and journalists from seeking their help.
  • There’s a reasonable expectation of privacy for those that decide to consult with SNAP.  It’s unconstitutional to force a group with legal protection and a reasonable expectation to protect privacy to divulge it in the courts.

One of the comments left on the New York Times article drives the point home clearly, albeit sarcastically; “could someone please cite the verse in scripture where Jesus says ‘protect our money, our assets, and our reputation, and ignore the suffering of our children?’ Catholic bishops [sic]: not much to do with the word of Jesus.”  We found a quote from Matthew 5:11 that says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”   The Catholic Church – the ‘direct reflection’ of God – is playing the role of the reviler, persecutor of the abused, and the utterer of evil against victims’ advocacy groups.  Let’s hope that victims of these heinous crimes and victims’ advocacy groups such as SNAP are blessed in the face of false representation of God that the Church embodies.

If your child, or a child you know is a victim of sexual abuse, contact your local police department and report it.  To find out more about the victim’s legal rights, contact Estey & Bomberger today to get a free consultation at (800) 925-0723 or via email at


Church Puts Legal Pressure on Abuse Victims’ Group

US Catholic Church a $170 billion business

The Economist Estimates the Catholic Church Spent $171,600,000,000 in 2010

CIA World Factbook – 2013 Gross Domestic Product