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Controversial group SNAP targets local priest

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Dave Pierre

Denise Warmerdam

Michael Kelly

Posted: Saturday, December 17, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:21 am, Sat Dec 17, 2011.

Tim Lennon is a 64-year-old San Francisco man who says he was raped by a priest in the Midwest when he was 13. The priest was a family friend.

But Lennon said the rape didn't return to his memory until a year and a half ago. He added that he's suffered from severe depression, problems developing personal relationships, low self-esteem and anger.

On Nov. 21, Lennon stood outside the San Joaquin County courthouse, protesting a move to seal records relating to a case against Lockeford priest Father Michael Kelly, and to urge Kelly's removal as priest until child sexual abuse allegations against Kelly have been investigated.

Lennon was at the courthouse as a member of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The group advocates on behalf of victims, sometimes quite publicly. But the group, based in Chicago, is not without controversy. Some feel SNAP condemns priests before they are allowed full due process.

In Kelly's case, for instance, he staunchly maintains his innocence and has the support of many parishioners in Lockeford and at parishes he previously served. He has not been criminally charged, let along convicted.

Founded in 1988, SNAP is based in Chicago but has chapters throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Australia. It has helped thousands of clergy abuse survivors through in-person support, monthly group meetings and twice-annual national meetings, according to a listing with the Better Business Bureau.

Although SNAP staffers and volunteers are the most visible when they protest publicly on behalf of people who say they were abused by priests, most of SNAP's work is devoted to listening to sexual abuse victims privately, SNAP Director David Clohessy said.

"People don't see 90 percent of what we do," Clohessy said in a phone interview with the News-Sentinel.

A local presence

SNAP volunteers have been making their presence known in San Joaquin County during the past two months. Shortly after a man reported in late September that Kelly had sexually abused him more than a decade ago, SNAP officials had planned to picket in front of Kelly's church, St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford, during Mass. But they never showed up.

Joelle Chasteix, SNAP's western regional director, said members decided not to protest at St. Joachim's after all due to the devotion the Lockeford parish has for Kelly.

Instead, SNAP volunteers picketed in front of Cathedral of the Annunciation, on Rose Street in Stockton.

Then on Nov. 21, Lennon and another SNAP volunteer, Melanie Sakoda from the East Bay community of Moraga, protested in front of the San Joaquin County courthouse.

They talked to reporters outside the courthouse, but they didn't make their presence known to people walking in and out of the courthouse during a cold, foggy morning.

Lennon showed reporters a flier about SNAP and a black-and-white picture of himself at 13, the age he said he was sexually abused by a priest in the Midwest.

Lennon said he was raped by a priest a half-century ago, but his memory of the incident didn't come back to him until a year and a half ago. He explained the delayed reaction this way: "As a child, it's a defensive mode to protect yourself."

Anna Winn, a clinical social worker and therapist in Lodi, said it is possible for sexual abuse victims to recall childhood molestation years later.

"It can be triggered by a smell, or a song — something that familiarizes you with it," Winn said.

Sexual abuse shouldn't be used as an excuse for drinking, relationship or other problems, Winn said, but it can provide some understanding of why those problems develop.

Sakoda said she wasn't personally abused by a priest, but she knows of children at her parish in San Francisco who were.

"That started me on this," Sakoda said outside the Stockton courthouse before Kelly's court appearance began.

Kelly, priest at St. Joachim's Catholic Church since 2004, has had a civil lawsuit filed against him by someone claiming that Kelly sexually abused him in the 1980s, when Kelly was a priest at Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton. A second individual recently claimed that Kelly molested him in San Andreas. The second allegation is being investigated by the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department.

Both supporters and detractors

While SNAP has some strong supporters, not everyone agrees that SNAP has helped people claiming to be abused by clergy.

Dave Pierre operates TheMediaReport.com, a website examining what he claims to be anti-Catholicism and bias in today's media, and is the author of the book "Catholic Priests Falsely Accused." Pierre says that while all people who are guilty of sexual abuse should be prosecuted, SNAP goes a step further and assumes guilt prior to any investigation.

"It's a very emotional and charged topic," Pierre said in a phone interview. "How does a person prove he didn't do something?"

Lennon and Sakoda protested a request by Kelly and the Stockton Diocese to seal records in Kelly's civil case pending before the court. Judge Bob McNatt subsequently granted the request to seal Kelly's records.

They also protested the diocese allowing Kelly to continue preaching at St. Joachim's while allegations by a second man are being investigated by the Calaveras County authorities.

"If a cop shoots someone, they remove him," Lennon said.

The same reasoning should apply when someone alleges that a priest molested him, he said.

Pierre and St. Joachim's parishioner Denise Warmerdam say that there's a big difference between a police officer shooting and someone accusing a priest of sexual misconduct.

In the case of an officer shooting, investigators know that the shooting actually took place and what's being investigated is the circumstances of the shooting, Warmerdam said.

When reached by phone, Kelly said he couldn't comment on SNAP because he knows little about the organization. He does maintain his innocence of child abuse allegations.

"I am totally, 100-percent innocent of these allegations," Kelly said. "To be an innocent man and charged with these things is devastating."

SNAP's founding

SNAP was founded by Barbara Blaine, who was abused by a priest as a child, according to national SNAP Director David Clohessy. This was in the pre-Internet days, so Blaine began corresponding by mail and word of mouth with other clergy abuse victims, prosecutors and therapists, Clohessy said. That led to the birth of SNAP.

While Clohessy says SNAP has successfully helped clergy abuse victims, he says the organization has a long way to go.

"We firmly believe that most of these victims still haven't spoken up, exposed their predators and gotten help," Clohessy said. "Most of them are still mired in confusion, trapped in fear or overcome by addictions and depression.

"And sadly, it often takes an enormous personal crisis — their third DUI conviction, their fourth divorce or fifth suicide attempt — before they can reach out," Clohessy added. "It's less about 'remembering' than connecting the dots. The most common thing is to minimize it. Sometimes it comes out in therapy."

Pierre, the SNAP critic, agrees that some priests have been guilty of sexual abuse.

"I think (Oliver) O'Grady did tremendous damage to the church and the victims," Pierre said. "He's the real demon. I don't defend any wrongdoing whatsoever."

O'Grady, a priest at Lodi's St. Anne's Catholic Church in the 1970s, pleaded guilty in 1993 to four counts of sexual abuse with children under 14 in Calaveras County, where he was a priest at the time. He was deported to his native Ireland after being paroled from state prison in 2000.

Warmerdam says she trusts her five children around Kelly because she considers the allegations against him to be false.

"In the past, there have been some horrific events that have happened (at Catholic churches). The Catholic Church hasn't always handled things appropriately, but they've learned from it," Warmerdam said. "But for those who are innocent, it is time we stand up, which I believe to be the case in Father Kelly's case."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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  • Neil Allen posted at 7:51 am on Fri, Dec 30, 2011.

    Neil Allen Posts: 8

    The Catholic church and their supporters are such horrible examples of Christians, it is reprehensible.

    The Catholic church raped tens of thousands of children world-wide, hid pedophile priests, and lied about it. Everyone now knows this, despite how they tried to lie and hide it.

    Supporters like Dave Pierre of "themediareport" try to make money off it by selling books. Dave publicly endorses the website of a convicted pedophile (www.thesestonewalls.com) named Gordon Macrae.

    Macrae was convicted of the crime in 1994, when he also pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting three other boys, according to By Katherine McQuaid
    Union Leader (top Manchester, NH newspaper) March 4, 2003.

    In exchange, Macrae, convicted pedophile priest, endorses Pierre's book. Truth is "themediareport" is written by a professional pedophile protector for the Catholic church.
    Now the professional pedophile protectors jump in, touting "themediareport".

    "themediareport" is written by a guy named Dave Pierre trying to sell two books. Pierre also publicly endorses and is endorsed by Gordon Macrae, a convicted pedophile priest. See ads for Pierre's books on the right side of the pedophile priest's web page at www.thesestonewalls.com

    Macrae was convicted of the crime in 1994, when he also PLEADED GUILTY to sexually assaulting three other boys, according to By Katherine McQuaid
    Union Leader (top Manchester, NH newspaper) March 4, 2003. He is in prison for a minimum of 30 years.

    Truth is "themediareport" is written by a professional pedophile protector for the Catholic church.

    Not surprisingly, he hides the truth about that, just like his church would.

  • Dorothy Stein posted at 2:07 pm on Sat, Dec 24, 2011.

    Dorothy Posts: 1

    I agree entirely with David Pierre's assessment of accusations of this kind. SNAP loses all credibility when its leaders take the position that every such claim is true. I would like to see some authority for one commenters claim that children abused by religious figures don't remember it until their adulthood. I think that is classic psycho-babble, and the sort of thing SNAP people continually feed us. What helps many of these people consider their victimization when they contact SNAP is to be informed of the number of zeroes on the check they can expect from the Catholic Church. I just read a study of Holocaust survivors, and the grim truth is that there has not been a single case of repressed and recovered memory that came out of the Holocaust. Claims like that of the 64 yr. old are motivated solely by greed.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 12:23 pm on Sun, Dec 18, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    John Shuster, of Port Orchard, WA  stated...Children who are sexually abused in religious settings tend to remember the assaults when they are adults and capable of processing their memories and ready to find out why their life has been so troubled.
    Interesting that SNAP specializes in cases that priests cannot possibly prove their innocence. If the typical case involves repressed memories that could easily be false memories after so many years, there will be many innocent priests falsely accused. SNAP in Father Kelley’s case is convicting him without trial and assumes he is guilty. Obviously, by looking at SNAPS technique, they have people from out of area post comments on articles like this to influence to perception of guilt. I think everyone should be suspicious of SNAP... Both of the posts here are by SNAP activists.

  • John Shuster posted at 9:23 am on Sun, Dec 18, 2011.

    John Shuster Posts: 1

    Priests always have the advantage. They abuse vulnerable children then threaten them into silence. The rape is such a shock to the child's sense of well-being that it suppresses the memory then develops complex post traumatic stress syndrome and trauma traits that emerge and have a negative effect on their personal development and socialization. Bishops and other priests who lead double sexual lives cover for predators because they don't want to be exposed themselves. Children who are sexually abused in religious settings tend to remember the assaults when they are adults and capable of processing their memories and ready to find out why their life has been so troubled. This usually happens in their mid 30's and as late as their early 70's. By then, hostile church lawyers funded by big church money use statutes of limitation to dismiss the sex crimes committed by priests and to contain the truth of the crime that was committed. Many survivors live lives of quite desperation because of the trauma they suffered at the hands of religious leaders. SNAP provides an international network where they can go to find healing and some measure of justice. Because of SNAP and a more survivor-friendly atmosphere, victims are beginning to take the first steps to understand what happened to them. An important part of the healing process is confronting the predator who abused them when they were young.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 5:47 pm on Sat, Dec 17, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    The problem with SNAP is that they convict all priests ( intheir minds) no matter guilty or innocent....

  • Kay Goodnow posted at 4:41 pm on Sat, Dec 17, 2011.

    Kay4Justice Posts: 1

    I am a survivor of priest abuse that occurred in Kansas City, MO in 1952. I never forgot what happened or how it happened, but I did not fully understand that I had been a victim until I contacted SNAP many years later. They literally saved my life in more ways than one. My life was awful to say the least, a couple of suicide attempts, alcohol and years and years of counselling: all because a man decided to prey on a 14 year old girl, and did so. Parents simply must learn to accept that priests are not God, not even God-like. They are human beings and not above the law of the land, let alone above God's law. SNAP's mission is to educate as well as being there for survivors everywhere. Their mission is valid. At least, it was for me.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 6:00 am on Sat, Dec 17, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    It was good to see a balanced article where both sides are presented.



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