Clergy Abuse Victims' Group Is Growing Fast

By Patricia Rice
Post-Dispatch [St. Louis MO]
February 7, 2003

The nation's largest support network for victims abused by clergy has increased its membership by 50 percent over the past year and the number of local chapters has increased fivefold, spreading to every state in the union, the group announced Thursday.

The Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests claims 4,500 members in 44 active chapters.

About 98 percent of members identify themselves as survivors, and 2 percent are family members of survivors. More than 90 percent allegedly are victims of Catholic clergy, seminarians or nuns, according to its national spokesman, David Clohessy of St. Louis. About 10 percent allegedly were abused by Protestant and Pentecostal clergy.

Most SNAP members first heard about the organization in newspapers or other media, said Laura Barrett, a volunteer staff member who is Clohessy's wife.

They credit what they call "wildfire" growth to the sex scandal that has roiled many U.S. Catholic dioceses since January 2002, when the Boston Globe began publishing Massachusetts court documents showing Cardinal Bernard Law's assignment of known abusive priests.

In January 2002, SNAP had two California groups, which met monthly. Seven other groups, including one in St. Louis, met occasionally. The St. Louisans, like the other seven, communicated on the phone or by e-mail or left messages on their Web pages' private chat rooms, Barrett said. Today, all support groups, including 35 new ones, meet at least monthly, she said.

A year ago, the organization was run by volunteers. Now, Clohessy, a Milwaukee staff member and a San Francisco staff member are paid. This week, Clohessy was in Altoona, Pa., working with a new group.

Reporter Patricia Rice:
Phone: 314-340-8221


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