Cardinal Dolan's Verdun Strategy For SNAP
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:02:07 PM EST
In early 1916, the First World War was entering its third year. For over two years the German army had been locked in a stalemate with the forces of Britain and France on the Western Front.  The German high command decided on a strategy intended to "bleed France white" by drawing the French Army into a battle of attrition centered on the forts of Verdun.   But in pursuit of this strategy, the Germans almost bled themselves out instead.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and the most powerful leader of the the Catholic Church in the United States -- may be leading his church towards a similar outcome, having adopted a similar strategy towards groups seeking greater accountability for the Catholic hierarchy's handling of pedophile clergy.

Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St, Joseph, Missouri has been charged, along with his diocese, for allegedly failing to notify authorities about his constructive knowledge of sex abuse of children by Rev. Shawn Ratigan. Concurrent civil law suits are going forward against Finn's and another diocese seeking damages. One of these also includes allegations of sexual misconduct against Fr. Michael Tierney, a Kansas City priest who had allegedly been abusing minors since the 1970s.

Dolan, seeking to alter the unenviable legal position of the Church in the long running pedophilia scandal is now leading his forces in an effort to bleed his opponents white.  The target is SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests .  And like the Kaiser's army at Verdun, Dolan's strategy may have unintended consequences.

The current battle features the subpoenaing of executives from SNAP in a series of depositions that are apparently designed to wear out the victims' group. At the same time, they are seeking the names of confidential sources and contacts that the organization has had with regard to complaints about pedophile priests.

Along with Voice of the Faithful and, SNAP has led the fight for greater transparency from the Church on matters of pedophilia in general and in seeking accountability from Bishop Finn in particular.  This led Catholic League president Bill Donohue to recently declare:  "SNAP is a menace to the Catholic Church." Dolan apparently shares this view and the strategy that grew out of it.  But his office oddly denied it before he affirmed it.  

Bill Donohue recently told The New York Times, "The bishops have come together collectively.  I can't give you the names, but there's a growing consensus on the part of the bishops that they had better toughen up and go out and buy some good lawyers to get tough. We don't need altar boys."

The Cardinal's USCCB spokesperson, Sister Mary Ann Walsh claimed that Donohue had misspoken. But then Dolan himself republished Donohue's original statement on his blog.  The National Catholic Reporter commented:

Cardinal Dolan, with his blog posting, it seems to us, is taking the same approach political candidates take to their Super PACs: not running them, don't really know what they are doing on my behalf (wink, wink), can't help they are saying exactly what I want to, and boy do I love the dough they are socking into it.

If you agree with this approach, please do nothing, Cardinal Dolan and Mr. Donohue have it well in hand.

The purpose of the subpoenas and depositions appear more designed to intimidate than to effect justice.

As the Times recently reported, "...SNAP, is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the [Finn] litigation.  But the group has been subpoenaed five times in recent months in Kansas City and St. Louis," further noting, "its national director, David Clohessy, was questioned by a battery of lawyers for more than six hours this year."

The object is, the The Times continued, " disclose more than two decades of e-mails that could include correspondence with victims, lawyers, whistle-blowers, witnesses, the police, prosecutors and journalists."

In an earlier post on the Finn scandal, I reported how several Catholic Right organizations with overlapping members and interests have rallied to Finn's defense.  These players are well funded and have powerful attorneys with which to bury opponents in a mountain of litigation motions, particularly Opus Bono Sacerdotii. In contrast, SNAP's legal team is made up of two pro bono small practice attorneys.

Meanwhile, Finn's criminal trial is going forward.  The judge recently wrote in denying a recent defense motion seeking to dismiss the charges or at least sever Finn's trial from the diocese, that "the evidence in this case is sufficient to allow a jury to conclude that Bishop Finn was a designated reporter as defined by Missouri law."

While it is possible that Dolan's forces may succeed in bleeding SNAP white, and victims of pedophile priests and confidential sources of information may be scared off by the possibility the potential loss of confidentiality -- history shows that attrition strategies often backfire.

At Verdun, even though the Germans inflicted over 500,000 casualties upon the French, they themselves lost over 400,000 men - and the battle -- and had the effect of deepening French national resolve.  They recognized the nature of the beast they were up against and that Kaiser's army was willing to go to any length to destroy their nation.

Indeed, it is also possible that the battle of Missouri may well turn out to be Dolan's Verdun, and bleed the Church white.  The everyday faithful will see his bully-effort for what it is: A continuing effort to avoid accountability for the abuses of children in the care of the Church.

Is there any way that non-Catholics can support the efforts of SNAP? Do they have a legal fund set up to receive donations? Are there petitions to sign? Thanks!

by MLouise on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 05:48:12 PM EST
Just click right here.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 08:42:18 PM EST
The commenter noted the USCCB was emulating the litigation strategy of the Scientologists, who are notoriously litigious. The USCCB is definitely not taking the high road, and ultimately it will pay in lost reputation and respect for the hierarchy.

by khughes1963 on Thu Apr 12, 2012 at 11:36:28 PM EST

Thanks for the link. I just sent them a donation and a note of encouragement. The bishops' response is outrageous. Someone should go read Matthew 23 to them. (That's the "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites..." section.)

by MLouise on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 08:50:05 AM EST

--for this article.

To all victims who have been sexually abused by clerics, your voices are strong, powerful, and being heard...!..
The church officials can't shut us up. They can't shove all the victims back under their control of silence.

The can of worms has been opened, and that is only because very brave victims of clergy sex abuse are speaking up, coming forward, contacting the police, exposing the truth, and trying their hardest to not allow another child to be given the life sentence of harm which they were dealt.

For those who wish to help ...On our website - - are simple suggestions for helping victims beat back this assault against them by top Catholic officials. Please check it out. Thanks.

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511 <>
"Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests" and all clergy.

by JudyJones on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 12:16:01 PM EST

There are a lot of women and men who were sexually abused as kids by clergy from fundamentalist/dominionist denominations, and I don't know (1) if there are organizations to help them cope, and (2) if there are, SNAP is working with them.  From your signature line, your organization is starting to include them (this is the first I've heard of that if it is so).  From the people I've talked and communicated with, there are many other people "out there" who need help and who also would probably help your organization.

Has your organization looked at that aspect of the situation - are there any others like yours which could partner up with you?

(It would be good to have a reference/source for people I encounter who had been abused like that.)

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Apr 13, 2012 at 01:14:16 PM EST

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