David Clohessy was a friend when I needed one

Posted February 19th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

david clohesseyDavid Clohessy, the executive director of the Survivors Network of People Abused by Priests (SNAP), resigned from his position in December.  He is pictured here presenting an award to me as the SNAP Lay Person of the Year, 2012.  In January, David was named in a lawsuit which claims that, in exchange for “kickbacks,” he provided names of potential clients to attorneys who were suing the Catholic Church.  David acknowledges accepting donations for SNAP from lawyers who have sued the Catholic Church, but he  denies ever accepting any money for exchange of     client information.  Lori and I believe David.

We are sad to see David leave SNAP.  Catholic   leaders have NEVER VOLUNTARILY TOLD THE TRUTH about sex abuse in the church.  The truth was pulled, pushed, and prodded out of them by survivors of sex abuse through public rallies, lawsuits, and media exposure.

David and the survivors community have been like the little shepherd boy with a slingshot and a stone, fighting the giant Goliath Catholic hierarchy, with its deep financial pockets, and a worldwide network of sympathetic government and civic leaders.  In truth, David is one of the best friends the Catholic Church has because his work is calling the Church back to its foundational principles: to live by truth which sets one free, and to protect the weak and the vulnerable, especially children.

When Lori and I first challenged the Bishop of the Yakima Diocese for his behavior of protecting  clergy and lay people who had abused or demonstrated a credible risk to abuse children, youth, or vulnerable adults, we quickly lost lots of friends.  I thought that most Catholics, including clergy with whom I had worked, would rally to our side, given the national scandal of sex abuse that had spread across the country and around the globe. But that did not happen.  Sadly, we learned that few Catholics could stomach going to Mass if they were mad at or challenging their Bishop or their pastor.

There were a handful of people who listened to our story and fully stood by us; there were a few who “got      involved” to help as we tried to expose the shenanigans of the bishop and diocesan officials who did everything but tell the truth about sexual predators in the Diocese of Yakima.

snapWe turned to David Clohessy and other SNAP   leaders for help, moral support, a listening ear, and guidance.  David had a long history of fighting Church leaders; we were just beginning.  David helped us enter into the world of survivors of sex abuse.  He taught us about the role of bishops and church officials from the victims’ side of the  story, a perspective we had never known.

We began meeting with survivors of sex abuse, some who had been abused by diocesan priests at local parishes, and others who were Native Americans abused by Jesuits or nuns at boarding schools.  We not only learned about the abuse they received as children, but also about what they  described as being “re-abused” by church leaders who refused to believe their stories, paid lip-service to their pain, and manipulated them into silence.

We also began learning about current issues of cover-up by the bishop from 1997 through 2005.  These were not cases dating back 40 and 50 years, but were happening while I was at the Diocese of Yakima.  David Clohessy was an invaluable ally who taught us to trust the survivors, to look for signs of cover-up, to question when diocesan leaders made pronouncements, and to combat diocesan stonewalling with patient commitment to uncovering the facts of a case, regardless of whom it might implicate.

During this time, I was discouraged to learn about a dear priest friend who had been living a double life of public ministry and private sexual promiscuity; he was abusing a vulnerable young adult.  I learned about two of my former spiritual directors, priests with whom I had trusted my deepest thoughts and feelings and to whom I had confessed my sins; both were connected to abuse.  One was in prison for abusing boys at a family shelter.  The other was named as the long-time sexual partner of another priest who was a serial pedophile from Spokane.

SNAPDavid never once asked that we leave the Catholic Church or quit ministry.  He merely invited Lori and me to continue to be advocates for survivors of sex abuse in the church and in society and to work at holding church leaders accountable for their behavior.  He never failed to answer a phone call, respond to a text and/or email, or give us help as we dealt with the duplicity, misinformation, and nastiness of the bishop and associates.   David was a good friend when Lori and I needed one.  We will deeply miss his leadership at SNAP; we pray the Holy Spirit will sustain and bless him and his family.

(For more information on SNAP go to snapnetwork.org or call (314) 282-9936 ).


2 Responses to “David Clohessy was a friend when I needed one”

  1. Diana says:

    That saddens my heart….will pray for David.
    And will pray this abuse will some day soon stop
    Peace to you & Lori

  2. Ted Lowry says:

    I first encountered Dave when we both lived in Springfield, MO. I’ve had some contacts with him since then, and he is one of the good ones, as are the Fontanas. You’ve paid a price for your bravery and steadfastness, but you can’t put a price on integrity. Good work good and faithful servants.