Monday, August 3, 2015

SNAP's 2015 Conference: A Few Remarks and Teasers

One of the reasons I've been slow to post in the past several days, dear readers, is that I've been at the national meeting of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Alexandria, Virginia. Because I attended the meeting primarily to take part in the leaders' gathering preceding the conference itself, I don't have any kind of well-developed report of the conference to offer you. I didn't attend a large number of presentations at the meeting.

At National Catholic Reporter's website, Tom Fox has published the text of Tom Doyle's address to the conference, which I didn't hear (but have now read), and which is wonderful. It will give you a feel for the conference, I think, if you read it.

One of the experiences of this conference that I'll treasure is having the opportunity to meet not only some of the national SNAP leaders about whom I've long read and whom I've long admired, but also members of the amazing Mennonite contingent who attended this conference. As any of you who have followed this blog for any length of time will know, I've featured the work of Ruth Krall and Stephanie Krehbiel here repeatedly. Both are Mennonite scholars involved in the discussion of sexual violence within their own religious community of origin, the Mennonite Church USA.

Ruth and Stephanie were at the conference, and I so much appreciate having had the opportunity to meet them and other Mennonite folks attending the conference (though I suspect that in giving Ruth a big goodbye hug yesterday, I thoughtlessly smashed her glasses against her face — and I cringe at the memory of my thoughtlessness). It may not be apparent to those of you who haven't followed SNAP's development what a big deal it is that SNAP now has a lively (and sizable) contingent of Mennonites involved in the organization's work.

As many of you will know, SNAP began as something of a Catholic-specific organization. Its title indicates its early Catholic-specific focus: it's a group that was started largely by people who had experienced sexual abuse by priests when they were minors (though there have been, from the beginning, also SNAP members whose abuse occurred at the hands of nuns).

The Mennonite involvement (and the involvement of other groups, including an Eastern Orthodox one and a Baptist one) allows SNAP to broaden its original scope and reach out to people from other religious traditions (and groups that aren't specifically religious) who are seeking to confront sexual abuse within their own institutions. To me, this shift seems all to the good, especially when — and this is a point Ruth Krall has made repeatedly in her ground-breaking work about these issues — sexual violence is endemic in all religious traditions of the world.

Ruth made that point all over again in her presentation to the SNAP conference yesterday. She spoke as a member of a panel that included Cameron Altaras, a Mennonite survivor of clergy sexual abuse (in the context of pastoral counseling), Melanie Sakoda, a founding member of SNAP's Orthodox group, and Amy Smith, who tracks abuse issues in the Baptist churches. In lieu of a full report from the SNAP conference, here are some teasers from the presentations of these wonderful speakers yesterday: 

Cameron Altaras: 

Sexually predatory pastors are masterful at managing impressions of themselves, at painting flattering public portraits of themselves.

Cameron Altaras: 

Damage caused by clergy sexual abuse reaches beyond the victim and undermines the integrity of an entire religious community.

Ruth Krall: 

Kudzu is a perfect analogy for clergy sexual abuse: it has to be dealt with aggressively every day or it kills everything in its path.

Ruth Krall: 

Because of its serious public health consequences, religious sexual violence needs to be addressed by public health organizations including the U.S. Surgeon General.

Amy Smith: 

Courage is found in those who rise against the darkness and secrecy no matter where. You are capable of being that person.

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