The news was startling. Barbara Blaine, the founder and longtime leader/spokeswoman of SNAP, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, passed away just months after stepping down. Reports said it was due to a sudden tear in her coronary arteries. In other words, it appears that Blaine, only 61, literally died from a broken heart.
For a victim of clergy sex abuse and such a passionate advocate for survivors and the cause as Barbara, it seems almost fitting. We had plenty of disagreements over the years, and I still have a lot of unanswered questions, but there’s no denying that she was a passionate leader and a key spokesperson for the cause. Yet, however she might have been viewed by the Roman Church hierarchy, she, as well as her legacy, remain controversial among survivors.
I first met her in the early 1990s. I believe it was at the Linkup’s Second National Healing Conference, held at St. John’s University in Minnesota (one of the creepiest places I’ve ever been). There, she and the few other SNAP members in attendance seemed mainly interested in holding some sort of counter-event. My impression at the time was that they were more concerned about undermining the Linkup than attacking the Church.
That feeling, unfortunately, never changed as long as the Linkup lasted. Several times, they held events or did things that others in Linkup had proposed, and in truth, not that well. For instance, sometime after I published the idea of demonstrations to be held around the globe on World Clergy Abuse Survivors Day, SNAP came out with a plan to hold protests around the country in front of churches on the same day. Their plan flopped as far as I could tell, yet it was enough to spoil any such attempt by anyone else.
Sometimes the difference in organizations actually helped. For a while, as the Linkup played “good cop”, trying to work with the Church, SNAP played “bad cop” calling them out, and vice versa. After the Linkup folded, SNAP took a more confrontational stance which has continued for they inherited the mantle of the leading the movement. No doubt there are a few quiet smiles of relief over liqueurs being sipped in chanceries around the nation tonight.
Yet questions lingered. I was not the only one to wonder about another agenda to SNAP. Some survivors even accused her of being an agent of the Church. They pointed to SNAP’s undisclosed sources of income, the tight clique of people surrounding Barbara who ran the organization , the fact that the group began with the help of an order of nuns, and even her law degree as some sort of “evidence” of secret collusion. However, I’ve heard too many stories of how victims who simply wanted to make a contribution were shut out and excluded not to wonder what was really going on.
Her resignation finally came about after SNAP was sued for working in cahoots with lawyers for money by a transgender woman hired by the organization. I wonder now, though, if health issues played a significant part, and if indeed, quitting broke her heart.
Now we’ll never know, and in truth, it doesn’t matter. The clergy abuse crisis is over for the time being. It will inevitably return, as the Catholic Church has instituted no real reform, but probably not for a generation or so. Even the sheeple need time to forget.
Barbara Blaine will be remembered in much the same way as Tom Economus, a fellow-Chicagoan, and the late head of the Linkup who died of cancer in 2002. Both had their flaws, but each was an outspoken, utterly fearless advocate for victims and survivors. I believe that she was as sincere in her efforts for us as Tom was, and for that she deserves high marks.
Rest in peace, Barbara. May you continue good work in the realm above, calling for divine justice and accountability, thoroughly annoying all those corrupt clerics who somehow slipped through the pearly gates.