Shaun Dougherty first learned about the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests when he watched the 2015 movie “Spotlight” that told the story of work being done by journalists, SNAP and attorney Mitchell Garabedian to expose clergy sexual abuse in the Boston area.
Around the same time, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General released a grand jury report that detailed decades of sexual abuse and coverup within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in which Dougherty’s own alleged victimization was mentioned.
Dougherty, a Westmont resident, soon started attending SNAP support meetings and advocating for victims.
Those two paths recently converged with Dougherty being named to SNAP’s Board of Directors.
“It’s big,” Dougherty said.
“The people that came before me – the founders of SNAP – they’re giants in this fight for support. I’ve got some big steps to follow in.
“SNAP has changed my life tremendously. It put me in touch with many, many people that are in the same position that I was in. I can’t just say enough what it means to me to have been asked. It’s an honor for me. It’s shocking and an absolute honor at the same time. I’m looking really forward to serving.”
He continued: “In 2016, I was reaching out for help and I still reach out for help today.
But, now, I’m in a position to help others. That makes you feel amazing that you’re helping other people that are struggling. It just opens me up a bigger platform to help others, to help way more people than I could on my own.”
Dougherty has - in only three years – become a nationally and internationally recognized advocate for victims, giving interviews to some of the world’s most well known and influential media outlets, including The New York Times, National Catholic Register, CBS, CNN and MSNBC.
He also met – inside Vatican City – with organizers of “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” a conference called by Pope Francis for the purpose of addressing abuse.
“Shaun’s voice, as being an advocate for survivors, was important,” SNAP President Tim Lennon said. “His dedication to the issue, his focus, his contributions were all recognized.”
Dougherty was brought onto the board as part of an expansion from seven to 10 or possibly more members, according to Lennon.
SNAP, established in 1989, is one of the world’s leading advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse, having provided counseling for countless victims and working to expose predator priests. The group has faced legal challenges, too, including when a former director of development alleged she was fired in retaliation for confronting the organization for allegedly colluding with survivors’ attorneys, a matter that was settled in 2018.
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat.