The Survival of David Clohessy 

After nearly 30 years of leading SNAP, David Clohessy reflects on a career of controversies, press revelations and the battles still to come.

DANNY WICENTOWSKI

After nearly 30 years of leading SNAP, David Clohessy reflects on a career of controversies, press revelations and the battles still to come.

On June 13, 2002, David Clohessy stepped into the light of history. A former altar boy in a rural Catholic church in Moberly, Missouri, he stood at a podium in a massive hotel ballroom in Dallas — and staring back at him from row up upon row of tables, packed into the room ten-deep, were some 280 Catholic bishops.

Many in that audience were already familiar with Clohessy as the national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, the country's longest-active support group for victims of clergy abuse. Clohessy had spent years trying to grab the bishops' attention.

Indeed, Clohessy seemed to be quoted in every other newspaper story about a predator priest going back to the early 1990s. He'd show up at churches with fliers listing support group meetings for victims, and he'd prod reporters to cover the protest. He held press conferences with tearful victims announcing lawsuits. He insisted on calling accused priests "perps."

He was, in a word, a nuisance to the Catholic Church. And until that moment in 2002, that's all he had ever been.

That day, with his square-framed glasses slightly askew and his outfit of a simple gray suit and white shirt, the SNAP director looked more like an accountant than the radical victims' rights advocate. But this meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was focused specifically on the exploding clergy abuse scandal — and it had drawn the eyes of the world.

After a smattering of applause, Clohessy began his speech. From almost the moment he opened his mouth, even before describing the local priest who molested him as a boy, he started to cry.

"I've been encouraged to talk about my personal experience, being molested, sodomized by Father John Whiteley in the Diocese of Jefferson City, and the effects it's had on my life," Clohessy said. "I could describe nights curling up in the fetal position and sobbing hysterically while my wife Laurie simply held me, and having to get up and change the bedsheets because they were soaked in tears. I could talk about nightmares, depression, sexual problems. About how, even now, almost every day I fundamentally somehow feel like a fraud."

But whatever self-doubt Clohessy's trauma left in him, the emptiness and pain, there was no hesitance in his voice when he addressed the bishops about their role in the coming reckoning. He addressed them as "smart men" who "know the right thing to do."

"Fundamentally, it's simple. What causes sexual abuse? That's complicated. How to begin to treat these men or cure them? That's complicated. What to do when an abuse survivor walks in your door?

"Gentlemen," Clohessy said, "I submit to you, it is not complicated."

Even for Clohessy, who is fond of rhetorical flourishes, his message to the bishops still stands as an almost too-perfect shot of understatement. In reality, no scenario has been more fraught with moral, religious and legal complexity than the moments after a survivor brings their story to a church official. For years, Clohessy had been trying to convince the public that the church's typical reactions ­— the blunt denials, secretive settlements and retaliatory lawsuits — were, as he put it in the speech, like applying a "dirty bandage" to an "infected wound."

This was the dawning of the era of the investigations chronicled in the 2015 movie Spotlight, as the Boston Globe began publishing the stories that would not just reveal a systemic cover-up of clergy abuse in Boston, but the entire United States. The stories would win the paper a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 and usher in a new era of greater scrutiny and accountability.

Eighteen years have passed since that day in Dallas. Despite Clohessy's pronouncement of simplicity, the subject is as complex as ever.

For SNAP, an organization that had for years thrived with a tiny and nimble staff, its recent history has been defined by multiple lawsuits and internal strife. The hits came in a rattling sequence during a span of six months at the end of 2016. SNAP, which was no stranger to being sued by priests, was taken to civil court by one of its former employees who accused it of running a kickback scheme with attorneys; then SNAP announced it had reached a defamation settlement with a priest it had once labeled a "cunning predator."

Finally, adding organizational injury to legal insult, SNAP lost its triumvirate of officers in a wave of resignations, starting with Clohessy.

SNAP's longtime critics in the Catholic world cackled, and even mainstream outlets ran stories that linked the resignations to the organization's run of controversies. At the time, the story appeared to be a simple one: SNAP fought the church, it spent several years getting walloped, and now it was crushed.

One of Clohessy's longest allies, clergy abuse attorney Jeff Anderson, believes there's truth to the notion that in SNAP's lowest moments, its opponents took the upper hand.

"The Catholic bishops had the resources and ability to overwhelm SNAP. It was a mismatch," he says, adding, "Goliath slayed David."

Clergy abuse attorney Jeff Anderson says the church successfully "depleted" SNAP through lawsuits. - ANDERSON AND ASSOCIATES
  • ANDERSON AND ASSOCIATES
  • Clergy abuse attorney Jeff Anderson says the church successfully "depleted" SNAP through lawsuits.

The funny thing is, David Clohessy never really went away.

In a series of wide-ranging interviews earlier this month, Clohessy sat down with the Riverfront Times to reflect on a career in survivor advocacy that, at least for the moment, is in something he calls "a dip."

That's one way to describe it. In the past three years, Clohessy says he's undergone several trips to the emergency room, four surgeries and 30 sessions of chemotherapy.

These days, most of Clohessy's activism is confined to a two-story home at the back of a quiet cul-de-sac in St. Louis' Ellendale neighborhood. On a recent afternoon, a circular wooden table in the dining room is covered with the accessories of his ongoing work. There's a laptop, several newspapers and an apparent explosion of incongruous printouts and notes. Underneath some of those notes is a large planning calendar with a date marked for an upcoming MRI. Another pile of papers hides a small plastic basket filled with pill bottles.

When I tell Clohessy about Anderson's metaphor that compares him to David getting stomped by a Catholic Goliath, he laughs.

"Oh, yeah, yeah," he says, chuckling through his sarcasm. "The church gave me cancer! And it gave me a brain tumor!"

It had started with throat cancer. Then came a second diagnosis, for prostate cancer.

"Actually," Clohessy now clarifies, "the third thing I got was a brain tumor, in that order." His tumor is non-cancerous, which is doubly significant as it was a brain tumor that cut short the life of Clohessy's older brother Brian in 1993.

Clohessy is 63 now. He's focusing on his health, working out at the local YMCA every day and continuing to see doctors to monitor his cancers. If he had energy, he says, he would still be on the road, pulling 60-hour weeks and hounding state investigators to keep the pressure on Catholic bishops.

But he's tired. For the first time in his life, he can't get through a day without a nap.

When Clohessy stepped down as SNAP director in December 2016, he insisted that his health was the driving motivation for leaving a role he'd held for nearly 30 years. He adds now that it was his emotional health as well. In the last five years of his directorship, SNAP had faced two major legal attacks by priests, in Kansas City and St. Louis, and both sought a judge's order to allow them to access the network's library of survivor statements and documents.

To Clohessy, it was a dire reversal. "In a very short period of time, a group that had spent its history playing offense was suddenly having to play substantial defense," he says. "There was real thought that we were not going to survive."

But they did, and now, thanks to medical intervention, Clohessy has survived his own brush with an existential threat. He's now technically a volunteer spokesman for SNAP.

Still, after a lifetime of running, it feels strange to stop and take a breath.

"I have a dismal track record of predicting the arc of my own life," Clohessy admits — but unlike Anderson's biblical metaphor, he doesn't see that arc as one of defeat.

"If this were somehow a battle to crush or hurt the church, then yeah, we're losers," Clohessy concedes. "But that's never what this has been about."

Over the years, Clohessy and SNAP staged hundreds of protests in front of churches where priests were accused of abuse. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Over the years, Clohessy and SNAP staged hundreds of protests in front of churches where priests were accused of abuse.

David Clohessy was born in 1956 to a devout Catholic family in Moberly, a small farming town about 35 miles north of Columbia. The second of six children, he grew up in the embrace of the church, which was just down the block.

He was an altar boy and a precocious student: According to a 1969 story in the Moberly Monitor-Index, he'd participated in that year's annual St. Pius Civic Oration Contest — a competition in which the then-seventh-grade Clohessy had placed runner-up for his speech on the given subject, "Family Unity in Our Changing Times."

That year, Father John Whiteley came into his life.

"He basically became my dad's best friend," Clohessy recalls. "He came over to the house all the time. And he charmed the socks off of all of us."

The charm soon became something else. Clohessy's parents were delighted a priest was taking a personal interest in their son, and they readily signed off on trips between the priest and middle schooler. They traveled the country, camping, skiing, canoeing and hiking. At night, they slept in motels, tents or Whiteley's RV.

"First time I saw the ocean. First time I saw the mountains. First time I saw a big city besides St. Louis. Everything was with him," he says. "It was always the same pattern, every night, every time it happened. I would be asleep, I'd wake up, and I'd find him on top of me."

When it started, Clohessy was twelve years old.

"Eventually, he'd stop, and he'd roll off me and he'd fall asleep. I'd lay there, just dazed and paralyzed. Eventually, I'd fall asleep."

But something happened between the moment Clohessy fell asleep and the moment he opened his eyes the next day.

"I'd wake up," he says, "with absolutely no memory of it whatsoever."

It would be decades before the memories came back to him, jarred loose in 1988 during an innocuous viewing of the film Nuts, whose main character is revealed to have been abused as a child. Suddenly, the memories of those nights, of Whiteley on top of him, became a bomb going off in his mind. Clohessy broke down and started going to therapy. Soon after, he found a support group for survivors of clergy abuse based in Chicago. It was called SNAP.

Clohessy decided to take action. He wanted Whiteley to answer for what he'd done. But he'd never considered the possibility that he might not be the only victim.

"It didn't even cross my mind that he might have molested someone else in my family," he continues. "Until I started making phone calls to my siblings."

The reality was worse than even the one buried in his memories. While Whiteley had focused most of his attention on young David, the priest had made similar advances on multiple Clohessy children, including David's older brother Brian — who had placed first in the same 1969 essay contest on family unity — and younger brothers Patrick and Kevin.

David Clohessy's call to Kevin would prove significant for another reason. By then, Kevin was an ordained Catholic priest serving the Jefferson City diocese, the same diocese which Clohessy aimed to sue for its failure to protect him from Father Whiteley.

Clohessy assumed this might create a complication for Kevin; he worried that naming his brother's diocese as a defendant could drag him into the case.

At the time, though, Clohessy couldn't have known just how complicated it really was.

"I told Kevin about Father Whiteley, and he said, 'It happened to me too.'" Clohessy recalls. "And then he said something that at the time sounded reasonable and now sounds chilling."

According to Clohessy, Kevin ended the conversation with, "We should probably not talk anymore."

That summer of 1991, Clohessy filed his lawsuit against Whiteley and Jefferson City diocese. By then, the aging priest had already passed through a dozen assignments across Missouri. (He would soon after leave the priesthood.) During a press conference, Clohessy was flanked by his attorney Jeff Anderson, one of the first lawyers to specialize in priest abuse cases in the country.

Anderson is a former public defender based in St. Paul, Minnesota, and he was already famous for bringing cases against the church — he had just filed the first-ever lawsuit directly against a Catholic bishop — but Whiteley's alleged crime was more than twenty years old, far beyond Missouri's statute of limitations. Though Anderson would fight the case all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, the lawsuit was ultimately doomed.

Clohessy's case was far from the only one Anderson had seen tossed to the wayside because of the legal system's broken understanding about childhood sex abuse, which failed to acknowledge that survivors might need more time to file their cases.

"The trial court hid behind the statute of limitations," Anderson says, "just like trial courts across the country did."

In any case, the litigation took years — and Anderson started seeing his client's name in the newspaper. Clohessy had become the public face of SNAP, and in the process, became "without question the most influential and eloquent survivor voice in the media."

"I saw David emerge," Anderson says. "David became what I would call a 'clearinghouse' for messaging around child protection and the priorities that survivors have."

With Clohessy as its face, SNAP was reaching more survivors and building a network of support groups in dozens of cities — which, naturally, led to more litigation brought by survivors. The lawsuits created a steady drumbeat of headlines and settlements.

And usually, the drum beating the loudest belonged to Clohessy.

But rather than activism, Clohessy says that it was SNAP's primary role as a support group that first drew him in. For the first time in his life, he met survivors who had gone through similar traumas in parishes all over the country. At some weekend gatherings, he says, he basically never stopped crying.

The process was slow, but he put his life back together. That was good enough. There was no bigger picture — yet.

"We weren't trying to piece anything together," he recalls, noting that the trauma of childhood sex abuse had followed many survivors into adulthood in the form of depression, drug abuse and suicide.

There were other, more telling similarities in the damaged ranks that showed up to the support groups. Clohessy brings up a memory of one of his first SNAP group meetings, a day when he'd listened as a room full of survivors described their attempts to talk to church officials at their schools and parishes.

Clohessy remembers looking at SNAP founder Barbara Blaine, who herself had been sexually abused as a child by a parish priest in Toledo, Ohio.

"After the last person talked, she was shaking her head, and she started laughing."

Clohessy had been shocked but remembers Blaine telling the group she'd noticed something in their talks. "Did you just hear what we all said? Every one of us said the same version of this sentence" — here Clohessy launches into an imitation of Blaine, dragging and emphasizing her response in a singsong pantomime of naivete.

"Well, I talked to myyyyyy bishop, and myyyyyy pastor, and they said I was the first person to ever report aaaanything like this in our diocese."

Clohessy remembers it as a moment of revelation. They couldn't all be exceptions, right? They couldn't all be "first-time" victims — after all, some priests, such as Whiteley, abused multiple children only to be transferred, with a bishop's blessing, to a new parish.

"We all started laughing," Clohessy recalls. "Like, that just simply can't be."

Blaine and Clohessy would go on to become the dual powerhouses of SNAP, with Blaine's organizational ambition establishing SNAP chapters in every U.S. state and nine countries. Meanwhile, Clohessy applied his professional skills in community organizing for labor and environmental groups to the issue of priest abuse. He staged press conferences and met with victims, steadily churning out mentions in news stories throughout the 1990s.

This was the decade when, for the first time, the Vatican began its crawl to finally admitting that something was very wrong in the clergy. Addressing the issue for the first time in a 1993 letter to Roman Catholic bishops, Pope John Paul II wrote that he felt "sorrow and concern" for victims. The pontiff's letter began with a quotation from Matthew 18:7: "Woe to the world because of scandals!"

It would be a decade of scandal, and more, for the Catholic Church.

By the time Clohessy spoke to the bishops in June 2002, the Boston Globe had already started publishing the first of the 500-plus stories it would run that year on the mechanics of the church's cover-ups. This was the year of the "Spotlight" investigations.

Two months before the bishop's conference, in April 2002, the newspaper ran a front-page story about a whistleblower in Rolla named Donna Cox. Before she was fired by the Diocese of Jefferson City, she had spent years as a lay youth minister working with the high-school-age students in the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal.

The Globe story revealed that Cox had been terminated in 1992, not long after her attempt to warn church officials about troubling incidents involving six priests — five of whom were eventually removed from ministry after additional reports of abuse.

The story led with the fact that the seminary had spent 25 years under the directorship of Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, who acknowledged in 2002 that he'd abused multiple victims. But there was another name that stood out in the story: the Reverend Kevin Clohessy.

David Clohessy had known about the accusations against his brother Kevin for nearly a decade before the Globe story ran in the spring of 2002. He'd even called Kevin the night before its publication to warn him of the impending media storm.

"I know this is going to make your life really hard," Clohessy remembers telling him over the phone. Kevin had responded, "Thanks for the heads up."

Days after the Globe story broke, the Associated Press ran a follow-up, focusing solely on the doubly dramatic saga of the brothers Clohessy. The reporting added further information from the Diocese of Jefferson City, which confirmed that Kevin Clohessy had been removed from his post in a Catholic student center because of "sexual contact with an 18-year-old in 1993."

After that, the diocese had transferred Kevin to a treatment center, and then reinstalled him in the tiny town of Taos near Jefferson City. Several years later, he left the ministry.

It was a perfect soap opera — the priest brother of the country's foremost voice for sexual abuse survivors was himself an accused abuser. And that's how the Associated Press ran it, under the headline, "2 Brothers: 1 is activist; 1 is priest accused of abuse."

The most detailed account of the Clohessy family drama came one month later when New York Times journalist Frank Bruni reported on the case based on Cox's accounts and the diocese's description of "inappropriate and serious" behavior with an 18-year-old victim. Bruni wrote that "Kevin's specific transgression ... hovered at a murky intersection between a possibly repressed homosexuality, which was being channeled inappropriately, and outright molestation."

David Clohessy knows how it looks: Just two months after the Globe story ran, during his emotional speech in Dallas, he pleaded with Catholic bishops to make the right choice, to "fight the temptation to turn away from the horror."

He made no mention of Kevin in that speech.

In September, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt revealed that church personnel files showed 163 priest abuse cases. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • In September, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt revealed that church personnel files showed 163 priest abuse cases.

During one of our recent interviews, I ask Clohessy to reconcile the apparent contradiction. For years, a handful of conservative Catholic blogs and religious pundits, most prominently Catholic League President Bill Donahue, who once called Clohessy "a con artist driven by revenge," pounced on the easy argument: that Clohessy is a hypocrite.

After all, here was the head of SNAP, protesting in front of churches, demanding bishops divulge names and histories for priests accused of abuse, and yet ...

"For nine years," Clohessy says, completing my sentence, "I knew about my brother and didn't call the police."

But to say that Clohessy failed to act isn't, strictly speaking, the truth. After first learning that an abuse allegation had followed his brother out of a parish in 1993, he says he confronted Kevin over the phone — and went as far as contacting police departments in the Missouri towns of Kirksville and Taos.

He says those efforts came to nothing. He didn't have any evidence to offer, didn't know of any witnesses or even how many victims might be out there.

Still, the case presents a distinct contrast: Over the years, Clohessy and SNAP had launched numerous public campaigns to alert parishes to the past presence of accused priests — sometimes coming right out and calling them "predator perps" before lawsuits had been filed.

Asked about it now, Clohessy maintains there was no hypocrisy and that he did exactly what he would have advised another survivor in the same situation to do.

"During that period, we were painfully aware of what it took to 'out' a priest," he says. "I knew what it took. Kevin never admitted it, never been charged, never been sued. A church employee had reported him and nothing happened. Is there any reason for me to think that if I said, 'Hey, I think he did it, too,' that the bishop would do anything different? Of course not."

When it came to his brother, Clohessy was on his own, and out of the spotlight. He called the cops, called Kevin and says he gave his blessing to "dozens" of reporters persuing the story. Many considered it, but nothing hit the public eye until the Globe's piece in 2002.

That piece had a lot to do with Clohessy. He says he connected the Globe reporter with Donna Cox, knowing that her story would intersect with Kevin — and he knew this because Cox was the one who first told him that church officials had removed Kevin from service in 1993.

Still, this was hardly the first reporter he talked to about Kevin. As the New York Times' Bruni would later write, Clohessy thought it was unlikely the Globe would publish his brother's name, since he had never been formally charged or sued.

That is, until the diocese itself put it in the public record. In 2002, church officials in Jefferson City confirmed to reporters that a credible accusation had been made against Kevin. It was out in the open.

Today, there's almost no trace of Kevin Clohessy. It appears he worked for a time in a funeral home in Columbia until at least 2012, and his funeral director's license is still active with the secretary of state. From there, the trail goes cold.

Clohessy's actions would forever damage his relationship with his parents. They believed Kevin had been falsely accused, and that rift was never fully healed. The brothers have barely spoken in the last two decades. Clohessy says their last substantial conversation was in the 1990s.

There is no easy reconciliation here. Two boys, both abused by the same priest, went on to lead very different lives. Kevin was compelled to stay in the church, and he was protected, at least temporarily, by its fortress of secrecy. David left the church and tried to tear its walls down from the outside.

It's complicated. It's simple.

"The safest, easiest thing to do, at any time, in any situation, is to do nothing," Clohessy says. "Ultimately, the plain and simple truth is I did out my brother. I did what I thought I could do. I don't know how I could live with myself if I didn't."

At a 2002 conference, Clohessy asked U.S. Catholic bishops to resist the temptation to "turn away from the horror" of the abuse in their midst. - SCREENSHOT VIA C-SPAN
  • SCREENSHOT VIA C-SPAN
  • At a 2002 conference, Clohessy asked U.S. Catholic bishops to resist the temptation to "turn away from the horror" of the abuse in their midst.

David Clohessy leans back on the living-room sofa and watches his black-haired poodle, Vinnie, snoring in a furry pile by his lap. This is the sofa on which Clohessy often falls asleep while wearing the prescribed medical compression garments that help move fluid around his body, a task which, until recently, was accomplished by his now-removed lymph nodes.

"I'm not ever going to be 100 percent again," he admits. "One of my greatest failings is that I'm not able to maintain balance. This crisis can so easily become all-consuming for me."

That's what a crisis does, though. It consumes. And in 2018, Clohessy couldn't sit the latest crisis out, no matter what his title at SNAP was.

In August of that year, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General released the result of an explosive two-year grand jury investigation, which had evaluated hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses. The report named 300 priests, who were accused of abusing more than 1,000 children in cases stretching back 40 years.

And for the first time, Clohessy notes, the report named bishops, the "enablers," as he calls them, who shuffled previously accused priests to other parishes in the diocese — or, in the case of nine Pennsylvania priests, relocated them to Catholic rehabilitation facilities in St. Louis.

Clohessy turned up outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis to protest and demand the archdiocese release more information on the priests and investigate whether there were other local cases of potential abuse — the same sort of demand he's made hundreds of times in the past.

There are some things that were different, however, from the SNAP of old. Barbara Blaine, whose mid-support-session laughter had sparked an epiphany for Clohessy, had died suddenly of a heart condition only a few months after her own resignation from SNAP in 2017. The third member of SNAP's longstanding triumvirate, Barbara Dorris, who served as the outreach director, also resigned that year. (Reached by email, Dorris declined to be interviewed for this story.)

But SNAP is moving on. In 2018, SNAP'S board appointed Zach Hiner, a former assistant to Blaine, as the group's new executive director. Its website lists dozens of support groups for victims, including St. Louis.

In 2015, Clohessy again approached the diocese in Jefferson City about the "effects of betrayal" he suffered during four years of abuse by Whiteley. He asked the diocese to post names of problem priests, warn Catholics living near Whiteley's home in Florida and pay $200,000 to cover the cost of decades of therapy. This time, the diocese responded, eventually writing him a check for $40,000 but rebuffing his other requests.

The progress for victims has been slow like that. Clohessy, though, shows no signs he's looking for an exit strategy. There's too much to do: The attorneys general in Missouri and Illinois launched investigations in the wake of Pennsylvania's, but Clohessy has already condemned both for being "woefully inadequate" projects for relying on the church's voluntary disclosure of personnel files.

This is the next chapter of the story, the one which Clohessy and SNAP helped author for nearly three decades. Dioceses across the U.S., which for so long resisted naming priests, are now falling over themselves to do so.

"Bishops see the writing on the wall," Clohessy says. "They see that unless they make belated, grudging, pseudo-reforms, judges and lawmakers are going to make real reforms."

That substantive legal action is what Clohessy still waits for — he wants the legislature to amend the laws around statute of limitations and create a "civil window" for victims to sue their abusers as adults. He has little regard for the Missouri attorney general's announcement in September that it had found 163 priest abuse cases in the files of the Archdiocese of St. Louis since the release didn't include the priests' names and only twelve of those cases are still prosecutable.

Five months have passed, and none of those cases have progressed to criminal charges. Clohessy isn't holding his breath. He wants Missouri to empower its attorney general, Eric Schmitt, the way Pennsylvania did its own Josh Shapiro — with a grand jury and a fusillade of subpoenas, the sort of resources needed to drag a full accounting of the state's predator priests into the light.

For Clohessy, that day in 2002 when he faced the bishops in that Dallas hotel was just the beginning of a story he knows will outlive him. It's a simple story, of victims taking action in the face of stupefying odds. It's a complicated story, filled with impossible choices, broken families and endless lawsuits. But it's what comes next that matters most.

For Clohessy, Goliath isn't the church — it's the things that keeps survivors silent, alone and unbelieved. It is power. It is institution. And Goliath still stands.

"What gives me hope is that every single day, a survivor tells their husband, their mom, calls the police, calls a journalist, goes to AA, gets their GED," Clohessy says. "We were once powerless, we're not powerless now, and I would beg victims of any kind of violence anywhere: Err on the side of action."

Clohessy's own place in history began with action. It was during that 2002 speech to the U.S. Catholic bishops, which is preserved in video by C-SPAN archives.

At the time, Clohessy was busier than he'd ever been, fielding dozens of calls per day on the SNAP phone lines. He heard from victims who were just starting to understand what happened to them. They were survivors who had recognized their abuser's name in a Spotlight story. They were people who had believed, for years, that maybe they really were the only ones.

It just couldn't be.

As he spoke to the bishops that day, Clohessy reached inside his jacket pocket and produced a photo of 27-year-old Eric Patterson, one five cases of suicide involving five former altar boys. The story of their alleged abuse by a Kansas priest would be reported one month later in devastating detail by both the Wichita Eagle and Boston Globe. The stories would eventually lead to criminal charges — and so Clohessy was beating the newspapers to the story. Of course, the bishops would read the details soon enough, but he was going to tell them about it anyway.

"One perpetrator, some of you may know of," Clohessy said, his words struggling through his tears. "Father Larson in Wichita Kansas. Five young men — He sexually violated five young men, and five of them have taken their own lives."

Clohessy held up the photo. He said Eric Patterson's name. And then he did something that, oddly, is not included in the written version of the speech currently available on the website of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Clohessy asked the crowd to pass the photo around the room. He asked them "to think of Eric, and say a prayer for him and his family."

Clohessy left the stage, and the C-SPAN camera tracked him as he approached the nearest table, his hand extended with the photo of a dead young man. A bishop took it.

The camera followed the photo as it was passed, hand to hand, bishop to bishop, down the line.

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