The Catholic activist who fought for victims of clergy sex abuse
For decades, Barbara Blaine stayed silent about the sexual abuse she had suffered as a teenager at the hands of a Catholic priest. Then in 1985, the Chicago social worker read a newspaper story about a pedophile priest in Louisiana and decided to confront church officials in her hometown of Toledo. They dismissed her claims and left her feeling, she said, “raked over the coals.” Uncertain how to heal, Blaine sought out other victims and in 1988 formed the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). The group today has more than 21,000 members and is the nation’s most powerful voice for abuse victims. “I don’t think any of us thought when we started,” Blaine said in 2014, “that we would still be doing it now.”
Blaine was 13 when she was first abused by a priest who convinced her that she was an “evil temptress,” said The Boston Globe. After attending college in St. Louis, she moved to Chicago, where she headed a Catholic charity that helped to house the homeless. She initially founded SNAP in Chicago as a support group, but its mission soon expanded to advocacy. Members posted fliers outside churches warning that an abusive priest was inside; victims held vigils holding photos of themselves as children when they were first abused.
That activism, together with revelations of massive church cover-ups in Boston and elsewhere, eventually led U.S. bishops to pledge to remove all alleged abusers, said The New York Times. But SNAP accused the church of failing to keep those promises, so Blaine kept campaigning. Following her death, her husband, Howard Rubin, said he was inundated with messages from survivors. “I’m hearing from people,” he said, “who are saying, ‘She saved my life.’”