CHICAGO — Barbara Blaine, a victim of sexual abuse as a child who would go on to tirelessly fight the Catholic church to expose its mishandling and cover-ups of assaults by priests, has died.
Blaine, the founder and former president of the Chicago-based SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, reportedly died Sunday at the age of 61.
SNAP, Blaine once said, "did what the church community refused to do."
SNAP managing director Barbara Dorris said, "Few people have done more to protect kids and help victims than Barbara Blaine."
"Her relentless advocacy enabled millions to eventually accept a long unbelievable reality: that tens of thousands of priests raped and fondled hundreds of thousands of kids while bishops hid these heinous crimes," Dorris said in a statement posted on the organization's website.
"She started — and for almost 30 years — worked extremely hard to help build the world’s most successful organization of child sex abuse victims. Her contributions to a safer society would be hard to overstate,” Dorris said.
Blaine was a victim of abuse as a child while growing up in Toledo, she told reporters. “Even after the abuse ended, I didn’t want anything to do with any kind of intimacy,” she told Toledo City Paper in 2004.
Years later, after she went public with the abuse that occurred to her at the hands of a priest, she began meeting other victims. At the time working in Chicago with the mentally ill for a Catholic organization, she launched SNAP in 1988. It became a driving force in exposing the Roman Catholic Church's mishandling of abuse, and Blaine became a tireless critic of the church's leadership and a familiar figure in the media.
She traveled the world protesting the church. Locally, she clashed and sometimes cooperated with the Archdiocese of Chicago.
In the 1990s, she served on a committee that drafted a new policy for the Chicago Archdiocese.
"After numerous meetings, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin announced the new policy. Yet, within the year, I recognized that church officials were not following it. When I inquired and pointed out the discrepancies, they said the policy did not apply to those particular situations. Other SNAP leaders have shared similar experiences in other dioceses," she wrote in the National Catholic Register.
"In the years since then, Chicago is one of the few dioceses that have worked hard to improve policies and procedures, but that improvement didn't prevent Fr. Daniel McCormack from abusing boys from 2001 to 2005, despite warnings to the archdiocese," Blaine wrote.
When Cardinal Francis George died, she released a statement saying that while SNAP was sorry George suffered pain from his cancer, "We are also concerned and want to offer sympathy to the children who were sexually violated by priests and their family members — the children’s whose innocence was needlessly shattered because of Cardinal George’s recklessness.”
Blaine once explained how "other survivors in SNAP helped me realize that my personal healing was tied to working to protect other children."
"While we could not undo what happened to us, we could find consolation and healing by preventing more sexual violence. It led us to speak up and expose our perpetrators," she said.
Blaine resigned as president of SNAP in February, after a lawsuit that accused the organization of taking kickbacks from attorneys who were referred potential clients by SNAP, the Tribune reported at the time. Blaine said her resignation as president was unrelated to the lawsuit.
Survivors include husband, Howard, the AP said.