Clergy Abuse Victims Cast Wary Eye
By Tom Mashberg
July 1, 2003
Word that Palm Beach Bishop Sean P. O'Malley appears ticketed for the Archdiocese of Boston energized many area Catholics yesterday, but if he gets the nod he will have ferocious critics as well.
"He has a humble, soft-spoken appearance but is not to be trusted," said Frank Fitzpatrick of Cranston, R.I., a victim of the Rev. James R. Porter and organizer of Porter accusers who runs Survivor Connections. "He's a PR man who puts out fires for the church by calming the population and the survivors with money and words."
Other clergy abuse victims raised concerns about O'Malley. Some said he was not forthcoming with law enforcement about the names of abusive priests from his Fall River tenure. Others critiqued his Palm Beach, Fla., policy for seeming to urge victims to bring abuse reports to the diocese instead of law enforcement.
"We're a little alarmed people are saying he can change things when in fact he doesn't have the best track record," said Ann Hagan Webb, New England co-coordinator for SNAP, the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. Webb recalled how Bristol District Attorney Paul F. Walsh rebuked O'Malley in September, soon after the bishop's Florida departure, for letting 10 years go by before giving police names of 21 Fall River Diocese priests accused of sexual abuse.
Walsh declined to comment yesterday through his spokesman. But last fall he held a press conference during which he bitterly assailed O'Malley, asserting the delay allowed the statute of limitations to expire on many abuse allegations.
Another advocacy group, Survivors First, issued a statement saying it sees "reason for hope" but also "some cause for concern" in O'Malley's possible appointment.
The group said any new archbishop must remove victims' therapy from the umbrella of the church and "finalize a settlement that includes a release of all files."
Louise Dittrich, a spokeswoman for Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group, noted that "of all the choices that have been floated, he looks to be the strongest candidate. It sounds as if the Vatican has finally been listening to the laity."
One lawyer crucial to the settlement talks, Roderick MacLeish Jr., said O'Malley was the right man.
He cited the prelate's human touch with victims and effectiveness in pressuring the Fall River Diocese insurer, Continental, into funding settlements in the 1990s.
But lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, whose work helped shake loose the abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, was more cautious.
"Bishop O'Malley has to listen to his heart and act with his heart to bring healing to victims and the church," he said. "The healing has been delayed by the church unsuccessfully resolving many issues."
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