Abuse Plaintiffs Willing to Give Cleric 'a Chance'

By Tom Mashberg and Jessica Heslam
Boston Herald
July 2, 2003

Skeptical clergy abuse victims were nearly unanimous yesterday in their praise for Bishop Sean P. O'Malley, saying Boston's archbishop-elect heartened them with his public and private comments on the evils of molestation.

"I heard him use the word `crime' instead of `sin,' and that makes a big difference to us," said Christine Hickey, a victim of former Fall River priest James Porter. "We have to give him a chance."

And David Lycos of Dracut, who joined a dozen abuse victims for a private session with O'Malley at the chancery in Brighton, said afterward, "If he continues doing the right thing, I could see myself going back to church one day."

Many victims who weighed in on O'Malley's whirlwind one-day Boston pilgrimage said they were surprised how upbeat they felt.

Most have experienced months or years of religious estrangement resulting from clergy abuse, halting settlement talks, and the fact that O'Malley is now the third prelate in the past 12 months - after Bernard Cardinal Law and apostolic administrator Richard G. Lennon - to vow action and healing.

"I truly felt he was speaking from his heart - it wasn't a calculated speech," said Garry M. Garland, an alleged victim of Monsignor Frederick Ryan, a former archdiocesan vice chancellor. "Hopefully, he's a quarterback, not a lineman, and will move things forward."

Two of the church's toughest skeptics, Rodney and Paula Ford of Newton, whose son, Gregory, alleges rape by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, also said they were impressed after visiting O'Malley.

"He seems to be the man we've been looking for - you can see it in his eyes," said Rodney Ford, who last year emerged from talks or depositions with Law enraged by the cardinal's tone and style.

Added Paula Ford, "He apologized and showed us great compassion."

Bernie McDaid, 47, of Lynn, who like Lycos was allegedly molested by the late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, said he joined in reciting the "Our Father" with O'Malley at the close of their two-hour session.

"He seems to have a track record of putting victims first," said McDaid. "I hope he realizes we've been waiting a long time already."

Victims said a resonant moment occurred when Steve Lynch of Salem, who was in the sixth day of a fast outside the chancery, accepted an invitation to sit in on the talks.

"There was a warm, human feeling, and a listening feeling," said Lynch. "But I think he also knows we're holding his feet to the fire."

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 113 abuse plaintiffs, said many of his clients are now "cautiously optimistic."

He added, "It's an emotional roller coaster for victims. OK, we heard a great speech today. Let's see if the words are followed up by actions."


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