Archdiocese Confronts Report on Abuse

By Elizabeth Mehren
Los Angeles Times, carried in Hartford Courant [Sharon MA]
July 28, 2003

SHARON, Mass. -- In the summer in this comfortable community south of Boston, the Rev. Robert Bullock turns his small, white church into what he calls a "liturgical institute," where worshippers talk about the Scriptures and tackle social issues.

On Sunday, the 74-year-old Roman Catholic priest felt he had no choice but to focus on the report issued last week by Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly that examined six decades of sexual abuse by priests in the Boston archdiocese.

"Is there a connection between what we do here - how we listen, how we pray, how we gather - and how we respond to this report?" Bullock asked the congregants who filled Our Lady of Sorrows church.

"I think there is."

Catholics and non-Catholics alike are mulling the meaning of the 76-page report, which followed 16 months of investigation into a scandal with worldwide reverberations. Reilly's conclusion that 1,000 young victims likely had been abused by 250 priests and others in the archdiocese since 1940 followed a grand jury inquiry, hundreds of interviews and exhaustive examination of 30,000 pages of the archdiocese's own records.

Many in Boston reeled at what amounted to the first official tally of sexually abusive behavior by men in positions of moral authority. Reilly deemed the figures staggering, while conceding that the number of victims in the archdiocese is probably far higher than his office could calculate.

"Any time I am at a public function," the attorney general said, "someone comes up to me and says: `It happened to me.'"

Many survivors' groups have expressed outrage that Reilly concluded he could not bring criminal charges against church leaders who shielded abusive priests because Massachusetts law was inadequate until last year. A delegation of victims and their advocates met with Reilly after the report was made public to demand a more detailed explanation.

Others question the timing of the report's release - Boston's archdiocese is to install a new archbishop Wednesday. What kind of message, many wondered, was Reilly sending to Archbishop-elect Sean Patrick O'Malley?

Jim Post, a Boston University professor who helped organize the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful, said by illuminating priests' misdeeds and acknowledging the archdiocese is not yet free from abuse, the report stands as a warning to O'Malley.

"I believe his honeymoon is going to be measured in nanoseconds," he said. "The expectations are very, very high."

But Bill Gately, chairman of the Massachusetts chapter of SNAP - the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests - said anyone who assumed that things would get better in the Boston archdiocese because the abuses have been written down was in denial.

"I want to call it laziness, or complacency, or maybe it's just that some people want it to be over," Gately said. "The numbers are so vast, they almost lose their relevancy for some people."

The church in Boston has changed in many ways since the scandal exploded 19 months ago. Attendance in the nation's fourth largest archdiocese has dropped by 14 percent, according to the Rev. Christopher Coyne, church spokesman. Donations over the past year decreased by about 7 percent, a figure that Coyne said was not larger because some people increased their giving to make up the difference.

The "big hit," according to Coyne, was the annual cardinal's appeal, a fund-raising effort that fell $8.5 million short of its $16 million goal. Cardinal Bernard Law resigned last December after pressure mounted over the fact that he personally had protected some abusive priests.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Co. newspaper.


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