Alleged Victims Look Past Ceremony with Wary Eye
By Robin Washington
July 29, 2003
With 2,500 seats in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for an archdiocese of 2 million, invitations to Archbishop-designate Sean P. O'Malley's installation Mass tomorrow are the hottest tickets in town.
But some invitees, such as Ann Hagan Webb of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, have turned them down cold.
"As a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest, being at such a ceremony would trigger too many memories," she wrote the church in declining her invitation.
Though some victims and advocates do plan to attend - forging disagreement over whether they should join celebrants inside the cathedral or protesters outside - victim leaders said what matters most is what O'Malley does after his installation.
"In the best-case scenario, he sells the chancery, he settles the civil cases and he and Attorney General Tom Reilly come and meet survivors and listen to what we know will help children in the future," said Stephen Lynch, an alleged victim who met with O'Malley three weeks ago.
Lynch, who was arrested last year after confronting Bernard Cardinal Law in the cathedral, noted O'Malley differs from his predecessor, saying: "His hands were on the table and his heart was open. He was very human."
But Lynch and others said outward demeanor is no guarantee of changed attitudes and actions.
"If I hear one more person talk about how he's going to be so great because he wears sandals, I'll scream," alleged victim Kathy Dwyer said. "My biggest fear is he will speak the language that says what we want to hear but the behavior will be the same."
Even if O'Malley does take dramatic action, it may not guarantee an end to future abuse, Webb said.
"He cleans up the mess as far as the laity is concerned, but he doesn't fix the problems that caused it, which we saw in Fall River," she said, referring to O'Malley's tenure as bishop there following the James R. Porter scandal in 1993.
When he left for the Palm Beach (Fla.) Diocese last year, O'Malley was criticized by Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh for failing to report other abusers before the statute of limitations ran out.
Along with the installation, Webb said, victims' anxieties have been raised by last week's release of the attorney general's report condemning the church's decades-long coverup but holding no one criminally responsible.
Yesterday, victims' groups joined plaintiffs' attorney Carmen Durso in delivering a letter to U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, demanding he open a federal probe. Durso has filed suit alleging a conspiracy to the present day.
"If you have a continuing conspiracy, then you get around the problem of the statute of limitations," Durso said. "All of the people going back to the start of it become prosecutable."
Also yesterday, the lay group Voice of the Faithful called on O'Malley in his first 100 days to acknowledge the findings of the attorney general's report, lift bans on VOTF meetings in parishes, and create a three-year "Healing Commission" to address the abuse crisis.
"He needs a bold stroke. This is one idea," said VOTF President Jim Post.
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