Abuse Victims Get Support

By Bob Datz
Republican [Springfield MA]
March 1, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - Shirley Nomakeo of Holyoke spoke a sentiment that her group hopes will continue to spread among members of the Roman Catholic Church in response to its sexual abuse crisis.

"I just couldn't sit in the pew any more," she said during yesterday morning's vigil outside St. Michael's Cathedral, sponsored by Voice of the Faithful. "I had to do something. There is hope."

The hope for the Catholic Church is the involvement of lay members, several of the 25 vigil participants said.

As they stood with signs commemorating some of the thousands of victims of abuse by priests, they handed willing St. Michael's worshippers bookmarks bearing these words from St. Francis of Assisi: "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching."

Inside the cathedral on this first Sunday of Lent, Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk, diocesan administrator, seemed to touch symbolically on the problem that culminated locally with the resignation of Bishop Thomas L. Dupre last month.

"Turning back to God, that's what we have to do as a diocese," he said. "We have to as a people, and especially us here in Springfield, we have to as a people, we must pray our way out of this wilderness."

But the Springfield-Northampton Affiliate of Voice of the Faithful called for much more.

"It's about time for the whole church to atone," said Joan Smola of Hadley, moderator of the chapter.

She praised recent reporting requirements for abuse cases enacted by U.S. bishops , adding: "The other big piece is the laity has to be more involved."

Smola described parishioners' responses as moving beyond shock. "It's almost like going through the stages of grief," the parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer Church said. "There's the denial, the anger, the sadness."

Smola echoes the skepticism that reform activists have voiced since the release Friday of a church-sanctioned national study of priest abuse, which acknowledged 10,667 victims reporting instances involving 4,392 priests in a 52-year span. That study includes 70 alleged victims from the Springfield diocese.

The figures were reported "by some of the same bishops that were covering up and transferring (abusive) people from one place to another," she said.

Peter C. Pollard of Hatfield, Western Massachusetts coordinator of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he personally knows dozens of victims who haven't stepped forward yet. Many have turned their back on the church and its pledges for reform, encouraged more by the involvement of the court system.

"When you're betrayed again and again and again, when you hear the same words again and again and again," Pollard said, "it's really hard not to look for some other remedy outside the legal process of the church."

But the diocesan victim advocate, Laura Failla Reilly, also stood with the vigil participants.

"It's hard to separate my work life and my personal life," she said, adding later: "We need the laity to push us to change."

"The church is supposed to be universal," William P. Kelleher of St. Michael's parish in East Longmeadow said, "and if it is, we all have some responsibility."


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