A Voice for the People: Holy Cross Professor Says Lay Catholics Must Be Heard

By Michael Wyner
MetroWest Daily News [Sudbury MA]
March 7, 2004

SUDBURY -- The Voice of the Faithful continues to be an active presence at St. Anselm's Church in Sudbury, hosting a professor of Roman Catholic studies last Wednesday night to speak about the John Jay Report of sexual abuse by priests.

The report, released Feb. 27, says 4,392 priests have been accused of sexually abusing 10,667 children from 1950 to 2002, which equates to 4 percent of the total number of priests across the country.

The peak year was 1970, in which 10 percent of the diocesan priests who were ordained have since been accused of abuse.

"That's just remarkable to have a number as high as 10 percent," said David O'Brien, who is part of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

According to the John Jay Report, 76 percent of the alleged victims have been over 11 years old, "so pedophilia with small children is the minority of cases," said O'Brien.

The alleged victims have been overwhelmingly male, with about 64 percent in the 1950s, and the number jumping to 86 percent being male in the 1980s.

O'Brien referred to the four dioceses in Massachusetts as the "epicenter" of the clergy abuse scandal.

"You go to other states, and people are upset but not as upset as people are here. Each of our four dioceses has had horrific experiences," O'Brien said.

In Massachusetts, there have been 162 accused priests and 815 alleged victims in the Boston diocese, which equates to 7 percent of the priests; 45 priests and 112 victims in the Worcester diocese; and 22 priests and 70 victims from the Springfield diocese.

In the Fall River diocese, there have been 32 priests and 216 victims, two-thirds of whom were alleged victims of former priest James Porter.

"We all know about the Boston diocese. In Worcester, we had some really spectacular cases that have not received as much publicity as some of the others," said O'Brien. "Fall River had the Porter case which was absolutely unbelievable in how bad it was and how the victims had to fight so much to get that information out. You wonder if it's ever going to stop."

During his talk to the Voice of the Faithful, O'Brien also discussed the report of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth, which originally commissioned the John Jay data accumulation.

"To the extent we hope to get through this in a way that leads to substantial reform, the existence of the national review board is one source of hope, and there aren't many around. Their report is a real milestone," O'Brien said.

"To this day, it's very hard to understand and explain how it was able to come into existence other than Bishop (Wilton) Gregory seems to be mainly responsible for it, which may be why Bishop Gregory will always remain a bishop and not an archbishop or a cardinal."

O'Brien said that the national review board is extremely critical of numerous bishops during the crisis in the church.

"The report states that the bishops failed to grasp the gravity of the problem of sexual abuse. They were in a lot of denial, and there is an absence of outrage or seeming comprehension of the enormity of the charges," O'Brien said.

The report also talks about the failure of the bishops to respond to alleged victims and the desire to keep things secret and avoid scandal.

"They wanted to keep it out of sight and not let anyone know about it in the interest of the institution of the church above the concerns of the victims," O'Brien said.

The report ends with recommendations for handling the crisis in the future, including the need for further studies, reform in the seminaries, and increased sensitivity in responding to allegations of abuse.

Finally, the report notes the importance of the participation of the public in more areas of the church, including the selection of bishops.

"The report points out the importance of bishops and other church leaders listening to and being responsive to the concerns of the laity, and the hierarchy acting with less secrecy," O'Brien said.

In O'Brien's view, one of the most important things that can be done is keeping up the work of the Voice of the Faithful and other Catholic groups fighting for reform.

"I think it's remarkable that Voice of the Faithful hasn't grown more," O'Brien said. "You have to keep up your work, look for allies, keep challenging the Boston College and Holy Cross faculty. For people who serve generously on boards on hospitals and colleges and parochial schools, ask why they aren't joining a group like this, and what are they doing to bring greater accountability and justice and healing to the church."

The Voice of the Faithful at St. Anselm's will be hosting another talk on March 24 with Anne Barrett Doyle, the founder of Survivors First and a leader of Bishops Accountability, along with guests Olan Horne and Gary Bergeron, both alleged victims of abuse by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, the assistant pastor at Our Lady of Fatima in Sudbury during the 1960s and '70s.


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