The Church in Crisis: the Boston Reaction

By Chuck Colbert
National Catholic Reporter [Boston]
Downloaded March 10, 2004

They billed it as an "Accountability March," and walked 1.4 miles from outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End neighborhood to Beacon Hill. On the front steps of the statehouse Sunday, Feb. 29, nearly 200 protestors demanded that Republican Gov. Mitt Romney form an independent task force to oversee the Massachusetts Catholic bishops' handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal in all four of the commonwealth's dioceses.

Advocates and survivors circulated a petition, "Let's Keep Children Safe," which they will present to the governor, asking him to "enable experts to supervise the bishops' response" to "sex abuse allegations" and "to monitor" the bishops actions necessary "to contain these dangerous men."

For his part, Romney's press spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman said: "We would be happy to take a look and consider their request."

Anne Barrett Doyle of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors told the gathering, "The Catholic bishops are sitting on the longest list of unregistered sex offenders than probably any other institution in this state," she said. "My concern is about a very real public safety issue."

Nothing less than "secular intervention" is required, said Ann Hagan Webb, New England co-coordinator of New England Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, before the march. "We need to know the names, see the faces, and we need to know where they [predator priests] are," she said. "They could be living next door to you and our children could be playing in their backyards," she added.

During remarks at the State House rally, Susan E. Gallagher of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors described the magnitude of the scandal in Massachusetts. "We know and the citizens [of this state] know that the bishops of the Catholic church presided over the longest and largest wave of crimes against children that has ever been brought to light," she said.

Gallagher and other speakers took aim not only at the John Jay report, but also the National Review Board's report, both released two days before protestors rallied. Gallagher took particular aim at the survey's failure to ask bishops about notifying authorities and calling the police.

These are "among all of the possible actions that bishops could have taken in response to allegations of child sexual abuse," she said, adding, but "the survey left them out."

It was a warm but overcast New England afternoon, a day hinting at brighter times to come. But the mood was somber as strains of the motion picture soundtrack "Requiem for a Dream" streamed over the audio system.

Beneath the solemnity, anger remains. Just three days earlier, the Boston archdiocese released its own numbers. One hundred sixty-two clergy members - 7 percent of the archdiocese's 2,324 priests - were accused of abusing minors between 1950 and 2003.

Survivors and advocates say those numbers are low. Before processing to the statehouse, the names of 247 accused were read aloud. A persistent drumbeat followed, accenting each announcement.

Addressing the statehouse rally, Barrett Doyle offered an explanation for why he believed the numbers are low in the Boston archdiocese and nationwide: "They are low because they were compiled by bishops for whom secret-keeping is part of their job description," she said.

Referring to the Jay report, Doyle added, "This is not the long-awaited truth. This is a self-study. Bishops merely filled out forms and turned them in. This is not transparency. This is bogus transparency."

Phil Saviano, founder of New England SNAP, also took aim at the numbers and reporting in the Springfield, Mass., diocese where 22 priests were accused of sexual misconduct. Just two weeks earlier, Bishop Thomas L. Dupre resigned under a cloud of sex abuse charges against him.

"I am not sure if that figure is accurate since I don't really know if Bishop Dupre counted himself." Saviano said. "Is he still credible?"

Chuck Colbert is a freelance writer who lives in Boston.


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