Victims' Groups Gain New Ground

By John Richardson
Portland Press Herald [Portland ME]
Downloaded March 30, 2004

Demonstrators will be allowed to gather next to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Wednesday morning as more than 1,000 Catholics and church leaders arrive for the installation of Maine's new Roman Catholic Bishop, Richard J. Malone, police said Monday.

"They wanted a place where they could be seen and heard, which is fine with us as long as they are lawful in their endeavor," said Police Chief Michael Chitwood.

Police had designated space for the demonstration across Cumberland Avenue, but added an area next to the church parking lot on Monday after the group complained it would not be visible enough.

Paul Kendrick, an organizer of the event, said he hoped the change would help, but worried the group would still be kept "out of sight and out of mind."

Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, as well as advocates and supporters of victims, plan to gather outside the Cathedral and conduct a memorial service for deceased victims of clergy sexual abuse. Some victims of abuse will speak, and participants are expected to carry signs aimed at church leaders.

The demonstration is scheduled to last from 9:45 a.m. until 10:45 a.m., ending 15 minutes before the start of the installation ceremony.

More than 1,000 members of the church from all over the state have been invited to attend the ceremony. The event also will include 250 priests from around Maine and New England and 30 bishops, including Archbishop Sean O'Malley from Boston, said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the Portland diocese.

Between 20 and 50 people, some coming from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, are expected to take part in the demonstration.

"We want to remind people that it isn't over . . . that people have suffered and still suffer and are still in danger," said Ann Hagan Webb, New England co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), one of the groups organizing the demonstration.

Organizers said they want people to remember victims who have committed suicide or died from addictions or other destructive behavior that resulted from the abuse they suffered. "We're going to honor those people and hopefully look to the future as a unique opportunity for Bishop Malone to make a difference," Webb said.

Kendrick, who is active with SNAP in Maine, originally applied for a permit to have a procession on the sidewalks around the church. On Monday, he protested a plan to restrict the group to an area across Cumberland Avenue from the church, saying the group has a constitutional right to be seen and heard.

Chitwood and several top officers, as well as City Manager Joe Gray, met at the church Monday and reconsidered. By the end of the day, they had agreed to let the group use the sidewalk to the east of the church driveway, as well as the area across the street. Both areas are acceptable because they would not interfere with people getting to and from the cathedral and other buildings around it, Chitwood said. The permit will be issued today, he said.

Allowing the group to stand to the east side of the driveway would be an improvement, Kendrick said, although he feared the group would be pushed back from the flow of people attending the installation.

Police had designated a secondary area on Congress Street, but Chitwood said that area would be removed from the permit because of concerns about providing overall security. A team of police officers will be at the church to manage traffic and monitor the demonstration. The Portland diocese, meanwhile, has hired off-duty officers as security inside the cathedral.

Kendrick objected to statements describing the demonstration as a protest, and said the service would be solemn and peaceful. "It's a call for people of conscience to come forward," he said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791- 6324 or at: