Cross Calls Attention to Clergy Abuse

By Jerry Blair
The Evening Telegram [Frankfort NY]
Downloaded April 10, 2004

FRANKFORT - A Frankfort man erected a "Cross of Shame" on his property Friday in an effort to raise awareness of clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

Placed by David Leonard in the side yard of his First Avenue home, the handmade display featured the names of priests found to have committed abuses and church officials who have sought to suppress the issue. The 61-year-old said he felt Good Friday was the right time to highlight how the church has handled clergy sexual abuse.

"The terrible pain and suffering felt by the victims of the church also have to be remembered," Leonard said. "I did it in support of the victims and survivors."

The cause is a very personal one for Leonard, who was himself abused by priests in Boston from the time he was 11-years-old until he was a senior in a Catholic school at the age of 16. Leonard's activism stems in part from his membership in Survivors Network Abused by Priests, a national grass-roots support group.

Victims of sexual abuse often feel too stigmatized to talk about what happened; Leonard was silent for 18 years and suffered serious mental illness as a result of his experience. It is because of this that he feels survivors should work to raise awareness when they are able to overcome it.

"There are so many that still can't speak," Leonard said. "I'd like to be, in some small way, their voice."

Leonard said that his display is not meant to be an attack on the Roman Catholic Church, but rather the hierarchy of leaders who have tried to cover up clergy sexual abuse and intimidate its victims. He recently met with new Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley to discuss the issue and was told the church is willing to do "whatever it takes" to remove sexual predators from its ranks.

"It's been a safe haven for too long," Leonard said. "We have to continue to educate and make people aware of what's going on."

Among the names included on the Cross of Shame were The Rev. Robert Shinos, who was removed as pastor of the Church of Saints Anthony and Joseph in Herkimer last month, and Father Charles Celeste, currently on a continuing leave of absence from Holy Family Church in Little Falls. Leonard said he has information about abuse involving six other priests in the region that he has attempted to share with the Albany Diocese.


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