Hub Abuse Victims: 'There's Real Hope This Time'

By Jessica Fargen and Hillary Chabot
Boston Herald
April 18, 2008

In a tear-soaked historic meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, Bay State victims of clergy sexual abuse said they opened their hearts to the Holy Father yesterday in an unprecedented secret session that gave them all "real hope" again.

The half-dozen Massachusetts victims, handpicked for the dramatic meeting by Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, said they were free to speak their minds, express their anger or even weep, as one woman said she did for almost the entire 25-minute meeting.

Pope Benedict XVI greets devotees upon his arrival at Nationals Park yesterday in Washington, D.C.
Photo by AP

"I touched his heart and he nodded," said victim Bernie McDaid appearing on CNN last night.

"There's real hope this time," said McDaid, who claims to have been abused by a Lowell priest.

Three of the Boston area abuse victims described the meeting as a raw and emotional session filled with prayer and forgiveness.

"We spoke. I shook his hand and I basically told him that I was an altar boy, a young boy praying to God at the time I was abused and it wasn't just sexual abuse, it was spiritual," McDaid said.

McDaid, who said he was abused by the Rev. Joseph Birmingham at St. Michael Church in Lowell more than 40 years ago, appeared on CNN with Faith Johnston and Olan Horne, another Birmingham victim.

Abused by a priest as a teen in Haverhill, Johnston said Benedict congratulated her on her upcoming marriage, but she spent most of her time with the pope crying.

"My tears spoke so much," Johnston said.

Horne said his "hope was restored" by the historic private meeting that he said was totally unscripted and "free flowing."

"We were very lucky to have unfiltered access," he said. "We were allowed to say what we wanted. It was absolutely emotional and he responded accordingly."

The Bay State victims and the pope prayed at the papal nunciature in Washington, D.C., which is the home of the pope's ambassador to the United States.

"I told him he has a cancer growing in his ministry and he needs to do something about it," McDaid added.

In a statement to the Herald today, O'Malley called the meeting "a very moving experience for all who participated."

O'Malley said the pope is deeply troubled by the abuse cases in the church.

"The Holy Father shared that he has come to the United States with great sorrow in his heart over this crisis and has been continuously praying for all who were affected," O'Malley told the Herald.

Historic events have Mass appeal

Even the most outspoken clergy abuse victims and their advocates yesterday were pleased with the unexpected audience with the Holy Father - but they said more needs to be done.

Gary Bergeron, a clergy abuse victim, called the meeting, "a positive step in the right direction."

"Last week I had nothing but questions. This week we made some progress," Bergeron said last night.

Joelle Casteix, southwest coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said, "This is a small, long overdue step forward on a very long road. It's an attempt to get the survivors movement off his back."

In the meeting, O'Malley presented Benedict with a notebook listing the names of victims of sexual abuse from the Boston archdiocese. There were more than 1,000 names.

The meeting was the fourth time during Benedict's short U.S. trip that he has addressed the priest scandal that rocked the church and erupted in the Boston archdiocese in the early 2000s. Benedict arrives in New York City this morning.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn called the sit-down an extraordinary development.

"These victims were courageous after all these months and years in wanting a face-to-face, direct conversation with the pope," Flynn said. "You can honestly say the healing process is beginning."


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