'They Will Know Our Stories ... My Pain'

The Lowell Sun [Lowel MA]
March 11, 2003

LOWELL Gary Bergeron wants to make the Vatican take notice of the sexual abuse problem in the Catholic church.

Dissatisfied with the response of the Boston archdiocese to sexual-abuse claims against priests, Bergeron plans to travel to Rome with other alleged victims in hope of gaining an audience with Pope John Paul II. They plan to leave March 22 and stay a week.

"I'd like to have the opportunity to explain what is going on over here," said Bergeron, of Lowell. "I'd like to have an opportunity to let them know it's not a problem with a couple of kids in the United States, it's a worldwide problem and that people are in pain over here."

He announced the plans at a meeting of Voice of the Faithful in Nahant last night. Bergeron plans to travel to Rome with his brother, father and at least one other alleged victim, Olan Horne of Lowell.

Gary Bergeron, his brother Edward and Horne were among at least 12 men who say they were abused by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham at St. Michael's Church in Lowell in the 1970s. Birmingham, who served at St. Michael from 1971 to 1977, is also alleged to have abused dozens of youths in other parishes. He served at churches in Salem, Mass., Gloucester and Lexington.

Gary and Edward Bergeron's father, Eddie Bergeron, claimed last year that he was abused as an altar boy at St. Louis Church in the 1930s. He has carried the "sins of silence" for not revealing his own abuse and protecting his children, Gary Bergeron said. The elder Bergeron did not know of his sons' alleged abuse until last year.

"I made him become an altar boy. I brought him up in the Catholic religion and he met the priest through me. I blame myself," the father said last night.

Gary Bergeron acknowledged that meeting with the pope is an ambitious goal; they have no appointment with the pope or any other Vatican official. But Bergeron pointed out that Cardinal Bernard Law initially declined to meet with victims' groups, then later did.

The Bergerons have been in touch with a handful of Vatican officials about their visit. So far the response has been underwhelming, Gary Bergeron said.

"They might not know who we are now. They might think of us as just numbers. But I promise you that they will know I'm not a number. They will know our stories. They will know my pain, and they will know your pain," he told the Voice of the Faithful.

Institutional change will be hard until there is a full awareness of the problem, Bergeron said this morning. He believes the pope has been sheltered by people around him.

Bergeron still believes John Paul is a holy man who is concerned with the goodness of the church. If the pope understands the extent of the problem then the church will be forced to make changes, he said.

"My hope would be just to have a conversation with him, even if it's just two minutes so he can put a face with the pain," Bergeron said.

The Bergerons also hope to meet with other Vatican officials to detail the sexual abuse problem.

"They can't fix it, they can't change it until they understand it and it's apparent the Archdiocese of Boston still doesn't understand it," Bergeron said.

Cardinal Bernard Law started to understand the extent of the problem after a meeting with the victims and their families at St. Francis Church in Dracut, but then resigned, which slowed the movement, according to Bergeron.

"I think with (Bishop Richard Lennon) we're back to square one, we're back to educating him what's going on," he said.

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