Where Victims of the Clergy Try to Talk It out

By Katie Zezima
New York Times
October 18, 2003

BOSTON, Oct. 17 A lighthouse is meant to guide travelers safely on their way.

To some, the Lighthouse, a gathering place for those who say they were abused by priests, has done just that, offering a place for them to talk over coffee and cookies. The tiny storefront office five minutes from the beach, they say, helps them overcome loneliness and move forward.

But to others who say they were abused, the drop-in center reminds them of an experience they do not want to relive. They say it hinders change and impedes growth.

With its white lighthouse-printed curtains and wicker welcome mat, the center looks like the kitchen of a seaside cottage plunked between a pool hall and Chinese restaurant. There are no therapists, only people who say they were abused by clergymen and their supporters.

Phil de Albuquerque, who volunteers his time as an advocate for victims, started the center because, he said, opening a meeting place was "the right thing to do."

"Really, that's the bottom line," Mr. de Albuquerque said. "It was something that was desperately needed."

He added: "I wanted to make sure I wasn't closed-minded or closed-hearted to their pain."

He and his wife, Lauren, who live in Taunton, 40 miles away, used $5,000 of their savings for a down payment on a storefront in the Orient Heights neighborhood, a hardscrabble part of East Boston better known for its airport and horse tracks than its beach.

Mr. de Albuquerque, 42, a kitchen designer who says he once considered the Roman Catholic priesthood but now shuns the church, has become one of Boston's most vocal advocates for victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. He said neither he nor anyone close to him was abused.

In March 2002, dissatisfied with the response of the Archdiocese of Boston to those abused by priests, Mr. de Albuquerque started protesting with them each Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross here, the archdiocese's main church.

"I'm quiet and shy until I come across injustice," Mr. de Albuquerque said. "What the victims had to say, it really boiled my blood."

He and other protesters have been criticized for aggressive tactics like screaming at parishioners through bullhorns and waving signs.

A spokesman for the archdiocese did not return any of several telephone calls seeking comment about the protests and the Lighthouse.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, about 10 people, some who say they were abused and others who were there to support them, drank from a seemingly bottomless pot of coffee and ate chocolate chip cookies at the Lighthouse. Some sat on folding chairs inside, chatting about their experiences. Others milled on the sidewalk outside, taking in the sun while engaging in heavy conversations about abuse.

Joe McGee, 60, traveled to Boston from Sterling, Colo., just to visit the Lighthouse. Mr. McGee, who says he was abused by a priest for three years starting when he was 10 years old, met the de Albuquerques last year at a rally in Louisville, Ky.

"People asked me why I came all the way from Colorado," Mr. McGee said. "It's to be with people who understand what I'm going through."

He met with several victims over the weekend and attended a protest rally in Manchester, N.H.

Voice of the Faithful, an organization of lay Catholics started last spring in response to the rash of accusations of sexual abuse, supports the Lighthouse. Many members volunteer and donate money.

Steve Sheehan, 70, of Brighton, Mass., is one of them. A Catholic, he said he came because he "believes in the case of survivors" and wants to help them."

"This is not a negative operation at all," Mr. Sheehan said. "It was founded on a very positive note. It's a place where people can come together and form a community. We laugh a lot. People in here aren't crying, it's not a `poor me, look what happened to me' attitude. It's `we're here, what can we do?' "

David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called the Lighthouse groundbreaking.

But the center has its critics. Gary Bergeron of Lowell, Mass., who says he was abused by a priest, said that branding oneself a victim forever was not beneficial.

"Simply hanging a sign, saying `victims are welcome' doesn't work for me," said Mr. Bergeron, 41, who has never been to the center. "I don't want to be a victim. I don't what it to define my entire life. It's defined 30 years. I'm not a victim anymore."

Instead of protesting outside church, Mr. Bergeron said, Mr. de Albuquerque and others should try to talk to church leaders about the abuse and come up with ways for the church and the victims to move past it. He said the victims of abuse in the archdiocese were clearly divided.

"There's definitely been two camps, the one that wants nothing to do with the church and take it down brick by brick," Mr. Bergeron said, "and the other camp that doesn't see it as the crime of an institution but a crime of men."

Another man who said he had been abused also said that dwelling on abuse did no good.

"There's no progressive place where it goes," he said. "It's a great coming-out place, but going once a week to talk about abuse is revictimization itself. There's no growth pattern there."

Mr. de Albuquerque said he realized that the center was not for everyone who had been abused.

"I don't tell every victim of clergy abuse that this is what they need and that this is for them," he said. "This is just one avenue available."

Mr. de Albuquerque and his wife cover about half of the center's $900 monthly operating costs and have vowed to pay rent on the center until June 2005. The rest of the money comes from private donations.

When they are not running their business, the couple spend most of their days organizing kayak trips, dances and fund-raisers for victims; Mr. de Albuquerque's latest project is a candlelight vigil at churches of all denominations for those abused by clergymen, to be held on Oct. 26.


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