Groups Reflect on Clergy Abuse Scandal
By Carolyn Y. Johnson
January 8, 2006
Amid school portraits of smiling boys and girls who were allegedly sexually abused by priests, advocates for victims gathered yesterday with a message for the Archdiocese of Boston: Four years after the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in the Catholic Church, much remains to be done.
Members of five advocacy groups gathered at the Savin Hill Yacht Club to remember the week in January 2002 when news of a massive coverup of clerical sexual abuse first hit the front page of the Globe.
Reflecting on the past four years, advocates said they were glad that awareness of the abuse crisis has spread across the country and the world. Yet they also expressed frustration over how little they say has changed within the church.
"Our calendar is only four years old," said Paul F. Kellen, executive secretary of the advocacy group People of Conscience, which has been critical of the Catholic Church's handling of the scandal. "My New Year's greeting is: Nothing changes, if nothing changes."
Anne Doyle, a member of BishopAccountability.org, a website that posts church documents, said that, as a Catholic, she is "ashamed of the leadership of my church." When the news of the scandal broke four years ago in the Globe, Doyle remembered, "it was a Sunday morning in January, [and] I was just about to wake up my kids and bring them to Mass."
She found the church where Cardinal Bernard F. Law was saying Mass and planned to march in and interrupt the service, but instead found herself surrounded by people brought there by the same interest. She joined a sidewalk protest instead. "Victims have changed Catholics forever," said Doyle. "There's no going back."
Kathleen M. Dwyer, who said she was abused by a priest and now serves as a coordinator of the group Speak Truth to Power, said the church is still misguided in its efforts to deal with sexual abuse, citing the new Vatican policy to ban homosexuals from the priesthood.
Susan Renehan, a member of the Coalition to Reform Sex Abuse Laws, spoke of the need for legislation that would end the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors in civil and criminal cases, and -- in cases of child sex abuse -- abolish the charitable immunity law that limits damages against nonprofit organizations to $20,000.
Archdiocese spokesman Terrence C. Donilon agreed with the groups that "four years ago, Catholics first here in Boston and then, sadly, throughout the country had to face the painful and tragic revelations that there had been sexual abuse of children by clergy." But, he said, since then, the church has "undertaken substantial efforts to train and educate not only our children, but clergy, employees, the faithful, and volunteers in child abuse prevention and child safety."
While group members were critical of the church, they said that the friendships they made over the past four years have been strong. "There are people who want to change the law, change the practices of the bishop, but we realize we need to change people's consciences . . . by exposing the truth," Kellen said.
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