Advocates Propose Sex Abuse Reforms
Accountability, Victim Relief Key

By Christine McConville
Boston Globe
January 8, 2007

About 60 people, most alleged victims of clergy sex abuse, unveiled a bill yesterday designed to provide relief for victims of childhood sexual abuse, while making abusers more accountable and letting the public know how pervasive this abuse is.

After a solemn midday march yesterday from the Archdiocese of Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross to the front doors of a nearby law school, they outlined a plan to more fully address what some called a "silent, violent epidemic."

"All of us can't fix what happened to us, but we universally want to protect future generations from going through this," Ann Hagan Webb of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests told a cheering crowd in Boston's Chinatown after the legislative package was detailed.

Jetta Bernier, cochairwoman of the Coalition to Reform Sexual Abuse Laws, said the Comprehensive Protection from Childhood Sexual Abuse Act of 2007 aims to lay the groundwork for future reforms.

The group's bill includes a provision that forces institutions that serve children to report to law enforcement credible information they receive about individuals who are alleged to have abused children in the past yet who are still working with children. It also calls for reducing financial barriers for survivors who cannot afford treatment by allowing them to tap into a victim's compensation fund.

It aims to eliminate the statute of limitations in all future cases of people who were sexually abused before they were 18 years old, and eliminate the charitable immunity doctrine, which allows for insignificant monetary consequences against institutions that fail to protect children, the group said.

Last year, the group successfully convinced state officials to extend the criminal statute of limitations to a victim's 43d birthday.

This past weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the Globe's first story on alleged clergy sex abuse and its coverup. The report triggered an international scandal, and led to the resignation of Boston's Cardinal Bernard F. Law. Some charged that his inaction protected accused priests and endangered children for decades.

The scandal has cost the archdiocese millions of dollars in settlements and treatment for victims.

According to the Archdiocese of Boston, between 1950 and 2003, 162 priests were accused of sexually abusing minors. This group represents about 7 percent of the priests serving in the Archdiocese during that period. Since the Globe publicized the issue in 2001, accusations against priests have surfaced worldwide, resulting in more financial settlements.

Bernier said victims and supporters walked yesterday from the cathedral to New England School of Law, a few city blocks from the Massachusetts State House, to illustrate that "we must take our pleadings for reform and justice and child protection beyond the altar and into the legislative chamber where laws are made . . . whispering in our pews about the need to stop the abuse is not enough."

Participants carried posters that showed faces, names, and ages of dozens of Massachusetts children who were allegedly sexually abused by priests. One showed a picture of a girl named Anne, smiling in her plaid Catholic school uniform. The words below her photo read: "Abused, kindergarten to seventh grade, Monsignor's special girl."

The group included Maryetta Dussourd, whose three sons and four nephews say they were molested by a priest in their Jamaica Plain community.

She said she spent many years trying to get the archdiocese to acknowledge the abuse. Then, she had to accept that church leaders knew what the priest was doing and looked the other way, she added .

Yesterday, she was focused on the future.

"The church leaders are part of this, so to keep people accountable, we need to get the courts and the state and federal governments involved," she said.

The sidewalk rally attracted onlookers, including Scott Gallant, who was visiting Boston from Gardner. "It's very shameful that the church had to hide the abuse, to protect its reputation," he said.

Archdiocese of Boston spokesman Terrence Donilon declined to comment.

Advocates plan to present the legislative package to state lawmakers this week.

Christine McConville can be reached by e-mail at


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