Maine Catholics Celebrate Mass for Abuse Survivors

By Josie Huang
April 2, 2009

[with audio]

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland designated today a day of prayer and penance for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

"I apologize from my heart to victim survivors of abuse," Bishop Richard Malone said at a special Mass in Portland's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, one of similar events taking place at dioceses nationwide in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

There have been sexual abuse allegations against more than 60 priests and church employees dating back to the 1930s. Malone told parishioners that the church is doing everything in its power to prevent child abuse by running background checks and reporting all allegations of sexual abuse of minors to public authorities. "Children are trained to know how to spot and react to possible abuse coming at them. Tranfers of guilty clergy from diocese to diocese are forbidden."

"Excuse me for being cynical but I believe that it's basically a public relations ploy," says Harvey Paul, Director of the Maine chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who joined lay organizations Maine Voice of the Faithful and Ignatius Group, in calling the church hypocritical.

"It's easy to say a Mass for somebody and say I'm sorry, but show me something concrete, show me an action that will protect children today," Paul says. "Let's be proactive on this because children are our most precious assets."

Paul says the church should stop fighting legislation that would lift the statute of limitations for victims to file lawsuits. The last bill was voted down by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee just last week.

Paul also wants the church to build a Web site that would list perpetrators of child sexual abuse, something akin to the state's sex offender registry. Several dioceses around the country have created such web sites, which Paul says are the only way parents can find out if a priest or church worker with an abusive past is living in their midst.

"In the past they weren't publicized, they were moved, it was covered up for, etcetera, and in so many instances, these survivors or victims were children and they didn't come forward within the archaic statutes of limitations," he says. "So these people kind of like skipped right through the whole proceses. They weren't criminally convicted, but they were credibly accused."

"This is something that the Bishop is not closed to, he is not closed to that possibility, and he is giving it some serious consideration," says Susan Bernard, spokesperson for the diocese. Bernard says that the idea has been under consideration by the diocese in the last several months, and that there are still many details to be worked out, including the question of whether a priest's photo would be posted on the Web site, which advocates would like to see.

"That I don't know. I mean, certainly that's part of the careful consideration, is exactly who gets on this list. Is it people who have just accusations? Is it certainly people who have cases who have been substantiated that we talked about and we already put out information on? I'm tending to think it would be more along those lines."

Back at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, some of those who attended the Mass said that the Bishop was going above and beyond in trying to help the church heal. Joanne Kelly is a stay-at-home mom from Falmouth and church volunteer. "You can see just by watching him, just by his body language that it's really a sadness for him, which I'm sure he lives with every day. I don't know what more the man can do or the Catholic Church can do to try to correct what has happened in the past."

A little over 50 people attended the Mass today, in contrast to the last Mass the Bishop celebrated on St. Patrick's Day, where he blessed shamrocks for more than 300 parishioners.


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