Church’s Response to Abuse Not Good Enough for Some

By Brian MacQuarrie
Boston Globe
January 4, 2012

Phil Saviano, an abuse victim, said reform has been lacking.

Ten years after revelations of clergy sexual abuse rocked the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, victims of the scandal said yesterday that they remained unmoved by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s plea for forgiveness.

Instead, victims and advocates reacted to O’Malley’s written retrospective on the crisis with a demand that the church do more to make survivors confident that abusive clerics will be punished and that future cases will not be shrouded in secrecy.

“The church has failed miserably, miserably, miserably,’’ said Bernie McDaid, 55, of Peabody, who was abused in the late 1960s in Salem.

“Nothing has been done [except] whatever the court has made them do,’’ he said. “I’m so hurt by all this.

“After Penn State erupted, it put it right back in my face,’’ McDaid said, referring to a string of abuse charges filed recently against a former assistant football coach at the university.

According to O’Malley’s report, the archdiocese has settled about 800 clergy sexual abuse accusations, is providing care to about 300 abuse survivors at any given time, and has given training in identifying and reporting suspected abuse to nearly half a million children and adults.

Those adults include priests and candidates for ordination, O’Malley said.

The screening process, he said, has been made “the strongest possible, with particular attention to any issues related to child safety.’’

The archdiocese conducts more than 60,000 criminal background checks a year on priests, teachers, volunteers, and other people working with children, according to the report, “Ten Years Later - Reflections on the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston.’’

Although such work is a step forward, victims and advocates said, they question whether the church would have confronted abuse without the pursuit of news organizations and the persistence of survivors who went public with their pain.

The report from the archdiocese marked the 10th anniversary this week of the Globe’s publication of the first of a series of articles that reported a widespread pattern of covering up abuse in the archdiocese.

“I’m very underwhelmed,’’ said Terence McKiernan of, a Waltham-based website that maintains records on priests accused of sexual abuse.

The cardinal, said McKiernan, president of the website, “basically recycles the usual claims that we’ve heard a lot already, that they’ve experienced a learning curve, that they really didn’t understand the situation.’’

Although background checks and increased awareness are welcome, McKiernan said, “it shows not so much that the church wants to do the right things here, but that they’ve been forced to do the right thing.’’

Questions about the archdiocese’s enthusiasm for the task were echoed by Phil Saviano, 59, of Roslindale, who founded the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

The changes outlined by O’Malley, Saviano said, are “basic, common-sense procedures that any organization that has a lot of contact with children would take.’’

“It’s probably good for him to enumerate the things they’ve done,’’ he said, “but they’re not things that are that remarkable. I don’t think it’s anything to brag about.’’

Although Saviano was abused in the 1960s by a priest outside Worcester, he said he has worked with many victims of abusive priests from the Boston Archdiocese.

“Every step they’ve taken, they’ve done it begrudgingly,’’ Saviano said of the church.

Saviano and McKiernan cited O’Malley’s release of the names of 159 accused clerics in August as an example of half-steps to address the crisis.

A review by the Globe showed that 70 accused clerics had not been listed.

The cardinal said they had been left off the list because they belonged to religious orders or had been transferred to Boston from other dioceses.

“That excuse is really lame, because if you’re a 10-year-old kid and a priest is assaulting you, you’re not going to ask if the priest is a diocesan priest or a Jesuit or Franciscan that’s been assigned to the parish,’’ Saviano said. “The experience is the same.’’

O’Malley, however, said yesterday in the report that the crisis and its aftermath have been his top concerns.

“Since the time I was named archbishop of Boston in July of 2003, our highest priority has been to provide outreach and care for all the survivors of clergy sexual abuse and to do everything possible to make sure this abuse never happens again,’’ O’Malley said.

“As an archdiocese, as a church, we can never cease to make clear the depth of our sorrow and to beg forgiveness from those who were so grievously harmed,’’ he said.

O’Malley acknowledged that “one effect of the abuse scandal is that many people view a priest’s Roman collar and clerical appearance with suspicion.’’

Acknowledging that the “the task is never complete,’’ O’Malley also said he hoped that the church’s response would persuade Catholics to return to the church.

In addressing the “spiritual dimension,’’ O’Malley said, the church has held special services in parishes hit particularly hard by the crisis.

“It is our prayer that by seeing the response of the church and by viewing the issue in its proper context, all those who have been away will return to join with us, to make the church stronger and always a safe place for all people,’’ he said.

Ann Hagan Webb, a psychologist from Wellesley abused by a Rhode Island priest from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, said the report seemed disingenuous.

“It really looks like more of the same,’’ Webb said. “It looks like he’s trying to use the 10th anniversary as a public relations moment. The crisis still continues.’’

McDaid, who founded a group called Survivors Voice, also said he is skeptical of the church’s motivation. “They only go so far every time, because they want to move on,’’ McDaid said.

“What people don’t understand about survivors is that we have a trust issue,’’ said McDaid, who met Pope Benedict XVI in Washington in 2008. “For us to move on, we have to have some degree of faith’’ that those clergy responsible for abuse “will be charged, reeducated, something.’’

“If anything, it’s worse than we ever thought,’’ McDaid said.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the reports on abuse, survivors will gather in Boston beginning tomorrow for a three-day conference to recognize victims who stepped forward to speak of their abuse and others who worked to reveal the extent of the scandal.

The gathering, at the Holiday Inn on Blossom Street on Beacon Hill, is expected to include a demonstration at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.