Survivors of Clergy Abuse Mark 10-Year Anniversary
By Jenna Russell
January 8, 2012
Their conference yesterday was billed as a celebration of 10 years of advocacy and accomplishment, but victims of clergy sexual abuse who came to reflect on a decade of change said it was only the beginning.
"Who would have thought, 10 years ago, that we would still be here?" said Paul Kellen, a conference organizer with the advocacy group Speak Truth to Power. "We thought it would be over, that it would be fixed . . . that people would be healed and reintegrated, and it hasn't happened."
About 75 people attended yesterday's gathering, including abuse survivors, advocates, and supporters from New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The three-day conference kicked off Friday with a remembrance of abuse victims who have died, and was scheduled to end this morning with a demonstration march in the South End around the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Boston.
The weekend-long series of speeches, workshops, and panel discussions was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the first news media reports, in January 2002, of widespread abuse in the archdiocese and the protection of abusive priests by leaders including Cardinal Bernard F. Law. The revelations in Boston set off a nationwide examination of abuse within the church that eventually spread around the globe.
Those reverberations continue, conference speakers said.
'I don't think people get the depth of the anger that people like me feel.' ,
Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of victims, said he has heard recently from people in Ghana, Cameroon, Germany, Ireland, and the Dominican Republic who say they were abused by clergy.
Sheila Boyle abuse victim
Last week, he filed 20 lawsuits on behalf of Haitian men who say they were abused at a school for poor children; altogether, he said, he has some 200 active cases.
"It's just beginning," said Garabedian.
In some ways, the conference felt like a reunion. Scrapbooks full of yellowing newspaper articles sat on a table in the ballroom of the Beacon Hill Holiday Inn, and old acquaintances hugged and reminisced, laughing over memories of protest marches.
But it was also a call to renewed action, with speakers and attendees acknowledging the problem of "compassion fatigue" for a public worn down by years of painful stories.
Robert Ott, a member of the Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful, said he came to the conference in part to jolt himself out of any complacency.
"You can only tolerate so much, and that's why the work of the survivors is so important, because we cannot forget," he said.
For victims of abuse, the conference brought mixed emotions. Sheila Boyle knew she wanted to be there, to support the people who have advocated for victims, but she also knew it would dredge up searing memories.
Boyle said she was abused by her parish priest, the Rev. Robert V. Meffan, as a teenager in Weymouth in the 1960s; she said the abuse continued even after she entered a convent, where he was permitted, as a priest, to meet with her behind closed doors.
Now in her 60s, she said she suffered years of dysfunctional relationships as a result. Meffan, meanwhile, was reassigned to a parish in Pembroke after allegations of abuse. He was later dismissed.
"I don't think people get the depth of the anger that people like me feel," said Boyle.
Yesterday morning - afraid that if she rode the subway to the conference she might turn around and go home - Boyle took a taxi.
Attendees heard from journalists who were among the first to report the abuse story, and from lawyers who have represented hundreds of victims. Carmen Durso, a lawyer, said he is working to pass legislation that would do away with the statute of limitations in criminal and civil cases involving child rape and sexual abuse.
Robert Hoatson, a former Catholic priest who now runs Road to Recovery, a New Jersey-based, nonprofit counseling service for victims of clergy abuse, said his work, too, continues, with a growing list of clients who include the alleged victims of abuse at Pennsylvania State University and of a former Red Sox clubhouse manager.
Hoatson taught at Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury in the 1980s, and said he was moved to start counseling victims after revelations of abuse at the school came to light in 2002. Hoatson, who was abused himself in his youth, said he had suspected the perpetrator at Catholic Memorial and raised concerns with a superior, but nothing was done.
Hoatson later sued the archdiocese in New York where he had been abused, was suspended from the priesthood, and finally requested that he be removed. His request was granted by the Vatican last month.
"I couldn't be inside the corruption," he said.