Praise, criticism for pope's plan to meet with abuse victims

By Bart Jones
May 28, 2014

[with video]

Pope Francis' decision to meet with church sex abuse victims was met with praise from some Long Island Catholics who view it as a compassionate move, and with criticism from others, including activists who said they believe the plan falls short.

The pontiff, on a return flight from a three-day trip to the Middle East, told reporters Monday that he will celebrate a Mass at the Vatican in coming weeks with a half-dozen abuse victims and hold a private meeting to hear from them.

He also revealed that three bishops are under investigation by the Vatican for abuse-related reasons, though it was not clear if they were accused of committing abuse or of having helped to cover it up.

"There are no privileges," Francis said, declaring "zero tolerance" for any member of the clergy who violates a child.

Msgr. James McNamara, pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Point Lookout and an episcopal vicar in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said Francis is making "a good move, a step in the right direction."

"I think he is addressing it right on," McNamara said. "He seems to me to be a very sincere and open man and a very pastoral man. I think he will bring all those qualities to the conversation."

But John Salveson, 58, who alleges that he was abused by Robert Huneke, who has since died, starting in 1969 when Salveson was a 13-year-old freshman at St. Dominic High School in Oyster Bay and Huneke was a priest at St. Dominic parish, said the pope's plans fall short. Salveson testified before a Suffolk County grand jury that investigated sex abuse by priests in the Diocese of Rockville Centre and released its report in February 2003.

"I think talk is cheap," said Salveson, who now lives in Pennsylvania and heads the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, a nonprofit advocacy group. "This is trying to put a house on fire out with a garden hose."

He said few priests or bishops have gone to jail for sex abuse, and laws on the books in New York, for instance, still have a seven-year statute of limitations. "There's still so much protection of priests that abuse kids and, more importantly, the bishops and cardinals who allowed it to happen," Salveson said.

John Picciano, a parishioner at St. Kilian in Farmingdale, said critics should wait to see how the meeting plays out.

"With this pope, there is no telling what he could say," he said. "He may say something that thrills them to death," he said. "I think this man means what he says and says what he means. He's the real deal."

Michael Dowd, an attorney who has filed lawsuits against the Diocese of Rockville Centre on behalf of people alleging sexual abuse by clergy, said the pope's meeting alone "isn't going to heal the thousands upon thousands of young people in the U.S. who have been sexually abused."

"Who is going to pay their therapy bills?" Dowd said. "Who is going to deal with the fractured lives they have lived?"



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