Abuse Victims Take Case to Public

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette
May 10, 2002

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Worcester - Men and women who say they were abused by priests asked Bishop Daniel P. Reilly to join them in supporting measures they believe will hold abusive priests and those who cover for them accountable under the law.

Members of the New England Chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- SNAP -- met yesterday in front of the chancery of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester.

The gathering -- one of about 22 in cities in the U.S. and Canada -- drew more than a dozen alleged victims of priests in the Worcester and Fall River dioceses and the Archdiocese of Boston to the Elm Street chancery. Media representatives included a religion writer from a newspaper in Vienna, Austria.

The Rev. Rocco Piccolomini, diocesan vicar for clergy and member of the pastoral care committee, went outside to stand with the group. He accepted a letter addressed to Bishop Reilly and said he would give it to him. One woman said she was pleased that the priest was willing to come out and participate with them.

Joseph Gallagher, from the Boston archdiocese, came as a representative of the Coalition of Concerned Catholics to say his group backs the legal measures being suggested by SNAP. "It is a useful step," he said.

Philip A. Saviano, regional SNAP coordinator, in his letter to Bishop Reilly, asked the bishop to lobby state lawmakers to eliminate or extend the criminal statute of limitations to make it easier to prosecute priests. SNAP is also asking that Bishop Reilly and other U.S. bishops support mandated reporting laws in states where such laws do not exist. "Until these new laws are enacted, we call on church officials to stop hiding behind the statute of limitations, charitable immunity and other legal technicalities that protect abusers and endanger children, youth and vulnerable people," Mr. Saviano said.

The group is asking all bishops to open all personnel files to prosecutors when requested, to abolish gag orders and to refuse to use other legal tactics that keep "survivors trapped in secrecy, silence and shame."

Raymond L. Delisle, diocesan spokesman, read a letter from the bishop in which he said victims "are first and foremost in my mind" as he prepares for the national bishops' conference to be held next month in Dallas. "I welcome the input coming from the members of SNAP today, as I have welcomed the input of other victims and the families of abused victims over the years," he said.

Their information has been "crucial" in revision of current diocesan policies, Bishop Reilly said. The bishop said he would read the SNAP letter "with due diligence and with the respect it deserves."

Susan Renehan of Southbridge, who said she was abused by a priest in New Jersey, said many people are under the impression that most victims of priest abuse are men. She attends the SNAP support group and finds half the people there are women. Ms. Renehan said she developed a friendship with a priest in her parish at age 11. As he was preparing to leave, she went to say goodbye and asked if she could hug him. He responded by "French-kissing" her in the church vestibule.

For the next three years, this priest "stalked" her at school, showed up at her Catholic school and generally became entwined in her life, she said. It ended when she was 14 and told him to go away. By that time, she was older and he had no interest, she said.

Susan Gallagher, who said she was sexually abused by the Rev. Frank Nugent, a Silesian priest at a retreat house in Ipswich, said people also need to press the church to require religious orders to comply with mandated reporting and "zero tolerance" programs.

A total of 40 percent of the priests in the Boston archdiocese are members of religious orders and do not fall under any of these programs, she said. Her research shows that half the priests in New York belong to orders. District attorneys in New York are pressing to bring the religious orders into line with what dioceses are doing, she said.

William Gately, from the Boston area, said he was abused by a former Maryknoll priest. Mr. Gately flew to Phoenix recently to "confront" him about the abuse. The priest had left the order, changed his name and has been married for more than 30 years and has children, he said.

Mr. Gately said the former priest told him the sexual abuse was not about boys and girls but was a "search for intimacy." He said the former priest told him he did not care whether he molested boys or girls and indicated that he was never homosexual. Mr. Gately said people should not focus on the issue of homosexual priests as a way of resolving the problem. "Eliminating gay priests will not solve the problem, because they are not the problem," he said. The problem is not sexual orientation, but abuse, he said. He believes that some people in the church hierarchy may be ready to use the gay priest issue as a way of splintering people who want reform in the way the church handles sexual abuse complaints.

Mr. Saviano, who was molested by the Rev. David Holley at East Douglas in the 1960s, said he found out later that the priest had previously been assigned to neighboring Grafton. He heard that boys had been molested there, although the priest would not admit to it when he wrote to him in prison. The priest is now serving a prison term in New Mexico, after being convicted of molesting children there.

Mr. Saviano said he knew years ago, based on his own situation, that priests were routinely moved around. In Rev. Holley's case, he was moved to several states. Some people were shocked by the revelations that came out of the Boston archdiocese, but Mr. Saviano knew the truth of the cover-ups from the early 1990s, he said.


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