Efforts Against Abuse




Laity Steps Up Sex-Abuse Fight: Boston Victims Groups Lobby for New Laws

by Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington
Sunday, November 24, 2002

Dismayed at recent actions by Roman Catholic bishops and looking to rev up their budding movement, leaders of seven Boston-area victim advocate groups met for the first time yesterday to coordinate grass-roots strategies for dealing with the church.

The leaders emerged from a private session in the basement of St. John School in Wellesley to say they would push for new laws aimed at pressuring U.S. church leaders to tear the lid off decades of hidden child abuse.

``We don't have a battalion of lawyers and spin artists. We've been around 10 months, not 2,000 years,'' said Wellesley's Joe Gallagher, co-founder of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors.

``But we will not let the church hierarchy wear us down. We want Massachusetts to become a model for the rest of the nation.''

Gallagher and other leaders said their groups would lobby for at least four legislative changes:

Imposing stricter penalties, including jail time, on those who ignore laws on mandatory reporting of child abuse allegations to authorities.

Repealing all statutes of limitations on criminal and civil prosecution of child molestation cases.

Enforcing reckless endangerment or child endangerment laws - which can carry sentences of up to 30 months - against organizations that place known abusers in positions where they have oversight of children, or access to them.

Adjusting the Massachusetts ``charitable liability cap,'' which curtails damages religious groups must pay in civil cases up to $20,000 per victim. The Archdiocese of Boston says it will fall back on the cap in cases where Catholic supervisors are found liable. Advocates of change say the law should not apply if a charity has engaged in a widespread criminal coverup.

Paul Baier of Wellesley, head of Survivors First, who recently inaugurated a Web site (www.survivorsfirst.org) listing allegations, convictions and exonerations involving Catholic clergy around the nation, said after the meeting the groups were appalled by the archdiocese's bid late Friday to suppress public release of 11,000 pages of internal files on problem priests.

Baier quoted from an apology to abuse victims delivered on Nov. 3 from the pulpit of Holy Cross Cathedral by Bernard Cardinal Law.

``Obviously, anyone with knowledge of past abuse should make this information available to appropriate public authorities,'' Law said then.

``No one is helped by keeping such things secret. The secret of sexual abuse needs to be brought out of the darkness and into the healing light of Jesus Christ.''

Baier called the church's last-ditch bid late Friday to have the files sealed ``an act of outrageous hypocrisy'' that cemented his colleagues' resolve to pursue reform via civil and not canonical means.

Part of yesterday's news conference was devoted to publicizing the plight of female victims of clergy abuse.

The activists, many of whom carried signs with pictures of abused girls, said the Vatican and top bishops are marginalizing female survivors as part of a strategy to scapegoat homosexual males as creating the crisis.

Anne Barrett Doyle of Reading, a founder of both the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors and Voice of the Faithful, said: ``There appears to be a misconception that this is a homosexual problem. The church's position is, `Oh, it's the gays. Blame it on the gays.' ''

Former priest and noted psychotherapist A.W. ``Richard'' Sipe has placed the number at 33 percent.

``There's no question that girls have been underreported,'' he told the Herald recently.

Medford's Susan Gallagher - who in 1998 settled a suit for $250,000 with the Salesians charging molestation by the Rev. Frank Nugent in New York and New Jersey in the 1980s - placed the number of female victims higher, at 40 percent. She said 50 percent of local members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests are women.

In her own case, Gallagher said her abuser targeted both girls and boys, including her two brothers - one of whom eventually took his own life.

Gallagher received an apology from the Salesians, who have told her Nugent is being kept away from children and is under constant watch by two other priests. But she said the octogenarian cleric may have many more victims, including in the Bay State, from his time at the Sacred Heart Retreat House in Ipswich.

``Father Nugent supervised retreats for teenagers for the Archdiocese of Boston from 1981 until 1995, when he was sent to the Servants of the Paraclete Treatment Center (for priests with sexual disorders) in New Mexico,'' she said.

``His thing was to hold wild parties and get kids drunk,'' she said.

Last month, four former students of a Salesian junior seminary in New York included Nugent in a suit charging abuse at the school and also named the Rev. Emilio Allue, now an auxiliary bishop under Law, for failing to act when told of the molestation.

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Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests