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
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
``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
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
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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