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Cardinal Law says he deplores abuse by priests

By Alison Bass, Globe Staff, 5/29/1992

In 1992, the Rev. James R. Porter case in Fall River brought the problem of clergy abuse into the open.  
Coverage of the Porter case
ive days after he launched an impromptu attack on the media coverage of a former Massachusetts priest accused of molesting scores of children in the 1960s, Cardinal Bernard Law yesterday appeared to soften his position in a message to his flock.

In his weekly column in The Pilot, the official newspaper of the archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Law reiterated comments he had made two weeks ago, deploring any kind of abuse by a priest and calling for compassion toward the victims of such abuse, their families, and the abusers themselves.

"My comments on the tragic case of a former priest of another diocese have evidently failed to convey the position of the Archdiocese of Boston," Cardinal Law wrote, explaining why he chose to revisit the issue in his Page 2 column.

Several of the people who say they were raped by James R. Porter while he was a priest in the Fall River diocese in the 1960s lauded Cardinal Law for his latest comments on the issue. They also said they viewed those remarks as a bid to undo some of the damage they say his weekend broadside on the media caused -- at least in public opinion of the Catholic Church. In a speech Saturday at an antiviolence march, Cardinal Law accused the media of overplaying coverage of the accusations against Porter and called down "God's power on the media, particularly the Globe."

"I've had calls from devout Catholics who are no longer going to church because of the statements he made over the weekend," said Steven Johnson, a Rhode Island resident who is one of the 48 persons who say they were raped or sexually molested by Porter. "There's no question Cardinal Law is trying to undo the damage his comments caused."

Johnson and other alleged victims said they hoped Cardinal Law's column yesterday indicated that he was going to address more directly the problem of sexual misconduct among Catholic clergy and offer greater assistance to the victims of such abuse. The cardinal has so far sidestepped their request that he set up an emergency fund to help pay for the crisis counseling of abuse victims who cannot afford such aid.

Such assistance, however, has now been offered by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said Roderick MacLeish Jr., attorney for nine of Porter's alleged victims. The nonprofit child welfare agency has offered to make its own psychotherapists available to counsel any alleged victim of Porter, regardless of whether they have private insurance or Medicaid to cover the cost.

"What we're saying is that if people don't have insurance, we're not going to turn them away," said Marcia Hertz, spokesperson for the MSPCC. "We'll work something out."

In his Pilot column, Cardinal Law reiterated that the archdiocese's policy is to offer "pastoral and psychological assistance" to the victims and their families. He also noted that allegations of abuse are "dealt with seriously, with attention to psychological, spiritual, pastoral and legal factors."

But he did not specifically outline what those factors were, what specific assistance was available to victims, or how the Church would work to ensure that other children are not similarly harmed. In recent weeks, a number of specialists in sexual abuse have said that the Catholic Church in Massachusetts has not taken as aggressive an approach toward addressing the problem as other religious denominations and youth organizations have. The archdiocese has stressed that it has a policy to address the problem.

"If Cardinal Law would come out and acknowledge -- as Bishop Louis E. Gelineau of Providence has done -- that in the past the church has not been willing or able to deal with pedophilia among its clergy but that it's going to do things differently in the future, that would make a lot of us feel a whole lot better," said John Robitaille, another Rhode Island resident who says he was raped by Porter while the priest served at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough in the 1960s. "And I think it would make Cardinal Law into a hero."

In his column last week in the Providence diocese's weekly newspaper, Bishop Gelineau acknowledged that the "terrible sickness of pedophilia rears its ugly head too often within clerical ranks." He also said the church was going to "great lengths" to screen candidates of the priesthood to prevent the recurrence of such problems.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 5/29/1992.
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