The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Alleged victims say they will go to Rome

They want to see the pope to discuss their abuse cases

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 3/11/2003

A carpenter, a butcher, and a painter from the North Shore, bonded together by their allegations of abuse at the hands of a single Boston priest, say they will board a jet for Rome next week in an effort to talk with the pope.

Gary Bergeron, Olan Horne, and Bernie McDaid, the three leaders of a group called Survivors of Joseph Birmingham, say they believe it is time for the pope to meet face to face with some of the victims whose stories have horrified the nation and members of their church over the past 14 months.

The three men have no appointment with the pope or any other Vatican official, and they say their pleas for help to the Archdiocese of Boston, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C., have thus far gone unanswered.

But they say they are undaunted by the long odds of winning an audience with the ailing pontiff, who has sharply curtailed his travel schedule, but is still receiving visitors most days.

News of the trip was first reported by WHDH-TV. Bergeron says that the first two times he visited archdiocesan offices in Brighton, he was unable to win a meeting with Cardinal Bernard F. Law, but that ultimately he was able to meet the Boston archbishop eight or nine times before Law resigned.

''I just think it's time,'' Bergeron said. ''I can't believe Rome would turn its back on us. I don't believe that's going to happen.''

Bergeron, a 40-year-old Lowell carpenter, and Horne, 44, a Salem butcher, say they were abused by Birmingham in the 1970s, when the priest was assigned to St. Michael Church in Lowell.

McDaid, a 40-year-old Lynn painter, says he was abused by Birmingham in the 1960s, when he was an altar boy at St. James Church in Salem. Birmingham is deceased.

Bergeron will be accompanied by his brother, Edward Bergeron of South Carolina, and his father, Joseph ''Eddie'' Bergeron of Lowell, who also say they were molested by priests.

Bergeron's brother, 39, says he, too, was a victim of Birmingham; his father, 77, says he was abused when he was an altar boy by a different priest in Lowell.

The five men are planning to depart for Rome on March 22 and to return on March 28.

McDaid said that if he meets the pope, he will offer a greeting in Polish, a language with which he has a passing familiarity, and then ''would ask him for some sort of atonement.''

Bergeron said, ''I would tell him that his people need help.''

The trip appears to be the first effort by victims to directly confront the pope.

Various groups have tried unsuccessfully to contact the Vatican, and in Canada last summer a group of victims tried unsuccessfully to persuade the pope to meet with them when he visited Toronto for World Youth Day.

''Over the years, people have tried desperately to write and get an appointment with the pope or other high-ranking Vatican officials, and they have generally been very frustrated,'' said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

''Certainly, the pope could have an impact,'' Clohessy said. ''He is a widely revered and respected man who could absolutely make a difference if he really put forth the effort.''

The pope has made a few public comments expressing sympathy for victims.

For example, in an address last April to the cardinals of the United States, he said, ''To the victims and their families, wherever they may be, I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern.''

And then in Toronto in July, he declared, ''The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame.''

But several cardinals have made public comments suggesting that the crisis has been exaggerated, and victims groups have been unhappy with the Vatican's response to the crisis, which has appeared to some to have been characterized by an emphasis on concern for the rights of accused priests.

A spokeswoman for the Boston Archdiocese referred calls on the trip to the Vatican.

A spokesman for the Vatican could not be reached late yesterday.

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest and author of ''Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church,'' said it is difficult to imagine the group winning an appointment with John Paul. Most people who have private meetings with the pope are high-ranking government officials who arrange appointments through an ambassador or high-ranking church officials who arrange appointments through the Vatican, Reese said.

''It is very difficult to get an appointment with the pope, and to go to Rome without already having had an appointment arranged is really a waste of time,'' he said. ''It just doesn't happen that way.

''Everybody in the world wants to meet with the pope,'' Reese said, ''and, especially now with his health reduced, he simply can't see everybody.''

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 3/11/2003.
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