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Spotlight Report

Egan self-defense greeted skeptically

By Tatsha Robertson, Globe Staff, 3/24/2002

NEW YORK - If the parishioners at St. Patrick's Cathedral were any indicator, Cardinal Edward M. Egan offered his self-defense yesterday to a tough audience.

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Self-defense greeted skeptically

A letter from Egan, in which he insisted he had properly handled past allegations of sexual abuse by priests, was distributed to all parishioners of the Archdiocese of New York.

It was Egan's first response to reports that he did not respond aggressively or refer reports of abuse to civil authorities when he was the bishop of Connecticut from 1988 to 2000. In the letter, he also took a forceful stand against such misconduct and said it should always be reported to police.

While parishioners such as Steve Redenti of New York were encouraged that Egan addressed allegations against himself, he also said no religious leader - including the cardinal - should go unpunished if they did not tell the authorities about reports of sexual abuse by priests.

''I think there should be a strong stand against any kind of violation of anyone's sexual rights,'' said Redenti as he walked down the steps of the cathedral. ''There should be no shelter for religious leaders on any level for anyone, especially when the crime is against children. That is completely inexcusable.''

Many of the parishioners interviewed at St. Patrick's, who came from all over the nation, said they were uncertain whether the cardinal was being truthful about his actions in Connecticut. They nevertheless welcomed his strong suggestion that people should report suspected abuse to police first, which they saw as a shift from the church's secretive past practices.

Anne Barrett Doyle of Reading, Mass., was sitting on the steps of the cathedral late in the afternoon when she heard about the letter. She said she was happy to hear that Egan was taking a strong position against sexual abuse and that he was encouraging people to report it.

''I think that has to happen,'' said Doyle, who is a member of a coalition of concerned parishioners in Boston. But she added, ''I think what we really need from somebody is an admission that they minimalized this problem, that they really didn't in the end think it was all that bad that kids were being molested. Otherwise they would have stopped it.''

Doyle also wondered whether Egan's words were only rhetoric designed to protect him, or whether they came from his heart.

''What happens in Boston is that they say things like that,'' she said of church officials, ''but they turn over the names of the priest without the details and without the victims so that nothing could be done. ... We need to hear that Egan is really going to be cooperative.''

Nicholas Casner of New York wasn't hopeful.

''They have had this problem for many years, and they have not addressed it in any real serious way,'' he said. ''Of course, this is a civil matter because the law is broken here,'' he said of Egan's comments.

''You have minors involved, so certainly it should be reported civilly and the church should take a strong stand. But, they also need to find out what is the problem with their priests.''

This story ran on page A32 of the Boston Globe on 3/24/2002.
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