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Spotlight Report

Praise, criticism of pope's position

By Matt Carroll and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 4/24/2002

Pope John Paul II's statement yesterday condemning sexual abuse by priests received mixed reaction from victims and their advocates and high praise from local clergy.

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''What matters is not what the pope does but what the bishops do. The key is going to be follow-up,'' said David Clohessy, a victim of clergy sexual abuse and the national director of the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. ''Our hope is that bishops understand that the pontiff wants these men to be prosecuted.''

Clohessy and other victims drew hope from a section of the pope's statement in which he said, ''The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society.''

''He's never gone that far before. It's a measure of progress,'' said Phil Saviano, another clergy abuse victim and director of the New England chapter of the survivors network.

But others who say they were molested by priests said the pope's remarks did not go far enough. ''He has not accepted responsibility at all,'' said Olan Horne, a Lowell resident who says he was abused by the late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham during the 1970s.

But several local priests applauded the pope for speaking out about a burgeoning crisis that has roiled the church in the United States since January, forcing the removal of dozens of priests from active ministry and the resignation of Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell as head of the Diocese of Palm Beach in Florida.

The pope ''was right on target,'' said the Rev. Brian R. Kiely, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Natick. ''He made a strong statement that there is no place in the priesthood for those who harm the young and I would agree with that.''

The Rev. Peter V. Conley, a Norfolk pastor and executive editor of The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, said the pope's words ''reflect the seriousness of the scandal in the United States and its devastating effect on trust.''

Conley also said, ''We're convinced that from this self-inflicted trial, a more purified priesthood and episcopate will emerge.''

The Rev. Robert J. Carr, a parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, said the pope's statement was as strong as could be expected. ''He said pedophilia is a grave sin and it has no place in the priesthood. How much stronger can you say it?''

But A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest and a psychotherapist who has written several books on clergy sexual misconduct, dismissed the pope's remarks as ''an absolute carbon copy of what the American bishops have been saying for 10 years.''

''It's an evasion of the responsibility and the accountability of the church,'' he added, ''and that was a great disappointment to me.''

Still, the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, a founder of the Boston Priests' Forum and critic of Cardinal Bernard F. Law's handling of the crisis, praised the pope's statement. ''It's focused on the crimes and the enormity of it and it's unequivocal,'' he said.

The crisis over clergy sexual abuse erupted in Boston in early January, after the Globe Spotlight Team reported that Law and his top deputies kept several priests in active ministry even though they knew those priests had been accused of sexual misconduct.

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 4/24/2002.
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