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Spotlight Report

Reaction to abuse measures is mixed

By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff, 6/16/2002

Boston-area Catholics yesterday said they think last week's gathering of bishops in Dallas made ''a good start'' in addressing clergy sexual abuse, but they made it clear there is much more work to be done.

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Reaction to measures mixed

A few said the conference - and the policy changes adopted there - made them feel more hopeful than at any point since the crisis erupted in January. But others expressed deep disappointment that more sweeping reform was not accomplished, and fear that the protective charter will not be fully enforced.

On Dorchester Avenue, where Irish pubs alternate with Vietnamese restaurants, the mood of local Catholics was more skeptical than optimistic. Paul Shea, a longtime resident of the Savin Hill neighborhood, shook his head, pausing to light a cigarette after an afternoon trip to the drugstore.

He, like many observers, criticized the bishops' decision to allow abusers to remain in the priesthood, even in positions where they would be kept apart from children.

''I thought they would come down hard, but it looks like they're sweeping it under the rug again,'' Shea said. ''They should look after the children, not the priests ... The average person can't do anything, and it's very frustrating.''

Up the street, John E. Hanson sounded even more cynical: ''It's what you call a facade,'' he said of the bishops' meeting. ''They're not interested in the flock.''

Appalled by stories of abusive priests who were moved from parish to parish, many Catholics have felt angry and betrayed. Yesterday, many acknowledged the widespread mistrust of church leaders, and the obstacle it presents in moving forward.

''There's a lot of angry people who are probably not going to be satisfied, regardless of what the bishops do,'' said Bob Scannell, a parishioner at St. Agatha's parish in Milton.

Luise Dittrich of Wellesley, a member of Voice of the Faithful, a group with 150 statewide chapters that favors more parishioner involvement in church problem-solving,

also wasn't comforted by the bishops' end product, which she said should have reflected zero tolerance for priests who abuse. ''It's sort of sad, because they came so close to doing the right thing, and at the end they wimped out,'' she said. ''They had one eye on Rome, instead of two eyes on the victims.''

Other church members came away more encouraged by changes that include mandatory background checks for parish personnel who work with children, required outreach to abuse victims, mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to police, and a ban on most legal confidentiality agreements.

Marcelle Foucre, a Medfield Catholic, said abusive priests shouldn't have contact with laypeople, but acknowledged the question of their expulsion is complex, ''because we're supposed to be a church of forgiveness.''

She said it was important to see the bishops listening to abuse victims at the conference, and reacting with emotion, after months when they seemed removed, even arrogant, to many church members.

''It made me feel there's a chance for the church to heal,'' she said. ''This week I feel was a turning point.''

The new policies ''won't prevent everything, but it will be a uniform approach,'' said Mary Beth Donlan of Quincy, who attended afternoon Mass yesterday at St. Agatha's.

Paul Brady, a retired butcher from Waltham and a practicing Catholic, said he hopes the bishops' meeting planted seeds of lasting change. But he admitted a ''lingering doubt, because the people talking about it are the same people who perpetrated it ... It seems to me the door has been left open a little bit.''

Globe Correspondent Ray Henry contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A26 of the Boston Globe on 6/16/2002.
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