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Spotlight Report

  From left, abuse victims William Oberle and Patrick McSorley at a news conference with their lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian. (Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)

Abuse victims react with relief, reflection

By Sacha Pfeiffer and Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002

 About Cardinal Law
Career timeline: Priest to cardinal
Changing statements on abuse
Coverage of his career in Boston

 Photo gallery
Photo gallery: Cardinal Law through the years
Cardinal Law through the years

 Official statements
Cardinal Law on his resignation
Groups, officials, clergy react

 Related stories
The resignation
Law steps down, pope accepts
Scandal eclipses a long record
In cardinal's final days, a firestorm
Admission of awareness damning
Rare speed displayed by Rome
Focus moves to Law's deputies
The successor
Pope's choice to receive scrutiny
Lennon called a skilled manager
Memo cited in '90s abuse case
Abuse victims react with relief
Catholics cling to hope of rebirth
Priests see sadness and hope
Many Latinos find foregiveness
Only Ch. 4 cut back coverage
Law deposition may be on hold
Archdiocese faces 'mess' in court
Scandal's impact
Abuse patterns found nationwide
Around world, scandal takes toll
Editorial: The cardinal's departure
Op-ed: Law captain of his own fall

A tumultuous year for archdiocese

 Message board readers react to Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation.
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There was more somber reflection than loud rejoicing, more a sense of solemnity than victory, more anxiety about the future than anger about the past.

As news that Pope John Paul II had accepted Cardinal Bernard F. Law's resignation as Boston archbishop blanketed airwaves, dominated newscasts, and consumed conversations yesterday, many of the hundreds of men and women victimized by sexually abusive clergy members were awash with relief and acutely aware that resolving the crisis would take more than the departure of one man.

''The fact that he had to wait for the pope's permission to resign is a sign that the power structure is still intact,'' said Peter Pollard, who has filed a lawsuit alleging abuse more than 30 years ago by the Rev. George J. Rosenkranz, who has been on sick leave since 1990. ''It's a bureaucracy that's organizing itself around protecting itself and protecting its power - and Law became dispensable, or became a liability.''

Lucille Farr of Santa Rosa, Calif., who said she bore a child 35 years ago with Rev. Louis W. Dunn of Rhode Island, now deceased, expressed surprise at Law's resignation, but questioned its ultimate effect.

''Like someone else said, until a bishop goes to jail, you won't see the kind of change you need,'' said Farr, who was one of several women who brought abuse charges against Dunn, who allegedly began molesting her when she was 18 and he was at Our Lady of Providence parish in Rhode Island.

For her, she added, Law's resignation brought no closure. ''My satisfaction would come from seeing real change. It's too late for me,'' Farr said. ''They stole my faith, and it was so deep and so precious that they can't restore it for me.''

The Boston Archdiocese is facing legal claims and lawsuits from at least 500 people who say they were sexually abused by clergy, and has already paid at least $40 million in settlements to an unknown number of additional alleged victims.

Michael Barros, one of dozens of alleged victims of the late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, who died in 1989, said he had ''mixed feelings'' about Law's resignation. In October, Law visited his Lowell home to bless his son, who was born with a severe handicap that left him blind and unable to speak or walk. And Law sent his son a teddy bear when he turned 7 last month, Barros said.

''To tell you the truth, I feel a little bad for him, because he inherited this mess and he entrusted people to do the right thing and he's taking the heat for everybody,'' Barros said. ''Yes, he realizes he made mistakes and realizes what he did was wrong, and he's taking blame for it. But I feel bad because he's taking too much blame.''

''The laity felt like this had to happen to move forward, and I kind of agree with that,'' Barros added. ''But it's a double-edged sword as far as how I'm feeling.''

Law's resignation is an important step, but the scandal is far from over, some victims said.

''The crisis didn't begin with Cardinal Law and won't end with Law,'' said Sue Archibald, president of Link Up, a Kentucky-based victim advocacy group, who was allegedly abused by a priest for two years in the mid-1980s beginning when she was 18. ''What has come out of Boston over the last year is just an indicator of how widespread and severe the problems are.''

Other victims said they had long assumed Law's departure was inevitable, so his resignation came as little surprise.

''At this stage he didn't have any choice,'' Pollard said. ''It doesn't feel like it's a reflection of anything other than that he was backed into a corner.''

Some victims said Law's exit was happy news.

''This sure as heck is a nice way to start my vacation,'' Robert F. Costello, an alleged victim of the late Rev. John M. Cotter who received a settlement from the Boston Archdiocese in 1995, said as he prepared to leave for a trip to Florida. ''I never thought I'd see this day.'' Cotter died in 1989.

Alleged victims also appeared yesterday at two news conferences, one in a hotel ballroom, the other in a lawyer's conference room.

In the Constitution Ballroom of the Sheraton, a large gathering of alleged victims and their relatives, lawyers, and people who have protested the church's handling of priest sexual abuse spoke for more than a hour about Law's resignation.

The most emotional moment came when a father and his son, both victims of clergy sexual abuse, addressed the crowd. ''Today's a mixed-feeling kind of day,'' Thomas Fulchino said, as his son, Christopher, tearfully watched. ''We all feel sad, but we feel this is a major step in the right direction.''

Christopher Fulchino could barely speak, but he exhorted other victims to stay strong. ''I'm glad that the cardinal did resign,'' he said to loud applause. ''I'm glad that this day finally came.''

Across town, at another news conference, attorney Mitchell Garabedian, appearing alongside three alleged victims, proclaimed yesterday ''a very historic day.'' One of his clients, William Oberle, an alleged victim of the Rev. Paul Mahan, who was defrocked in 1998, hesitated when asked whether he could heed Law's plea for forgiveness issued as part of his resignation statement.

''As a Catholic, I have some sympathy for the devil, but he took an active role in covering up the victimizations of quite possibly hundreds - thousands - of individuals,'' Oberle said. ''... I will never, ever forget those pains. They will never go away. All the money in the world, all the resignations of all those responsible, will never change that for any one of us.''

Matt Carroll and Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
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