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Spotlight Report

Protester arrested outside N.H. church

Refuses order to leave sidewalk

By Michael S. Rosenwald and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 2/3/2003

A persistent protester against the Catholic Church's handling of clergy sexual abuse cases was arrested yesterday morning outside a Manchester, N.H., church on charges of disorderly conduct after refusing a police order that he leave a public sidewalk, authorities said.

At one of several protests in the region by a group called Speak Truth To Power, Richard Webb, a Wellesley physicist, was on a sidewalk outside St. Catherine's Church, where embattled Bishop John B. McCormack was saying Mass.

Webb, along with a dozen protesters, were told by police officers that they had to stand in a snowbank, according to his wife, Ann Hagan Webb, and another protester, Ruth Moore.

Her husband started to walk on the sidewalk, said Hagan Webb, the New England co-director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Police told him not to. He told police that it was a public space, but officers told him that the church had shoveled snow from it and had a right to control who walked on it.

Webb, who celebrated his 50th birthday last April while protesting at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End, refused to move and was arrested.

After posting $250 bail, Webb told the Globe he had been told by officers at the church that he would be charged with trespassing. The charge was later changed to disorderly conduct, ''which must mean that it was public property,'' Webb said.

''But I wasn't being disorderly,'' Webb said. ''I never raised my voice. I was just standing there.''

Manchester police Lieutenant Jim Stankiewicz said that the church had asked police to keep protesters in a specific area so they wouldn't interfere with parishioners' ''safe passage'' into the church.

Stankiewicz said an area, on a snow bank, had been set up 25 feet away from the church for protesters so parishioners wouldn't have to step into the street to pass them. Webb ''knowingly refused to comply with an order from a peace officer to move from a public space,'' which is disorderly conduct, Stankiewicz said.

A diocese spokesman had no comment. Webb said he will plead not guilty at an arraignment in Manchester District Court tomorrow.

Webb is the second person with ties to Boston protests to be arrested in the clergy sexual abuse crisis. A Danvers man was arrested after striding to the pulpit of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross last March as Cardinal Bernard Law was about to give his homily, saying, ''I'm standing before you, Cardinal, and I'm taking my power back that your church stole from me.''

Steven Lynch, who says he was abused by a priest, was arrested for disturbing the peace and disrupting a religious service, to which he pleaded not guilty. The status of his case is unknown.

Protesters also gathered at St. Paul's Cathedral in Worcester and Holy Cross cathedral in Boston. In Worcester, Boston-area members of Speak Truth To Power helped a Worcester chapter with its first protest outside St. Paul's Cathedral, where Bishop Daniel P. Reilly was saying Mass.

The Worcester chapter, along with several other victims' organizations, is demanding that Reilly and the Worcester Diocese publicly release personnel files of priests accused of sexual abuse.

A spokesman for the diocese said yesterday that officials are cooperating by turning over all requested documents to law enforcement authorities and attorneys of victims in civil suits.

After an argument between one of the protesters and a parishioner, the group honored the seven astronauts killed in the space shuttle Columbia explosion with a moment of silence and eight roses, one for each victim and one for their families and loved ones.

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 2/3/2003.
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