O’Malley apology elicits a rebuke
Alleged victim says comments ‘disingenuous’
A man who alleges he was sexually abused by a priest in Lowell in the 1980s said yesterday that Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley’s apology for remarks by the current pastor, who attacked the priest’s alleged victims as “cowards,’’ is inadequate.
“I find it very disingenuous,’’ said the man, now in his 30s, who asked not to be identified. “The only reason the cardinal issued the statement was because’’ the pastor “decided to use Mass as a podium.’’
In a statement read by an archdiocesan bishop last weekend at Holy Trinity Church in Lowell, O’Malley said that Monsignor Stanislaw Kempa’s use of the pulpit Dec. 11 to criticize the alleged victims was “unauthorized and uncharitable.’’
Kempa had lashed out at three anonymous men who, two days before, alleged through their lawyer that the Rev. Czeslaw Szymanski abused them repeatedly when they were altar boys at Holy Trinity a quarter-century ago. Szymanski, who began serving there in 1981, died in an automobile accident in 1987.
“I want to express my deepest apology to all that the pulpit, a place reserved for the proclamation and teaching of the word of God, was used as a platform for harmful words to be expressed against members of this parish,’’ O’Malley wrote.
Kempa “has taken responsibility for his hurtful actions,’’ diocesan officials said, without elaborating. Counseling has been offered to the alleged victims, and the archdiocese “is working to resolve the claims’’ against Szymanski, said Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese.
The monsignor, who has met with archdiocesan officials, “clearly understands where we’re coming from on this,’’ Donilon said. Whether Kempa will celebrate Mass at Holy Trinity this Christmas weekend remained unclear yesterday.
“What’s really at the forefront here is the concern and compassion we have for the folks who found his comments out of line,’’ Donilon said. “We’ll kind of go day by day here, and we’ll be communicating with the parish at the appropriate time.’’
Carmen Durso of Boston, the lawyer for Szymanski’s alleged victims, said his clients are more interested in transparency and accountability than pursuing a monetary settlement from the archdiocese.
“My clients are reluctant to do that immediately until we know that other people who are out there have their say as well,’’ said Durso. After speaking with his clients, Durso said, he suspects that Szymanski might have abused many altar boys.
The abuse, he said, included fondling and other inappropriate touching in the sacristy before Mass. “They were kids who were so young they did not understand sexuality,’’ Durso said.
The alleged victim who criticized O’Malley said some parishioners and Holy Trinity staff members knew about the abuse.
“I would like to call out the people of that parish who were there,’’ the alleged victim said. “I’m talking about the clergymen. I’m talking about teachers, parents, and parishioners who were there who knew what was going on.’’ The man said Szymanski sexually abused him from 1983 to 1987, beginning when he was 6 years old.
“When you’re abused, it’s like this slow burning fire that kind of just runs hotter at certain times in your life and never really goes away,’’ the alleged victim said. “I’m looking for some peace and looking to put that fire out. This is about . . . taking accountability for myself and accountability for the organization that caused these things to happen to me.’’
Another alleged victim said he appreciated the cardinal’s gesture. However, he added, “No one seems to be really taking responsibility for Szymanski. It would be nice if the archdiocese would say, ‘OK, this guy was our responsibility.’ ’’
Szymanski, who was ordained in Poland, was not an archdiocesan priest but a member of the Order of St. Paul the First Hermit when he was named associate pastor at Holy Trinity Church, which serves the Polish community in the Lowell area.
His assignment ended in April 1987, five months before his death at age 45.
Durso said the case shows the archdiocese has fallen short of its pledges to be transparent and accountable in its dealing with allegedly abusive priests. Another alleged victim lodged a sexual-abuse complaint against Szymanski with the archdiocese in 2009, but it was never reported to the parish, Durso said.
Archdiocesan officials said they notified law enforcement officials and respected the complainant’s wishes about notification.
“The real story here is not about the poor pastor, who I think is sort of a fall guy in all this,’’ Durso said. “What should have happened in 2009 is what they did when they heard about the pastor making a statement: sent a bishop, sent a pastoral letter, and notified all the parishes.’’
MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.