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Spotlight Report

  Steve Lynch protesting in front of Cardinal Bernard Law's residence in Brighton. (Globe Staff Photo / Bill Greene)

An accuser's quest for recognition

By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff, 3/3/2002

He was the lone protester outside the Park Plaza Hotel, when hundreds of priests met in the face of revelations that the archdiocese had hidden abuse. He was the one who wept the most publicly at a protest in front of Cardinal Bernard F. Law's residence. And he was the only one still there this past week, armed with a sign asking, ''Will anyone speak up?''

But Steve Lynch remains a puzzle. His case is unlike the vast majority of those detailed in recent weeks in which there are multiple accusers, strong evidence, and even some form of admission by the church.

The priest Lynch accuses is dead, and Lynch appears to be the only person who has alleged abuse by him. Lynch, 42, says he was raped as a 9-year-old, but did not remember the abuse until 1998, after some time in therapy. Two lawyers refused to take his case. After Lynch filed a complaint himself, the judge dismissed it after a 15-minute hearing, saying the statute of limitations had run out. The Globe has been unable to find evidence corroborating Lynch's allegations.

Yet Lynch continues his most public campaign to be recognized as a victim.

Frank Fitzpatrick, a victims activist who was abused by the Rev. James Porter, said every victim starts out alone. ''I was one voice, and there were a lot of people who weren't willing to do anything,'' he said. ''I had to find credibility on my own.''

Lynch recalls depression, short battle in court

Even unshaven and shadowed by a raincoat hood, Lynch looks a decade younger than his years. A former marathon runner who muses about meditation and mysticism, Lynch has turned his quest to be recognized as an abuse survivor into a full-time job. For four days last week, he rose early and took public transportation from his sister's house in Danvers to Law's compound in Brighton.

On Sundays, he waits - sometimes with one or two people - outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where Law says Mass. He has thrown himself into organizing church protests and carries photocopies of journal writings with headings like ''a healing journey.'' Some survivors say they worry that Lynch is spending so much time identifying himself as a victim because his case is considered so ambiguous.

''To be in Steve's situation and have no corroboration is unbearable,'' said one survivor who asked not to be named. ''I think in a case like that, it can become an obsession that rules your life.''

The ninth of 13 children, Lynch grew up in Danvers. He attended Catholic school - at St. Thomas the Apostle, where the Rev. Samuel Lombard taught - and sold newspapers with his brothers outside St. Agnes in Middleton, where Lombard eventually served. School, home life, and church were ''seamlessly connected,'' according to older sister Mary Scorzoni. Once a week, the family crowded around the living room radio to say the rosary with Cardinal Richard Cushing.

A talented runner, Lynch dashed his way through high school, college, and the next 18 years of his life, training eight hours a day in a routine his brothers described as ''driven.'' He moved to Seattle, where some of his siblings lived, training for marathons and working in elderly care.

But in 1995, his life fell apart, according to Lynch and his family members. That year, he qualified for the World Duathalon Championships but gave up running abruptly, grew depressed, traveled to India, and started therapy.

In 1998, when Lynch was arguing on the telephone with a bill collector, he says he realized why things had gone so wrong: He remembered being raped as a boy by his parish priest, he said.

''Psychologically, I guess you could classify it as a memory. Spiritually, it's a knowing,'' Lynch said.

When a friend of Lynch's informed the Archdiocese of Boston about it, he was told Lombard was dying. (He died in July 1998 at the age of 78. In scores of calls that the Globe has received in recent weeks from people alleging abuse by priests, none other than Lynch has mentioned Lombard.)

The church quickly agreed to pay for Lynch's therapy, but stressed the payment was in no way an acknowledgement of guilt. After about a year, the church stopped paying.

''I must also let you know that the archdiocese will not be providing you with $25,000 for counseling services,'' states one letter from Cornelius M. Hegarty, a clinical case manager for the archdiocese.

After Lynch moved back to Danvers and continued his demands, church officials told him to prove his case in court.

Two lawyers, Jeffrey Newman of Marblehead and a Seattle attorney, investigated the allegations but decided not to take Lynch's case. ''Without other victims or some fresh complaint, it makes it almost impossible to prove,'' said Newman, who has handled dozens of sex abuse allegations against churches. Newman stressed that he was speaking in general terms, not about Lynch specifically.

''Even if we feel it's genuine, it's not going to help the victim if we go forward and can't prove it,'' Newman said.

Lynch eventually filed suit on his own in September of last year, asking for $25,000, including compensation for ''taking 2 years off work to provide personal safety to begin and continue healing'' and $10,000 for therapy.

Essex County Judge Robert Cornetta dismissed the case, saying Lynch needed to file his claim within three years of informing the church of the alleged abuse.

For the past several years, Lynch's life has been a quest to be recognized as a victim: Tell his story, find other victims, and get an apology from the church.

During the high-profile trial of Middleton youth minister Christopher Reardon, who also served as an altar boy under Lombard, Lynch took his story to at least three media outlets who investigated his allegations, but none published them. Reardon, convicted of luring dozens of boys at St. Agnes into sexual acts, never accused Lombard of abuse.

Lynch said that he met with investigators in the Reardon case and that they told him Lombard had other victims.

But an investigator told The Globe last year that no other allegations against Lombard had surfaced. All investigators discovered was a picture of Lombard pinned up in the unfinished attic of the St. Agnes rectory, near the peephole where Reardon videotaped boys.

The year took its toll on Lynch.

''He probably thinks that people don't believe him,'' said his mother, Ruth. ''He asked me once, `Do you believe me?' and I said, `Of course I do.'''

Foundation challenges accuracy of memories

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation was founded by a Philadelphia couple whose daughter alleged abuse after a recovered memory in therapy. Its aim is to prove that memories are fragile and subject to unconscious suggestion, a theory that has recently found acceptance in mainstream science. The group works to discredit certain charges of abuse by proving that some recovered memories are fictions planted by therapy.

''Nobody else can know the historical accuracy of somebody else's memory,'' said Pamela Freyd, who founded the group with her husband. ''The only way we know the truth or the falsity of a memory is through external corroboration. Any memory of something that happened long ago is subject to interference by the things that happened in the intervening years.''

Cindi Desrosiers, a victim's activist with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said abuse allegations resulting from repressed memories are no less valid. Her own repressed memories about a Worcester Diocese priest who molested her when she was a child led to his admission of guilt and conviction. As sure as she was of her memory, she was relieved to learn of other victims by the same priest and evidence - a photograph of her as a child in the priest's office - to back up her allegation.

''At first when you remember this stuff, you think, `God am I crazy?' Could this terrible thing have happened to me and I forgot it?'' Desrosiers said. ''You really do doubt yourself.''

Lynch said he does not question his memory's accuracy.

''I cannot doubt the journey of my own soul,'' he said.

Still he said he is not ready to move on with his life.

''I need to know more about my own experience,'' Lynch said. ''I need to know, did Lombard abuse other victims?''

Last year, Lynch contacted Survivor Connections, which calls itself the ''True Memory Foundation,'' in the hopes that the group's extensive database could connect him with others alleging abuse by Lombard. It produced no match.

But, said Fitzpatrick, the activist who runs it, ''That's not rare at all.'' Every time someone calls with an allegation, the name of the alleged abuser is entered into the database. Of the database's roughly 1,000 priests, about 850 priests had just one call, he said.

Donna Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, declined to comment on the specifics of Lynch's case, but said, ''There have been instances of people making allegations of abuse of a minor by a member of a clergy that we have not been able to determine are true.'' In some instances, she said, the church has provided ''psychological and spiritual counseling.''

She also said the church sometimes provides victims of abuse with names of other people who have been abused by the same priest ''when it helps with their therapy,'' but would not comment on whether Lynch had been offered this assistance. At St. Agnes, a parish already rocked by Reardon's case, some said Lynch's allegations are difficult to believe.

Reached in Florida, Lombard's sister, Ursula Howard, said the first time she heard of an allegation against her brother was a few weeks ago when she watched Lynch accuse him on television.

''I would not put much faith in what he's saying. I truly think that fellow is lying and that he has found some people to back him up,'' Howard said, declining further comment.

In recent weeks, the victims movement has seen a revival. The local branch of SNAP, which hasn't met for about a year, is planning to resume regular meetings next month. E-mails and telephone conversations are flying back and forth among people who had long waged lonely campaigns for vindication.

And at victims rallies and other events, Lynch has been perhaps the most visible leader.

Yet his case puts others who say they were victims in a quandary. Having been disbelieved themselves for much of their lives, they say, the last thing they will do is doubt someone else's allegations of abuse. Yet many recognize that victims have the most to lose if the public begins to doubt the authenticity of a high-profile case.

''I think it's important that there is some skepticism and that there are some standards,'' said Phil Saviano, the New England coordinator of SNAP. Still, he said, everyone alleging abuse should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Saviano acknowledged that most pedophiles have multiple victims, but said, ''I think every victim has to accept the fact that he may be the only one.''

Meanwhile, Lynch stood in a hail storm Wednesday outside the cardinal's residence, holding his sign bearing Lombard's name and continuing his campaign to get the church to open its files.

''I have to play my role in this,'' he said. ''I didn't ask for this to happen to me.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 3/3/2002.
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