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Spotlight Report

Abuse victims decry cardinal's letter as insult

By Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 4/13/2002

It was, some of them said, nothing less than a spit in the face.

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Outrage and disbelief were the prevailing emotions yesterday among many victims of clergy sex abuse and their family members, as they reacted to Cardinal Bernard F. Law's announcement that he would remain archbishop of Boston ''as long as God gives me the opportunity.''

''He has got gall, and I mean unmitigated gall,'' said Jack Regan, whose son received a settlement from the Boston archdiocese for his alleged abuse by the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin in the 1970s. ''He's shameless. To have been involved the way he's been involved, he's a criminal. He's absolutely criminal.''

''I'm flabbergasted,'' said Phil Saviano, a victim of clergy sexual abuse and director of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

''It's astounding to me that he could think there would be anybody left, besides maybe Ray Flynn, who would have confidence in his ability to lead the archdiocese out of this crisis. He has to be in complete denial about the seriousness of these issues.''

''I could scream,'' added Arthur Austin, who alleges he was sexually abused in the 1960s and '70s by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, whose advocacy of sex between men and boys was revealed in church documents made public this week.

''If I had him in my presence I would slap him across the face,'' Austin said of Law. ''He might as well spit on us. In fact, he has. That's what this amounts to. This is, `You think you're going to get rid of me? I'm Bernard Law. I'm a prince of the church.'''

Still reeling from recent revelations about the archdiocese's gentle handling of abusive priests and dismissive treatment of victims, many clergy abuse survivors said they doubted Law could summon the respect and unity necessary to bring about change and healing.

Others said they believed Law's role in the crisis makes him a symbol of the very problems plaguing the church; in the last 10 years, under Law's leadership, the archdiocese has quietly settled child molestation claims against at least 70 priests.

''For him to think that he can be of any value in this role is proof in itself that he doesn't understand that he's a culprit, that what he's done is in many ways as damaging as what the priests have done,'' said Peter Pollard, who has filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by the Rev. George Rosenkranz. ''The very fact that he doesn't get that makes him incapable of participating in the solution.''

If Law stays, added Austin, ''He's just going to do exactly what he's been doing, which is issuing statements about how sorry he is and about his zero-tolerance policy, which as far as I can tell is like a screen door without a screen in it.''

Other victims repeated calls for Law to answer to prosecutors for his involvement in the scandal.

''This is like a criminal telling me, `Listen, I am the best person to prevent break-ins because I've done them in the past,''' said Olan Horne, who alleges that Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham molested him in Lowell in the 1970s, and says he has made contact with 25 other Birmingham victims in Lowell alone. ''This is a criminal activity, as far as I'm concerned. For him to even have the audacity to stay - he's operating in the surreal.''

''Stepping down is nothing,'' added Regan, who said Paquin's alleged abuse of his son in Methuen began when he was 11 and continued until he was about 14. ''He should be in jail.''

At least one alleged victim advocated patience and restraint amid the growing unrest and discontent among local Catholics, saying that Law should be given an opportunity to make up for past wrongs.

''I'd be willing to give him some more time,'' said William Oberle, who has filed a lawsuit accusing Rev. Paul J. Mahan of sexually molesting him and his brother, Paul, in 1969 when their mother was a regular parishioner in St. Ann Church in Dorchester. William was about 12 at the time; Paul was 8.

''A lot of us would have liked to see him gone, and that would have been a good thing, too, because new blood never hurt anything,'' Oberle added. ''But after talking to a friend I have a different perspective. See how he handles the next few months, and if he doesn't do anything then he should be gone.''

But many other victims said the cardinal's decision to remain at the helm has added to their perception that he and other church officials are unable or unwilling to comprehend the toll the abuse has taken on victims. ''For years they've ignored everyone's misery, everyone's suffering, for the sake of pursuits they believe were great causes, like the ministries of their church,'' said Horne. ''But I can't believe there's any greater cause to answer to than human suffering.''

''This is just a spitting in every single one of our faces, and a further kicking of us when we're down,'' he added. ''This is going to split the church. At this point he's disgracing the institution.''

Still others said Law's insistence that he continue to lead the archdiocese shows he is out of touch with public sentiment.

''It's like they're speaking a different language and living in a different reality,'' said Pollard. ''There's this notion that they are in a position of forgiving sins or determining what is right or wrong, and that they have this incredible ability by virtue of their authority to make things right, to heal. They feel they have all the moral authority in the world.''

Law ''is just a dead weight, a dead thing at the top of this diocese,'' added Austin. ''And if Catholics can live with that, knowing what they know now, then I don't even know how to say shame on them ... because they will be the blind, unthinking sheep they have been for the past 2,000 years.

''If people don't see now how entrenched this evil is and how supported it is by Rome,'' he said, ''all I can say is they deserve the Catholic Church that they get.''

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at

Michael Rezendes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 4/13/2002.
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