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Spotlight Report

March of anguish

Hundreds join walk through city to show support for the victims of clergy sex abuse

By Michael S. Rosenwald, Globe Staff, 6/24/2002

They marched single-file. If they needed to talk, they whispered. They began on Boston Common and snaked their way through the city, past the homeless, past morning joggers, past people in diners looking up from their scrambled eggs.

Many of the 300 or so marchers held signs with pictures of little boys and girls, or grown men and women, or just shadows of faces with the words ''Jane Doe'' underneath. One woman held a picture of a little boy with the caption, ''Phil: His mom never knew.''

There were 60 such pictures - all of them alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests - and when the line filed past a church, three women standing on the front steps looked at the snapshots and then clapped for several minutes.

They were headed yesterday for the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, Cardinal Bernard F. Law's home church and the scene of weekly protests since the clergy abuse scandal began nearly six months ago.

They were victims, relatives of victims, and people who never knew a victim but sympathized anyway. When they reached the steps of the cathedral, several claiming to be victims told their stories - as much an exercise in therapy as a lesson in betrayal and nightmare.

In 1979, John Harris went to a priest for counseling while trying to come to terms with his sexuality and religion. ''Then he raped me,'' Harris said. Several people looking on gasped.

Steve Lewis remembers that, in the days after he was abused as a boy, he was sent to his bedroom as a punishment for something he had done. He lay on his bed crying. And then he got up, he said, he went over to a crucifix hanging on the wall, and spat on it.

''How could you let this happen to me?'' he said then.

Bill Gately didn't know what to say. Knowing he was going to speak yesterday, he found himself without words as he tried to write down his thoughts. So he went for a walk, and what came to him were not words but faces of victims he had met recently.

He began imagining them as children, when ''they were young and innocent.'' He began to cry.

''I'd like to think our innocence wasn't stolen,'' he said. ''We are as innocent today as the day we were born.''

These days, he said, it's hard for him even to open Christmas presents, for he doesn't know what he'll have to do to maintain friendships with people. As he put it, ''All of our growth in life is experienced through a cloud of betrayal.''

Gately, as well as Lewis and others, criticized the church's handling of the scandal, particularly the actions of Law, who was in Washington, D.C., yesterday on church business, his spokeswoman said.

''Although they are impediments to change,'' Gately said, ''they can never serve as an excuse to stop it.''

Representatives from the Boston Archdiocese attended the event, organized by the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, but invited state and federal government officials - including Acting Governor Jane Swift, several members of Congress, and gubernatorial candidates - did not.

''This is a very cathartic thing for people,'' said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, an archdiocese spokesman.

''If any good can come out of all this, something like this event lets victims know they are not alone,'' he said. ''And it might help others to come forward to get the type of help they need, if they need it.''

Michael S. Rosenwald can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 6/24/2002.
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