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Spotlight Report

SNAP urges Lennon role in legal fight

By Wendy Davis, Globe Correspondent, 3/29/2003

Advocates for victims of clergy abuse said they urged Bishop Richard G. Lennon yesterday during their long-awaited first meeting to tell church lawyers to stop fighting so aggressively the avalanche of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse.

William J. Gately, a leader of the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said Lennon contended that ''many of the tactics were not of his doing.'' But Gately said the bishop was noncommittal when pressed to get involved in the cases.

After meeting with Lennon for more than an hour at the bishop's Brighton residence, Gately and fellow SNAP leader Ann Hagan Webb said that he was ''cordial'' and ''professional,'' but that most of the points of contention were unresolved.

Church spokesman the Rev. Christopher Coyne declined to comment on the meeting.

''I think it was a beginning,'' Webb said. ''I will withhold my judgment... until I see if he does things any differently.''

Gately and Webb said they urged Lennon to tell church lawyers to drop their argument that the cases filed by some 500 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests should be dismissed based on the First Amendment principle of the separation of church and state. They also contended that lawyers of the accused priests were demanding access to the alleged victims' therapy records.

''Actions and words need to be consistent,'' said Gately, who has been a harsh critic of church leaders for espousing the need for healing and a commitment to helping victims while taking a hard line against alleged victims in lawsuits.

According to Gately, Lennon said the decision to raise a First Amendment defense church was made by lawyers and the insurance company. Lennon also said the lawyers seeking psychological records were representing individual priests or bishops, not the church, Gately contended.

Gately said he initially requested an audience with Lennon last December but nothing was arranged until he wrote a letter to the bishop two weeks ago.

During the meeting, Gately and Webb said they also asked Lennon to back legislation eliminating the statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes and to increase penalties for failing to report sexual abuse. Lennon responded that he could not take a position until he studied the proposals, according to Gately and Webb.

Calling the meeting ''productive,'' Gately said, ''It was an opportunity to establish a dialogue.''

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 3/29/2003.
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