Over the past 14 years, thousands of survivors of sexual abuse by priests and their supporters have maintained a vigil every Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in downtown Boston. We have protested lies, broken promises, and survivor re-victimization by the Catholic Church and its hierarchy; we have supported men and women survivors in dealing with the horrors of abuse; we have demanded change in a Church that for too long denied and facilitated and covered up the rape of children.
Yet some parishioners still ask: “Why are you demonstrating? What do you want?”
In January 2002, the Globe Spotlight team published the story of how Cardinal Bernard F. Law, Bishop John McCormack, and others in Boston had transferred priests who had sexually abused children from parish to parish, where they continued to abuse even more young people. The reporters’ skill and courage in exposing the crimes that one of the most powerful institutions in Boston had committed is dramatically presented in the movie “Spotlight,” which is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture this year. Everyone should see it.
But the movie stops with the initial revelation in 2002.
The survivors and their supporters who have stood outside the Cathedral every Sunday for 14 years since then are committed to keeping the issue of sexual abuse of children by priests alive. By their presence, they validated the truth of what survivors were saying and made a commitment that survivors would never be alone again. What this meant to survivors needs to be heard.
Here’s what some of them say:
I knew every Sunday that I wasn’t forgotten. When I first came out in 1992, I thought I was the only one. There was nobody. I did a protest with a friend. I was threatened with arrest and punched in the nose. With all the hatred and disbelief, I really felt alone. And then there were people standing there, taking risks, and knowing the issue. And 14 years after the revelations in the Globe, they are still there. It means that I’m not crazy. All these years, I wasn’t crazy.
When I remembered, it was such a bombshell. Seeing people in front of the Cathedral, I knew that no matter what, we weren’t swept under the rug.
You were a beacon of light shining on that corner, and you gave hope to all who couldn’t be there. You don’t know how many peoples’ lives you touched by being there.
The first thing I wanted people at the cathedral and everywhere to know is that it was not only boys who were sexually and ritually abused by priests, but that girls were also raped, molested, tortured, and ritually abused by these so-called “men of god.” And I found I wasn’t alone. People still don’t know that 30 to 40 percent of those abused by priests were young girls.
Despite all of the publicity and the apologies and the asking for forgiveness, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston only came out to the sidewalk once briefly after his installation ceremony. He told us that every Sunday he said Mass at the Cathedral, he would come out to greet us. He never came. That’s not being a missionary to the marginalized. Shame on him.
When Cardinal O’Malley was appointed to Boston, we felt that finally something positive might come from our experiences that were absolutely horrific. A group of 22 survivors came together and prepared a detailed set of recommendations, “A Call To Reform the Archdiocese of Boston, MA.” We contacted Cardinal O’Malley. He refused to meet with us … three times!
The supporters of survivors on the sidewalk outside the Cathedral were there not only to bear witness to the evil perpetrated by priests, but they were there to demand change in the Church.
- We said we want a Catholic Church that stops bishops from shifting abusers from parish to parish. On Feb. 29, 1996, Cardinal Law sent a letter to Paul Shanley, a known sexually abusing priest who was later convicted of sex crimes and sent to prison. He wrote: “This letter offers me an opportunity to thank you in my name and in the name of the people of the Archdiocese …. For thirty years … you brought God’s Word and His Love to His people and I know that that continues to be your goal despite some difficult limitations. That is an impressive record and all of us are truly grateful ….” That attitude of not confronting, but facilitating, abusing priests came from a “Prince” of the Church who is still a cardinal living a comfortable retirement in Rome.
- We want a Church that holds cardinals and bishops accountable for their failures to protect young boys and girls from sexual abuse. Both Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Bishop John Clayton Nienstedt of Minneapolis and St. Paul were induced to resign for their failures in handling priest sex abuse issues in their dioceses. But in both cases, the Church hid behind benign reasons in canon law for their resignations. It was not clearly stated that they were being held accountable for their failures in dealing with abusing priests. They both remain bishops.
- We want the Church to stop fighting the elimination of the statute of limitations on priest abuse cases with its paid lawyers and lobbyists. How many of those parishioners who say they see no reason for continued demonstrations to support survivors know that their money in the collection baskets pays to lobby against allowing victims of abuse to file claims against priests and the Church?
- We want a pope who does not appoint a bishop in Chile (Juan de la Cruz Barros in Osorno) who witnessed and covered up the abuse of victims by a known predator priest (Fernando Karadima). Calling for the bishop’s resignation, lay Catholics have recently occupied their local cathedral. Revealingly, Pope Francis was earlier captured on a video speaking spontaneously in St. Peter’s Square where he called the people of Osorno “stupid” for opposing their new bishop.
- We want a Cardinal O’Malley who will finally publish the list and release the files of all the priests who have abused children in the archdiocese of Boston. The diocese did release a list of 159 names, although it publically recognized that 250 archdiocesan priests had been accused of preying on children. In addition, it should name the offending religious order of the priests, brothers, and nuns who have worked in the diocese.
- And we want a Cardinal O’Malley who, in his role as chairman of the papal commission on abuse (the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors), will do more after two years than call for the development of “protocols” to deal with abuse and hold workshops in Costa Rica, but will, for the first time, take action to expose and remove cardinals and bishops who have coddled and enabled predatory priests in their criminal, sinful behavior.
On Jan. 10, 2016, we stood for the weekly vigil for truth on the sidewalk in front of the Cathedral, some for the last time. There had been a hope that our advocacy and the pictures of the sexually abused children we carried would generate significant change in the Church. But when Pope Francis praised the “courage” of bishops for the way they faced the sexual abuse issue in his September 2015 speech to the US bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, he endorsed the behavior of the cardinals and bishops that condoned, assisted, and protected predatory priests in the past, and implicitly gave them license to continue this behavior in the future. Just as Cardinal Law praised Paul Shanley, so the Pope praised his bishops. When the boss praises this behavior in his troops, shouldn’t we expect more of the same cover-up and assistance to predators in avoiding criminal sanctions?
It may take scores of years, but there needs to be a sustained cadre of people who will keep up the fight to create a Church that will protect children from abuse by its priests. That is why we have demonstrated every Sunday for 14 years.
Submitted by survivors Robert Costello, Kathy Dwyer, and Brian Harlow, and supporters Paul Kellen, Lucia Mudd, and John Mudd.