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Law's Resignation Gives Comfort To Victims

Dec 13, 2002 | AP

The resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law brought relief, prayers and even some sadness from victims who in droves brought to light sordid allegations of sexual abuse by priests they once trusted.

''Thank heaven,'' said David Clohessy, director of the national group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. ''I hope there will be thousands of Boston Catholics and hundreds of Boston survivors who will feel better as a result.''

Law's resignation was accepted by Pope John Paul II Friday after nearly a year of almost-daily revelations about priests accused of sexually abusing children over the past four decades and church officials who covered it up.

Although the crisis erupted in Boston, it spread to dioceses across the country as thousands of allegations of clergy abuse surfaced and hundreds of lawsuits filed and investigations were launched.

In the Boston area alone, civil lawsuits were filed by more than 400 people who claimed they were abused by priests. In the past two weeks, thousands of pages of archdiocese personnel files stirred even more intense outrage as the allegations spread from molestation of young boys to priests abusing drugs and one who seduced girls studying to be nuns by telling them he was the ''second coming of Christ.''

Although many victims had been strident in their criticism of Law and had called for his resignation months ago, some were subdued in their reaction when the moment finally came.

''I don't want to say I'm happy because I'm not,'' said Anthony Muzzi Jr., who says he was molested by the Rev. John J. Geoghan for several years in the 1960s, starting from the time he was 11 years old.

''I truly believe in my heart that Law was not the only person who knew all the bad things that were going on,'' said Muzzi, who was among 86 alleged victims and their relatives who reached a $10 million settlement with the archdiocese in September.

Mark Keane, 33, of Merrimack, N.H., was 12 when he was molested by Geoghan at the Waltham Boys & Girls Club.

Keane called Law's resignation ''only a first step.''

''There are a lot of other people who were involved, a lot of other bishops ... but at least it shows that the pope is grasping the gravity of the situation. I just hope that it's a new beginning for the archdiocese in Boston.''

Ordinary Roman Catholics who watched the scandal mushroom over the past year had mixed reaction to Law's resignation.

Jay Januszewski, 37, of Haverhill, said he does not believe Law's resignation will have much of an effect on Catholics who moved away from the church because of the scandal.

''What are they going to do start going to church, start giving to the cardinal's fund?'' Colbert said after attending morning Mass at St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston. ''I think they're putting their faith in the wrong thing a person.''

John Colbert, 38, of East Taunton, said he believes Law was wrongly blamed for covering up abuse by priests that happened in dioceses around the country.

''I don't think it should all fall on his shoulders. It's not the policy of one man,'' he said.

But Colbert acknowledged that Law had lost his ability to lead, especially after 58 priests of the 550 active priests within the archdiocese called for his resignation this week.

''It's very difficult to move forward with that many people against you,'' he said.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., whose brother, John F. Kennedy, was the nation's first and only Catholic president, called Law's resignation the ''right thing to do for the victims, their families, the church and the whole of the Catholic community.

''Real closure is far off for the victims, their families and all that are hurt by the terrible pain of this ordeal. But today is the first step toward a new dawn in our hearts and in our church,'' Kennedy said in a statement.

On NBC's ''Today'' show Friday morning, Christopher Fulchino tearfully told a national audience about the abuse he endured by Geoghan. ''I think it is sad that he has had to resign, but I also think this is going to help, not just myself, but hundreds if not thousands of others to start healing,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly, who has been investigating possible criminal charges against church leaders who shielded allegations from their parishioners and prosecutors, said the probe will continue.

''Right now, we're on a fact-finding mission to determine what leadership knew. This is far beyond one person,'' Reilly said. ''There are other people that knew, other bishops, perhaps even the Vatican that were aware of the scope of the scandal.''

Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic group formed in response to the crisis, said the resignation is sad, but necessary, to recover from the scandal. Earlier this week, the fledgling group that now boasts 25,000 members across the country, called on Law to resign.

''There is relief and there is hope, but ... there is a profound sense of sadness about this,'' said Jim Post, president of the group. ''What we have to do now is turn 180 degrees, use openness, not secrecy.''

Boston attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents more than 200 alleged victims and held a news conference outside his home within moments of the resignation being announced, said Law's resignation was only a beginning to the process of helping victims.

''No one should believe that with the resignation of Cardinal Law this problem has ended, though this church is moving in a positive direction with this resignation,'' he said. ''This is a day potentially of the start of reconciliation.''

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