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Faces Put On Scarred Lives At Rally

Jan 27, 2003 | Nashua Telegraph

Emblazoned on placards, their young faces peered toward St. Joseph Cathedral.

Male and female, photographed at various stages of childhood, they had their lives wrecked by allegedly sexually abusive priests. As a result, they lost faith in God, father figures and in some cases, life.

Their visages provided a silent script to a solidarity march outside the cathedral Sunday: remind Catholics of New Hampshire that clergy abuse knows no state boundary.

That message also had a voice in about 250 people. They held the photographs aloft, told the victims’ stories and claimed that Bishop John McCormack had a hand in many abuse cases by keeping offending priests in ministry while he served the Archdiocese of Boston.

“I respect those attending Mass,” Ann Hagan Webb, a New England-based coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the crowd outside the cathedral.

“But the path to moral salvation cannot be found in there. The moral heart of the New Hampshire church is out here,” she said.

Most of the marchers clearly wanted McCormack’s resignation, and their demands served as a subtext to the march. A sizable number of those who attended hailed from states other than New Hampshire, with many coming from Massachusetts.

When Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as head of the Boston archdiocese last month, numerous alleged victims immediately expressed their desire to remove McCormack from his post across the border. Some observers of the church in New Hampshire, though, predicted that Granite State Catholics – regardless of where they stood on McCormack – would not tolerate Massachusetts residents telling them how to act.

“I know many of you from New Hampshire do not want us here,” said John Valenti, who claims a Boston archdiocese priest abused him in New Hampshire. “But clergy abuse knows no boundaries.”

Valenti pointed to the Diocese of Manchester entering into a criminal plea deal with the state and privately settling alleged victims’ lawsuits as proof that the abuse detailed in Boston exists here.

Perhaps, because of the stated theme of the march to support victims or the cold weather, no counter-protesters surfaced. Only one St. Joseph parishioner made waves by walking through the heart of the rally, instead of to the side as others had done, and calling the marchers “damn fools.”

Police helped parishioners enter the cathedral for morning Mass. Their arrival coincided with the start of the march around the cathedral, so police often stopped the procession line to give parishioners access to the church.

The survivor network’s national director, David Clohessy, tried to assuage the state’s Catholics. He asked that they not think of victims’ groups as confrontational but rather as agents of church reform.

“I ask those in New Hampshire to keep an open heart and open mind,” Clohessy said. “You will see things that will upset you. Don’t let quotes or sayings block your compassion.”

The New Hampshire chapter of the lay group Voice of the Faithful sponsored the march along with the national Coalition of Catholics and Survivors. Also participating were members of the grass-roots laity organization Speak Truth to Power.

Clohessy joined two other nationally recognized speakers: Susan Archibald of the victim support group The LinkUp, and the Rev. Thomas Doyle.

Receiving a thunderous round of applause, Doyle thanked marchers and victims for rallying around the cause this past year. A reformist who pushed for an end to clergy abuse nearly two decades ago, Doyle criticized the church for allowing rapists to remain in ministry.

“Four of the most shameful words I have had to say are, ‘I am a priest’ because of this. If I get my pride back, it is because I am here with you,” said Doyle, who did not wear his clerical collar.

Police cordoned a section of Lowell Street across from the 133-year-old church when the rally started at 9 a.m. Marchers stood individually on a platform and unveiled from underneath purple cloths the photographs or sketches of alleged victims.

Some placards contained the victims’ ages, dates of abuse and their alleged abusers. Many marchers alleged that the Rev. Paul Shanley awaiting trial on assault charges in Massachusetts abused the children they represented.

The marchers unveiled the photos to the classical sounds of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” The music played perfectly for the numerous television cameras recording the event, reminding many that the march was media-driven to a large extent.

At times the event seemed overly planned, with organizers requesting that marchers with placards stand behind a speaker for the television cameras. One woman spoke of how her boyfriend had abused her, but did not mention being personally affected by abusive clergy. She shouted a remark against McCormack that reverberated off the walls of the cathedral.

The power of the victims’ stories still penetrated deeply.

Jamie Hogan said he found strength from the rally. He said it helped prepare him for a meeting he and other alleged victims of the Rev. Joseph Birmingham will have with McCormack in Salem, Mass., on Tuesday.

McCormack and Birmingham served at the same Salem parish in the 1960s, and the victims claim McCormack knew Birmingham had abused them. McCormack has denied the claim.

After the march, several people traveled to River Road, where they stood outside McCormack’s residence with protest placards.

“The church in New Hampshire stands in solidarity with the victims,” diocesan spokesman Pat McGee said of the church-sponsored victim support group Bethany and other initiatives. “I wouldn’t call it a protest. We’ve been working a lot with the victims.”

McCormack did not celebrate Mass at the cathedral, as he sometimes does.


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