Alleged victims of sexually abusive priests welcomed an acknowledgment from Cardinal Bernard Law that he made wrong decisions in dealing with abuse, but said there is still work to be done in restoring their trust in the church.
Law said at Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday that he has a “far deeper awareness of this terrible evil” of clergy sexual abuse than he did 10 months ago, when the scandal first broke.
“As I have listened personally to the stories of men and women who have endured such abuse, I have learned that some of these consequences include lifelong struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, depression, difficulty in maintaining relationships and, sadly, suicide,” he said.
“I acknowledge my own responsibility for decisions which led to intense suffering.”
Law made his comments after victims of abuse urged him to speak out more publicly and frequently.
Victims’ advocates praised the acknowledgment, but still expressed skepticism.
“I would say I am cautiously optimistic about his change of heart, but thus far, his actions have not seemed consistent,” said Bill Gately, co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests New England chapter.
Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, chairman of a church lay review panel established after the scandal broke, called Law’s words “long overdue” and his “appropriate hairshirt moment.”
“Victims have told me repeatedly that what most offended them was the cardinal appeared most interested in saving his reputation than profoundly and sorrowfully apologizing for what he did,” Keating said.
Mike Emerton, spokesman for the lay group Voice of the Faithful, said he still holds Law accountable for his actions over the past two decades, when he moved accused priests from parish to parish.
“In light of his statement, we must ask ourselves why did it take him two decades and ten months to come clean in his role in the cover-up?” he said.
Emerton also said the Voice of the Faithful is calling on all American bishops to follow Law’s example of meeting with victims.
Some alleged victims said they had waited a long time for an acknowledgment from Law and said he seemed sincere.
“I saw hope and I believe that restores a sense of innocence to me that I lost as a child,” alleged victim Olan Horne told WCVB-TV.
Law said Sunday that he never meant to assign priests to positions where they could endanger children, but “the fact of the matter remains that I did assign priests who had committed sexual abuse.”
He recounted that several positive experiences in his life were influenced by priests in whom he placed a deep trust.
“One of the insidious consequences of the sexual abuse of a child by a priest is the rupturing of that sacred trust,” he said. “For some victim-survivors, not only is it difficult to trust priests again, but the Church herself is mistrusted.”