Mournful strains of classical music filled the frigid morning air yesterday outside St. Joseph’s Cathedral as protesters holding pictures of children overhead stepped one by one onto a small stool amid a silent crowd. Their words, some spoken through tears, others with stony expressions, hung like screams.
”Patrick,” one woman said. ”Abused at age 11.”
”This is Jamie,” said another. ”He was abused from age 10 to 14.”
”My son, Andrew, abused and raped by Paul Shanley.”
With the names of those alleged victims, 83 in all this staid New Hampshire city became another focal point for the priest sex abuse scandal that has shocked the nation for the past year.
More than 200 protesters descended here yesterday to show solidarity with the victims and to try to force the resignation of John B. McCormack, the bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, which is based in Manchester. Demonstrators said McCormack, once the top church official in Boston handling sexual abuse complaints against priests for Cardinal Bernard F. Law, should be held responsible for shielding those priests.
”There has been no justice yet for the people sexually abused by a priest, either in the Boston Archdiocese or the Manchester Diocese,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors who helped to organize the event. ”Bishops throughout the country who protected rapists need to step down.”
The somber music, Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, set the mood for the rest of the demonstration. The piece, played after the deaths of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, played on loudspeakers throughout the 30-minute recitation of names. Then there was a silent march around the towering, red brick cathedral, and finally a series of angry speeches from regional and national leaders of the movement to hold the church accountable for the abuse crisis.
Throughout the morning, parishioners skirted the demonstration outside the entrance as they headed into Mass. A few stopped to watch impassively for a moment; others silently shook their heads.
”Send them all back to Massachusetts where they belong,” one older woman said of the demonstrators. ”We don’t need them here.”
Judging by the license plates of cars in the church parking lot, more than half of the people at the church were from Massachusetts. But New Hampshire residents participating in the demonstration yesterday said they expect their numbers to grow over time.
Knots of protesters have gathered for weeks outside the cathedral, but yesterday marked the first demonstration to attract large numbers and national figures, such as the Rev. Thomas Doyle. Doyle is a Dominican priest who, on Saturday, was awarded the 2003 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice for his efforts to help victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Doyle told the demonstrators yesterday that they should not be intimidated by the expensive lawyers and public relations firms hired by the church.
”All we have is the truth,” he said. ”Because of that, we are going to make changes.”
McCormack, who does not regularly say Mass at the cathedral, was in northern New Hampshire during the protest, said Patrick McGee, a spokesman for the Manchester Diocese. He declined to give the bishop’s exact location.
”We’re not putting that out,” McGee said. ”We’re trying to give [these smaller parishes] some privacy. We don’t want them to become part of the story.”
McCormack’s absence did not diminish the protesters’ anger at him. One called the bishop a ”devil’s minion,” while another said, ”McCormack can’t remember, victims can’t forget.”
Clyde Bacon of Newbury, N.H., held a sign bearing a silhouette of a child’s face, labeled ”Jane Doe #6. Molested early 1990s -1996.” Bacon said he did not know who the woman was when he arrived at the demonstration yesterday morning, but he volunteered to carry the placard to show solidarity with her.
”I’m here because this was the last institution that I believed in, and it’s starting to crumble,” Bacon said. ”While I’ll always have faith in God, I’m losing faith in man and mankind, and this is the only way I know to try and help. There has to be some accountability.”