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Bishops apologize to abuse victims

LA cardinal, representing conference, meets several wronged as children

By Chris Reidy, Globe Staff, 11/17/1992

 In-depth
In 1992, the Rev. James R. Porter case in Fall River brought the problem of clergy abuse into the open.  
Coverage of the Porter case
ASHINGTON -- In an extraordinary meeting that was described as emotional and positive on both sides, a representative of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops apologized yesterday to individuals who said they were sexually abused as children by priests.

After meeting with the group, which included people who have said they were abused by former priest James Porter, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said the bishops' conference should immediately consider the recommendations put forth by these "victims of priestly misconduct."

Cardinal Mahony, who described the recommendations as reasonable and sound, said the conference could take action before it concludes its semiannual meeting Thursday. The recommendations include a continuing dialogue between the bishops and the group as well as establishment of a standard, nationwide method to address complaints of sexual misconduct by priests.

At least for the day, the meeting overshadowed a pastoral letter that proposes to address the role of women in the church. Debate on the letter, nine years in the writing, is set for today and tomorrow. The letter could be endorsed by the conference, but because of its divisive content, several bishops predicted that it would be shelved.

On another front, a conference representative also met with Dignity/USA, which describes itself as a national group of 4,000 gay and lesbian Catholics. The group's president, Kevin Calegari, said the meeting was "positive."

Cardinal Mahony's meeting with victims of reported abuse was unexpected.

After staging a protest outside the conference hotel, with such placards as "Child rape is a cardinal sin", eight demonstrators were invited inside to meet with Cardinal Mahony and two colleagues, Bishops Alexander Quinn of Cleveland and Harry Flynn of Lafayette, Ind.

"I felt very good about the meeting," said Frances Battaglia of North Attleboro, who said she was abused by Porter. "I cried."

"They listened," said Frank Fitzpatrick of Cranston, R.I., who called himself a "Porter survivor."

"We've achieved all that we could with this meeting," Fitzpatrick said. "In a perfect world, we would have addressed all the bishops. But we sat down with three, and that's a start."

"I got a positive feeling," said Cheryl Landry Bryant of Sandwich. "I hope I'm right."

Cardinal Mahony said he apologized to the group at least four times.

Addressing the bishops' conference, he said the meeting "was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in my 17 years as a bishop. The three of us were really there to represent each one of you."

The group made several requests, Cardinal Mahony said. They asked that the church show itself to be more "loving, caring and healing" in such cases, he said, and not as "a legal obstacle which stifles our pastoral outreach and projects our image of protecting errant priests at all costs and with a minimal concern of the victims."

The group also asked the bishops' conference to state again "publicly and more emphatically" its concern for "victims of priestly misconduct."

In addition, the group asked that "the apparent unevenness of approach by various dioceses be in fact equalized and harmonized and that we all project the same pastoral concern that is swift, complete and full," he said.

Addressing the bishops, Cardinal Mahony said, "I think that is something deserving our attention." Cardinal Mahony said the group also asked that a special day be set aside once a year for "prayer and healing for all those who have suffered because of priestly misconduct."

To the bishops, Cardinal Mahony said, "I would recommend. . . . to you and to the leadership of our conference that we take seriously all that the three of us have heard and experienced today in your name."

As for the letter on women, Auxiliary Bishop P. Francis Murphy of Baltimore, said, "There's a growing consciousness among bishops for an alternative to a pastoral."

An article written by Bishop Murphy in Commonweal magazine has been highly praised by liberals. Murphy has called the pastoral letter in its present form "a giant step backward," a compromise that does not effectively address the needs of many women.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 11/17/1992.
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