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Spotlight Report

Protesters organize at Law's church

By Michael S. Rosenwald, Globe Staff, 9/23/2002

With their backs symbolically turned to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, dozens of regular protesters of the Roman Catholic Church declared their unity against Cardinal Bernard F. Law yesterday with a solidarity vigil marking the naming of their new group STTOP!

Speak Truth TO Power! joins a handful of other grass-roots groups that have sprung up since January in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The group is not altogether new. It has been meeting at the cathedral - the cardinal's home church - since the scandal broke, but members only recently decided on a formal organization and name.

They have come out in rain showers and on sunny days, whether Law is present or not, chasing his car, shouting through bullhorns, carrying signs, and repeatedly demanding accountability from the church.

Nothing has seemed to deter them - not even the unexplained absence yesterday of a plane carrying an anti-Law banner. Organizers said they paid a private company $750 to fly over the cathedral, the cardinal's chancery in Brighton, and then Gillette Stadium in Foxborough during the New England Patriots game.

The sparse Mass congregation of about 50 and Law's absence also did not deter the approximately 75 protesters. ''We know he won't listen to us anyway,'' said Rick Webb of Wellesley, a frequent protester. ''We don't care if he's not here. We want him to know that he is not a cardinal for the people, nor will he ever be.''

Webb's wife, Ann Hagan Webb, who has said she was abused by a priest many years ago, read a prepared statement saying that the group had come together from all walks of life: ''Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and nonbelievers.''

''There are those among us who are willing to accept the cardinal's calls for prayers and forgiveness and those who are not,'' she said. ''But all who stand in protest on this day unite in demanding accountability for his past actions. And all who stand in protest on this day unite in rejecting the leadership of Cardinal Law.''

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey could not be reached for comment on the new organization.

Yesterday also marked a new tactic for the group: less sound. The group abandoned familiar chants, bullhorns, and small confrontations with parishioners; instead they quietly held pictures of abused children and marched silently around the cathedral.

They also chatted about what many dubbed the latest injustice by the church: the recent subpoena by the Worcester Diocese seeking victims names and correspondence from a sex abuse support group. Leaders from the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (SNAP) were subpoenaed in the case of the Rev. Robert E. Kelley, a convicted rapist.

Worcester Diocese lawyers are seeking information about the five plaintiffs who filed a civil suit against the diocese, claiming it failed to protect them from Kelley. The diocese is also seeking information about anyone else claiming abuse by priests in the diocese.

''I think it's intimidation,'' said Steve Lewis, one of the most frequent protesters at the cathedral. ''We're not going to put up with it. This is a war and it will be fought.''

On Saturday, an attorney for the diocese said that church officials did not intend to intimidate SNAP or its members. ''Certainly, no body is trying to put pressure on SNAP and its membership,'' said James G. Reardon.

Michael Rosenwald can be reached at mrosenwald@globe.com.

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 9/23/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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