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Spotlight Report

For church counselor, a 'heartbreaking' job

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 10/2/2002


Barbara Thorp, director of the Boston Archdiocese's Office for Healing and Assistance Ministry, has urged victims to come forward. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)
The calls trickle in, day by day, week by week. One hundred and fifty victims over six months, mostly men, mostly angry and sad, and looking for help.

''It has been quite moving and very distressing to have 40- and 50-year-old men weeping through much of the interview, and I always have the sense that, though I might be looking at a 40-year-old man who is crying, I'm really seeing a 12-year-old boy's tears,'' Barbara Thorp, the director of the Archdiocese of Boston's new Office for Healing and Assistance Ministry, said yesterday.

''It's heartbreaking, totally heartbreaking, especially when one knows that they've held those tears for 20 or 30 years, and yet, when you listen and experience what they're saying, you feel like you're right in the room with them when it happens.''

Thorp yesterday met with reporters for the first time since taking over the archdiocese's victim outreach program. She said she chose to speak out in hopes the publicity will encourage more victims of clergy sex abuse to come forward.

She spoke on the same day that about 350 victims of sexual abuse and their supporters held a candlelight vigil in front of the cardinal's residence.

Thorp said she has been working to build a church outreach to victims that is credible and tailored to their needs. To that end, she has moved her office into rented space in Newtonville, saying that many victims are uncomfortable coming to a church or to the archdiocesan offices. (She met reporters in still another office, saying some victims might be uneasy if the Newtonville location was widely known.) She said her office will incorporate separately from the archdiocese, following a recommendation of the cardinal's commission for child protection, and said the office will have a board of directors that will include victims. And she said she has all the financial resources she needs to pay for therapy for victims, regardless of whether they are in litigation with the archdiocese.

''We're totally committed to this and will remain committed to this for as long as we need to be,'' she said. ''My happiest days will be when we can close this office and don't need it any more, but I don't see that as coming any time soon. We need to stay the course - that's part of what the church now needs to be. The whole church needs to embrace victim-survivors, family members, and our parishes that are suffering.''

Thorp is battling a legacy of bitterness many victims feel toward the church and the way it has handled their concerns. In the past, some victims have complained that the archdiocese has been too quick to cut off therapy. Some victims want to meet directly with Cardinal Bernard F. Law. Thorp said she does not know how many victims Law has seen.

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who represents numerous alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse, says the archdiocese has not done nearly enough for victims, and that his clients complain that the church limits who gets therapy and for how long. ''My clients have been extremely frustrated with the archdiocese's attitude in paying for therapy,'' he said.

Bill Gately, 51, of Plymouth, an alleged victim who has met several times with Thorp over the summer, said at the rally last night that while her intentions are sincere, the healing process won't truly begin until church leaders accept responsibility for their actions.

''I found her to be personally and professionally focused on the needs of all survivors. Yet I think that she is naive because she is one person trying to provide healing for the damage caused by a noncaring, powerful, arrogant hierarchy,'' Gately said.

A social worker herself, Thorp has hired two other social workers to help talk with victims, and she has hired the parent of a victim to reach out to other parents and family members of other victims. She said the outreach effort is still being developed, and she does not know how many victims of abuse there are in Boston, or how many will seek help.

''We have seen about 150 people since the beginning of the year, and I know that there are far more people out there who are really suffering,'' she said.

The victims are overwhelmingly male, in their late 30s and 40s, and most report having experienced abuse in the 1970s, she said.

''They exhibit extraordinary courage in coming to the church with their stories - I find it particularly remarkable that, given what happened to them and the profound betrayal of trust that they've experienced, that they would come to the church,'' she said. ''It seems very important to many people that the church, in some capacity, be prepared to listen to their stories, to acknowledge them, to apologize, and to provide them with some real help and healing.''

Thorp's office primarily refers victims to private counselors for therapy paid for by the church. She said she has, on occasion, also referred victims to retreats or spiritual direction, if they are seeking to reconnect to their faith.

''We need to not be afraid to hear the terrible, terrible things that happened to them,'' she said. ''These were evil acts that were perpetrated on children in our churches and in our schools and in places that we hold sacred.''

Thorp said she is facing anger from victims, and she accepts it. ''It's legitimate anger and honest anger,'' she said. ''It's anger, I think, that not only victim-survivors hold, but many people in our community hold, too. It's not something they are alone in.''

Globe correspondent Jenny Jiang contributed to this article.Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 10/2/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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