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Spotlight Report

Abuse victims not afraid to share their anger at meeting

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 7/3/2003

Far from the bright lights of live television cameras, Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley sat solemnly at a polished wooden table in his predecessor's mansion and stared into the eyes of perhaps his most important constituency, the men and women whose lives were shattered by the priests they once trusted.

The meeting had been hastily arranged. Its agenda was open-ended. And, as participants sipped iced water and soft drinks, its tone was unusually blunt.

''I'm the victim of Father James Porter, and my son is a victim of Father John Geoghan. And I want you to understand that everybody's tired of this situation, and it has to be resolved -- and resolved immediately,'' Thomas Fulchino of Weston said he told O'Malley at the Tuesday afternoon meeting at a first-floor conference room at the archdiocesan residence.

By then the Vatican's announcement that O'Malley would succeed Cardinal Bernard F. Law as Boston's archbishop was just eight hours old. But still, participants said, O'Malley seemed fully aware of the stakes involved.

He nodded as Fulchino spoke.

''There have been two guys who got up to bat before you, and both of them have struck out,'' Fulchino continued. ''There are two outs, and you're the third guy up. And I hope you don't strike out, because that could be the end of the game for the church.''

Bernie McDaid, who says he was abused by the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham in Salem 40 years ago, had a more direct admonition.

''I just turned to him and said, `So, Sean, don't blow it,' '' McDaid said. ''The whole room started laughing, and he laughed, too. So he is human. And I like that. It broke the ice a little bit.'' His introductory news conference and a meeting later on Tuesday with the sick at Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center were the public bookends of the archbishop-elect's whirlwind inaugural day in Boston. But his private meeting with 10 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse was its emotional punctuation point.

Alleged victims of Porter and Birmingham were there. So were three children of Rita J. Perry, who was having an affair with the Rev. James D. Foley when she died in 1973. The priest fled the scene after she took a fatal overdose.

When O'Malley met his guests at 2 p.m., he received a polite, if low-key, greeting. ''He went one by one and shook our hands, and I said: `Hi. How are you, Sean?' '' McDaid said. ''Not out of disrespect. But they have to earn the title in my mind.''

When Rodney Ford began to introduce his wife, Paula, the bishop waved him off.

''He said: `I know who you are. You're a very courageous woman.' We were really taken aback by that. It meant an awful lot to us,'' said Ford, whose son Gregory was allegedly molested in Newton by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.

Introductions and pleasantries over, the gathering moved into the conference room.

Barbara Thorp, the archdiocese's liaison to abuse victims, and the Rev. John J. Connolly Jr., the burly and amiable chief secretary, joined the bishop and his guests at the table. McDaid said he felt O'Malley's soft-spoken presentation had a slightly rehearsed quality to it. ''I don't think it was an act, but I feel that emotionally he wasn't there,'' McDaid said. ''But, still, he said the right things.''

To Fulchino, O'Malley seemed alert, attentive, and concerned.

''This was not Bernie Law, a big egotistical guy, trying to con his way through it,'' Fulchino said.

Christopher H. Perry, a 44-year-old financial analyst from Foxborough, sat at the table with his brother and sister and told O'Malley that not all victims of abuse were little boys. Foley fathered two children with Rita Perry, their mother.

Perry said he told O'Malley: '' `Do you want to move forward and start reconciliation or do you want to limit your legal liability?' ''

Perry said later: ''You got the impression that this guy has been through this before. With [Bishop Richard G.] Lennon, you didn't get the feeling that he had a grasp on what to do.''

Rodney Ford said O'Malley seemed genuinely perplexed when told that archdiocesan lawyers had tried to shift the blame for the abuse of Gregory Ford from Shanley to others, including Rodney Ford himself.

''I said, `As we speak, your own attorneys are filing a motion to depose my attorney and doing things behind your back that you probably have no idea about,' '' Rodney Ford said. ''He said he would speak with Bishop Lennon about that after our meeting.''

Ford's lawyer, Roderick MacLeish, said yesterday that ''concrete action on an item that was very important'' to the Fords' case was addressed in court yesterday. MacLeish linked that action, which he would not describe, to O'Malley's direct intercession.

O'Malley said Tuesday he has not yet decided where he will take up residence in Boston. Ford said he offered this advice to the archbishop-elect: '' `This chancery is not a comfortable spot for any of the victims to be . . . I think people will think a lot less of you if you move into this building.' '' O'Malley just listened, Ford said.

Before he left, O'Malley led the group in a recitation of the ''Lord's Prayer'' and ''Hail Mary.'' Most, but not all, of the people around the table joined him.

Thomas Farragher can be reached at farragher@globe.com.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 7/3/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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