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Law's words frame new play

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Spotlight Report

Lay group requests to engage O'Malley

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 7/29/2003

NEWTON -- A lay group that had a frosty relationship with Cardinal Bernard F. Law yesterday invited his successor, archbishop-designate Sean P. O'Malley, to enter a dialogue and called on him to establish a commission to oversee a three-year ''truth and reconciliation process'' examining the sexual abuse scandal that left the Boston archdiocese reeling and led to Law's resignation. Voice of the Faithful, which was founded in response to the scandal and wants greater lay involvement in running the church, released what it called a six-point plan to begin ''healing and reconciliation'' during O'Malley's first 100 days. O'Malley is scheduled to be installed tomorrow as the sixth archbishop of the nation's fourth largest archdiocese.

In addition to forming what Voice of the Faithful called a ''healing commission,'' James E. Post, the group's president, said the group wanted O'Malley to accept a report issued last week by Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, which was highly critical of the archdiocese's handling of the scandal; disclose the results of an audit by the Office of Child and Youth Protection established by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; and reach a ''fair and just'' settlement with more than 500 alleged victims who have filed claims against the archdiocese.

The group also called on O'Malley to drop the ban that Law imposed against accepting contributions from the group's fund-raising arm and against new chapters of Voice of the Faithful meeting on church property, and to release all archdiocese financial statements. Post called on O'Malley to work with the group as "collaborators" instead of viewing them, as some prelates have, as troublemakers.

A spokesman for the archdiocese, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, said he had not seen a copy of the group's recommendations and that there would be no comment from O'Malley or other archdiocese officials.

While the Newton-based group bills itself as an organization of more than 30,000 "mainstream Catholics" from more than 40 states and 21 countries, Law and his interim successor, Bishop Richard G. Lennon, viewed it more suspiciously. Relations between the group and the archdiocese have been strained, at best.

But Post said O'Malley's arrival is "a great opportunity" for the two sides to begin working more closely. Post urged O'Malley to build what his group calls "a four-sided table of survivors, laity, priests, and bishops." He said those four sides could form a healing commission that, over a three-year period, would "provide an independent examination of the systemic and structural factors that contributed to the crisis."

"We are talking about a process of truth and reconciliation," said Post. "Without truth, we can't move forward."

Post said his group wrote to O'Malley requesting a meeting at his earliest convenience, but has not heard back from him. O'Malley has made no public pronouncements on Voice of the Faithful; there was no chapter during his 10 years as Fall River bishop, and the group's chapter in Palm Beach, where O'Malley was made bishop last October, does not meet on diocesan property.

"It would be a huge mistake for him to stop speaking with any group," Post said. "Expectations are high. He has to hit the ground running. I think his honeymoon will be measured in nanoseconds."

Phil Saviano, founder of the New England chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, praised Voice of the Faithful officials for trying to shape an agenda for O'Malley.

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 7/29/2003.
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