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Victims Await Vatican Response

This article is more than 11 years old.

It's been almost a month since Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States. The most memorable moment of his tour came when the Pope met with alleged victims of abuse by priests in Massachusetts.

That unannounced meeting and Benedict's comments on clergy abuse have raised hopes in the survivor community that the Vatican would change how it handles the issue. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports.


MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The Boston Archdiocese handpicked five abuse victims to speak one on one with the Pope in a chapel with bishops and security guards nearby.

The first was Bernie McDaid from Peabody.

BERNIE McDAID: I said Holy Father I gotta to talk to you.

BRADY-MYEROV: Pope Benedict nodded and held both of his hands. McDaid told him that when he was an 11-year-old alter boy in Salem, he was sexually abused by Father Joseph Birmingham in the sacristy, the room off the altar.

McDAID: And then I said something to me that was very important to me, I'm glad. I said this, 'Not only was I sexually abused, I was spiritually abused.' When I said that, he moaned and backed off like I punched him.

BRADY-MYEROV: The Pope nodded but didn't speak. McDaid continued.

McDAID: I was thinking of Bishop McCormack and those like them, and I said, 'Holy Father,' I squeezed his hand, 'You have a cancer in your flock.' And he squeezed my hand, and I reached out with my hand and touched his heart and I said, 'You need to do something about it.'

BRADY-MYEROV: McDaid was thinking of Bishop John McCormack, who's now head of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire. Decades ago, McCormack shared a rectory in Salem with Father Birmingham, and McDaid says McCormack saw him take young boys into his room and shut the door.

TERRY MCKIERNAN: The Birmingham case is poignant because Birmingham and McCormack were together in Salem in their early part of their careers.

BRADY-MYEROV: Terry McKiernan, the president and a founder of Bishops Accountability dot org, says Boston Archdiocese records prove McCormack showed leniency when dealing with known abusers such as Birmingham, Paul Shanley, and Ronald Paquin.

But McKiernan doesn't think the Pope, who met with McCormack and other bishops on his visit, would punish them.

MCKIERNAN: Now I think it's obviously unrealistic to think the pope was going to call these guys out during his meeting with them.

BRADY-MYEROV: Instead, McKiernan, wants the Vatican to speed up its evaluation of abuse cases and release a comprehensive list of all accused priests past and present. McKiernan says the Vatican should also tell American dioceses to stop spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby against the repeal of statute of limitations laws that are preventing progress on many civil claims against priests.

TERRY MCKIERNAN: If the church, for one thing, stopped opposing statute of limitation reform in the United States that would be a major, major change.

BRADY-MYEROV: Already, the Pope surprised many when he repeatedly acknowledged the pain caused by clergy abuse. But the secrecy and selectiveness of Pope's meeting upset many others victims. Barbara Blaine of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, says many hope the pressure will continue on the Vatican to overhaul how it handles abuse cases.

BARBARA BLAINE: One of the things many of the victims are saying is that they are glad that we continue to ask the Holy Father for action. His words and gestures weren't enough for them.

BRADY-MYEROV: But, Blaine says, members of the survivor community aren't confident anything will happen anytime soon. Bernie McDaid IS optimistic, though, he that the church will pressure Bishop McCormack to step down.

But Patrick McGee, spokesman for the Manchester Diocese, says the Bishop intends to continue serving and has not been in contact with the Vatican since the Pope's U-S visit.

PATRICK MCGEE: Bishop McCormack has apologized to Mr. McDaid personally and in a group meeting. He's also offered to meet with him again. And the Bishop knows that healing can be difficult and take time.

BRADY-MYEROV: McDaid says Bishop McCormack said he was sorry for his pain but never acknowledged his role...or that he compounded the pain by moving Birmingham around from parish to parish. Birmingham, who died in the 1980s, was accused of abusing at least 50 boys from five different parishes.

For Bernie McDaid, the guilt and shame he's long felt from that abuse is now in the hands of the Vatican.

McDAID: I don't know what they are going to do, how fast it's going to occur, but clearly everyone knows they have to do something in their ranks.

BRADY-MYEROV: But the Vatican says it hasn't made any changes and doesn't foresee any. Abuse survivors and advocates say the only way the church has changed in the past is when it's been forced to by legislation and litigation.

For WBUR, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov.

This program aired on May 12, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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