Molestation victims say pope's comments on clerical sex abuse fall short

Sunday, July 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TORONTO (AP) _ Advocates for victims of sexually abusive priests complained that Pope John Paul II's first public comments Sunday on the clerical misconduct crisis seemed to express more sympathy for clergy than Roman Catholics who were molested.

Janet Patterson of Conway Springs, Kan., said the pope should have encouraged those gathered for World Youth Day to embrace victims as ``brothers and sisters in Christ.'' She blames the 1999 suicide of her 29-year-old son, Eric, on abuse by their parish priest when he was 12.

``I'd like to see a lot more attention put on prior victims who are still struggling through life, never having the chance to live the kind of life they should,'' she said in a phone interview.

In the Mass before an estimated 800,000 people, the pope said the crisis had caused ``a deep sense of sadness and shame.'' He acknowledged some priests had victimized children, but said most clergymen wish to ``serve and do good'' and he urged young Catholics to support them, drawing cheers and applause.

The scandal erupted in January in the Boston Archdiocese, when Cardinal Bernard Law acknowledged allowing a pedophile priest to remain in parish work. The crisis has since spread throughout the United States and beyond, prompting widespread demand for reform within the church.

About 300 of the 46,000 priests in the United States have been taken off duty this year because of sex abuse allegations.

Law, in brief remarks to the media after the Mass, defended how he has handled the abuse problem, saying his archdiocese has taken significant steps to improve its response. ``If you all would look at that, I think you would see that,'' the cardinal said.

Speaking from her home in Newton, Mass., Paula Ford said she was pleased the pope had acknowledged the scandal, but said she felt he missed a key chance to provide guidance to young Catholics.

Ford's son, Gregory, is among those who have filed civil lawsuits alleging abuse by the Rev. Paul Shanley, who has become one of the central figures in the U.S. abuse crisis. Shanley, 71, has been charged with molesting boys from 1979 to 1989 while he was a priest at a church in Newton, a Boston suburb.

``The young people there, they're the future of the church. I think I would have expected a real strong statement of commitment that it would never happen again,'' Ford said.

David Clohessy, U.S. national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the pope should have said he was sorry for what victims had suffered.

But Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Mass was not an appropriate time for apologies, since most victims are now adults and World Youth Day is for the youngest members of the church.

``He's speaking to the young people and I don't imagine many, if any, of these young people had been directly affected by sexual abuse,'' she said.

She also noted that in previous speeches the pope has called abuse a sin and has expressed solidarity with victims.

``He couldn't get any stronger than, `There's no place in religious life for anyone who abused a young person,''' she said, referring to comments the pope made in April at a Vatican meeting with American cardinals summoned to discuss the sex abuse scandal.

David Gagnon, director for the Survivors Network in Canada, said he wished the pope had instructed the bishops seated on the stage at the Mass to treat victims with compassion. Gagnon had sought a meeting with the pope during his visit to Toronto but said he received no response from Vatican officials.

``He talked more about good priests than he seem to have addressed the pain of the issue,'' Gagnon said. ``He chose to minimize the crisis and affirm the priesthood, which to survivors is a very disturbing thing.''