700 Sundays

by Stephen A. Sheenan

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In 2002, I stood on the sidewalk in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston with several hundred members of the Voice of the Faithful and a handful of people who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy of the Roman Catholic church.  One by one, the survivors told us their stories of the abuse they suffered and how it had taken them many years before they found the strength to come forward and bare their pain and torment in the public arena.

A few of those present then formed an organization called Speak Truth to Power (STTOP) and began meeting in front of the cathedral on Sunday mornings in a protest demanding that the Boston archdiocese provide justice to the survivors and take all the precautions necessary to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults and to bring this shameful history of the archdiocese to an end. A call was also made for the resignation of the cardinal archbishop of Boston, Bernard Law, for his role in covering-up the abuse by reassigning offending priests and protecting them from being indicted and tried for their crimes.

Last Sunday, May 17, a group of 25 survivors and supporters gathered in front of that cathedral to celebrate the 700th consecutive Sunday of this protest.

Not all of these 25 were present every Sunday, but every Sunday there were members of the group out there on the sidewalk in spite of the snow, rain, or scorching heat. These demonstrations were held calmly and politely, not wishing to cause a public disturbance or interrupt a religious service. The intent has always been the same, to remind the cardinal archbishop of Boston and all bishop/cardinals that we will not go away until justice has been served for the survivors and that children everywhere are provided a safe environment in which to live and grow.

Sunday morning several members of the group related to the press the actions they feel are required by Pope Francis and the church hierarchy to achieve these goals. These I summarized as follows:

  • Remove from office every Cardinal or Bishop who has knowingly reassigned or otherwise shielded from scrutiny any priest credibly accused of sexually molesting a child or vulnerable adult.
  • Sanction every Cardinal or Bishop in whose diocese file or documents relating to sexual abuse have been destroyed, altered or kept hidden from public knowledge. These documents must be released in order to insure the safety of potential victims.
  • Ensure that all survivors receive adequate compensation for their pain and suffering.
  • All accusation of sexual abuse within the church are immediately referred to civil authorities for investigation

Paul Kellen, the New England director of the National Survivors Advocates Coalition, announced a coming STTOP initiative, “The Francis Forum.” A website for this will be online in June. Participants will be asked to complete the following sentence:

I will understand that Pope Francis is serious about the clergy sex abuse issue when he: ___________________________________.

Submissions will be posted to the website and will be presented to Pope Francies during his visit to the United States this September.

Following the impromptu, informal press conference, Susan Renehan of Southbridge, Mass., led a procession around the cathedral as marchers displayed posters with pictures of abuse survivors at the age when they were abused. At the end there was a general air of mixed emotions as the participants hugged each other and said fond goodbyes to each other as this reunion dissipated.

It is unfortunate but necessary to note that some of those who were here in 2002 are no longer with us and it is sad to think that the next such reunion will be even smaller.

Many of those present have given much in the way if time and energy to this cause over the past 13 years, some even longer. They all vowed to keep giving the same in the future. To those who try to tell us that we can never win because that Catholic Church is too big and too rich to concede, we can only say that we do what we do not because we think we can win, but because we know that it is the right thing to do.

As Senator Ted Kennedy once put it, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

[Stephen A. Sheenan is a member of the National Survivors Advocates Coalition and publisher of the electronic newsletter “NSAC News.”]

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