They have become a familiar presence outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, a half-dozen men and women who gather every Sunday to protest what they call the Catholic Church’s inadequate response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
But now, 14 years after they launched the demonstration, several of the founding members said they are giving up, convinced the church will never take the steps necessary to protect children from abuse.
“I’ve decided that, after 14 years, the church is not going to change,” Kenneth Scott, 76, said as he staged his final protest with five others huddled under umbrellas outside the soaring cathedral on Sunday.
“I’m still a supporter of people who have been abused by the church and people who have been abused in general and will continue to help them,” said Scott, a retired investment analyst from Beacon Hill. “But I’m not going to stand out here in sleet, snow, rain, hail, and all that good stuff, because that’s clearly not an effective ministry.”
Brian Harlow, a 41-year-old North Cambridge resident who said he is a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, came Sunday to express his gratitude to the protesters, who stand silently on the sidewalk and hold signs displaying the photos of abuse victims.
“I’m just so grateful,” he said. “They didn’t have to do this. They just care. They’re the most amazing people you’d ever hope to meet.”
The protesters started demonstrating in January 2002, after The Boston Globe Spotlight Team published the first story detailing the church’s attempt to cover up the abuse of children by priests. At first, 40 or 50 protesters gathered outside the cathedral, demanding the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law.
Over the years, the group dwindled to about six.
A few said they may continue to demonstrate on occasion. But three longtime protesters said they had given up hope and would not return.
They said they decided to quit after Pope Francis praised American bishops in September for their “courage” in dealing with the abuse scandal. That comment sparked outrage from victims, and Francis declared several days later that “God weeps” at the abuse of children and “all responsible will be held accountable.”
The protesters said that church leaders have not done enough to remove bishops who were complicit in the abuse scandal.
“The pope’s message last fall was disheartening, discouraging, dismaying,” said Paul Kellen, a 79-year-old from Medford who has protested outside the cathedral since 2002. “I don’t see any hope.”
Kellen lamented, for example, that Law was named the titular head of two significant churches in Rome after he resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002. He also pointed out that prosecutors accused the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in June of willfully ignoring warning signs of a pedophile priest there.
“It’s just a fight we can’t seem to win, even though we have had our few battles that we have been victorious in,” said 67-year-old Robert Sidorowicz of Quincy, another longtime protester. “It’s just we can’t seem to win the war.”
‘I’ve decided that, after 14 years, the church is not going to change . . . I’m not going to stand out here in sleet, snow, rain, hail, and all that good stuff, because that’s clearly not an effective ministry.’Kenneth Scott, protester
The protesters said they have had a generally cordial, if tense, relationship with parishioners at the cathedral, which serves as the mother church of the Archdiocese of Boston. A few parishioners have shouted at them, they said, but a few have also thanked them.
Parishioner Kim Curry said Sunday she sees the protesters after Mass and is not sure why they are demonstrating.
“We’re all aware what happened,” she said. “What is it that they want done?”
Another parishioner, Jane Braunsky, greeted the protesters after Mass on Sunday, but said she, too, is not sure what they want.
“Apologies have been made, bishops have made them, both popes have made them, the cardinal has certainly mentioned it during his sermons, if they had listened,” she said. “I’m not sure what more can be done. So, if they’re Christian, they should say, ‘OK, we’ll take that as an apology and go forth and live.’”Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.