Hundreds of church sex abuse victims continue to come forward
Fifteen years after the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston broke into public view, hundreds of victims around the world continue to come forward, including some who say they were attacked as recently as 2001, advocates said Thursday.
Two victims’ support groups and a lawyer who has represented more than 2,000 survivors worldwide denounced church officials for doing too little to help those who were abused and to protect children from harm, despite ongoing revelations about the scope of the crisis.
“You have reportedly the most moral institution in the world acting the most immoral,” attorney Mitchell Garabedian said at a news conference Thursday in downtown Boston. “There is no excuse for it.”
The event coincided with the anniversary of The Boston Globe Spotlight Team’s 2002 reports about former priest John J. Geoghan, who was shuffled from parish to parish despite evidence of his predatory sexual habits.
Since the 2015 release of “Spotlight,” a movie about the Globe’s investigation into the abuse scandal, Garabedian said he has heard from hundreds of new victims, including “dozens upon dozens” who accuse priests or employees of the Boston Archdiocese of attacking them.
“No bishop has been punished for protecting pedophile priests,” said Ann Hagan Webb, the Rhode Island coordinator for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, who says she was abused by a clergy member. “As far as I can tell, the pope’s commission about child abuse has done absolutely nothing over the last few years of its existence.”
A spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, Terrence C. Donilon, said safeguarding children is paramount.
“The church continues to hold the protection of children as a priority while at the same time providing support to survivors and all people who have suffered as a result of clergy sexual abuse,” Donilon said in a statement. “We are grateful for the efforts of all of those who join us in this important ministry.”
The archdiocese reports that its Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach has met with more than 1,000 survivors since 2002.
At any given time, the office provides pastoral, therapeutic, and medical assistance to an average of 300 people, Donilon said. Some people came forward as recently as last year, but Donilon said he couldn’t say exactly how many.
Over the past 12 years, the archdiocese has spent nearly $35 million on counseling, psychiatric medications, and other services for survivors. Since 2003, it has paid about $215 million to settle legal claims, church officials say.
After the abuse scandal became public, the archdiocese began reporting all allegations of clergy sex abuse to law enforcement, notifying child welfare officials if the victim was younger than 18, and telling the public when a clergy member was removed from active ministry for investigatory reasons, officials said.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, was appointed by Pope Francis to serve on an advisory panel on sexual abuse and has personally apologized to hundreds of survivors and their relatives, the archdiocese said.
In a letter made public Monday, Francis told bishops worldwide they must have zero tolerance for clergy who sexually abuse children.
But Bassam Haddad, 43, of North Andover, said he received no help from church or civil authorities after he came forward in 2012 to say he had been abused in Lawrence by the Rev. Ross S. Frey from when he was 13 until he was nearly 18.
“I can’t get over the pain,” said Haddad, who said he’s attempted suicide six times. “It’s not fair that people like me . . . have to live our lives knowing that these people got away with what they did.”
Frey was a priest with the Basilian Salvatorian Order and the Melkite Catholic Church. He died in 2014 after moving to Lebanon, where he couldn’t be returned to the United States for prosecution, Garabedian said.
Another man who spoke with reporters at the news conference said he was sexually abused by Ricardo Gonzalez, who held an administrative post at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in East Boston. He and two others sued the archdiocese in September.
“They’re saying he was a volunteer and they’re not taking responsibility,” said the man, who asked that his name be withheld. “My damages are like endless.”
Gonzalez pleaded guilty in 2015 to sexually assaulting three children during the 1980s and was sentenced to four years in jail, according to the Suffolk district attorney’s office.
Garabedian said some clergy sex abuse victims now coming forward are in their late 20s or early 30s, meaning they were abused in the 1980s or 1990s.
“The clergy sexual abuse crisis is endless,” he said. “They’ve enabled the sexual abuse to continue for decades, and it’s not going to end in my lifetime.”