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Priests Gather in NY, New Hampshire

April 29, 2002

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YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) _ In a meeting that resembled last week’s summit between U.S. cardinals and the pope, New York Cardinal Edward Egan and hundreds of priests gathered Monday to discuss the sex abuse scandal engulfing the U.S. Roman Catholic church.

The Rev. Peter Gavigan from Our Lady of Victory in New York said his ``faith and trust″ in Egan was renewed following the private, four-hour meeting.

Egan opened the meeting with a 45-minute speech, after which the 500 priests broke into small groups. Egan met with the smaller groups and answering their concerns.

``It was both informational and relational ... the relationship between the priests and the cardinal as bishop was strengthened,″ Gavigan said. ``We priests have been dealing with it, in a sense, on our own. It was necessary to see him face to face.″

New York Archdiocese spokesman Joe Zwilling would not say what the priests discussed with Egan. He said the message was ``to let them know what was happening ... they read things, they see things and they don’t have an opportunity to ask the cardinal directly what’s going on.″

Egan had no comment as he arrived at St. Joseph’s Seminary. On Sunday, he said priests accused of sexual violations would be suspended from clerical duties at least until the allegation is resolved. He also suggested those who suspect abuse should seek out the authorities.

Before the meeting, the Rev. Walter Birkle of Our Lady of Grace in New York listed concerns that need to be addressed, including protecting children and establishing a process to deal with abusive priests.

Gavigan also said the church should ``listen to the people’s pain, listen to their hurt and also listen to their suggestions about how things might be improved.″

``I think the wisdom will also come from the people, not just from the top,″ he said.

In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law came under new criticism for a legal defense that suggests plaintiffs in a lawsuit against him were partly responsible for an allegedly abusive relationship between the Rev. Paul Shanley and a boy.

The alleged abuse began in 1983, when Gregory Ford was 6.

Now 24, Ford and his parents say Law was negligent in overseeing Shanley, who was described in archdiocese documents as a ``very sick person″ and known as a proponent of sex between men and boys even as he was shuffled from job to job by church officials.

In a six-page response to the lawsuit, an attorney for Law said, ``the negligence of the plaintiffs contributed to cause the injury or damage.″ The response said any damages against Law ``should be reduced in proportion to the said negligence of the plaintiffs.″

The Fords’ attorney, Roderick MacLeish, said there is ``not a shred of evidence″ to support the claim that Gregory Ford or his parents were responsible for Shanley’s behavior.

Gregory Ford’s father, Rodney Ford, called the response ``a disgrace.″

``They want to blame me and my wife for something that happened to my 6-year-old son,″ he said. ``I’m ashamed to call myself a Catholic.″

Suffolk University law professor Rosanna Cavallaro called the legal language in the response ``boilerplate″ and said it would be unusual for an attorney not to raise every defense available.

The archdiocese did not return calls to comment Monday. Shanley, 71, whose last known address is in San Diego, has issued no public statements since the case began.

Separately, a parish in Lowell said it will not take part in the Boston Archdiocese’s annual fund-raising campaign and instead will tend to alleged abuse victims of the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham.

Elsewhere:

_ Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, leader of the nation’s largest Roman Catholic diocese, was sued under a federal racketeering law for allegedly covering up past sexual abuses by priests. It is at least the third time in the last two months that a Catholic leader has been accused under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.

The law is aimed mostly at organized crime, but includes provisions for civil cases when someone is harmed by a ``pattern″ of illegal activity.

_ Priests also gathered in Concord, N.H., for training on how to prevent and detect the sexual abuse of children.

_ New York’s Brooklyn Diocese said it will forward all child abuse allegations to prosecutors without first screening them. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes called the agreement ``groundbreaking.″

_ The Syracuse, N.Y., Diocese said it will create a victim’s advocate position and a lay advisory board to help handle cases of sexual abuse involving priests.

_ The Rev. William D. Donovan, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Bridgeport, Conn., resigned after admitting to a homosexual relationship, which is under investigation by church officials. Donovan, 66, also has three drunken-driving convictions.

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