BOSTON — Dozens of clergy sex abuse victims are gathering in Boston this weekend to mark a decade since the abuse crisis broke and devastated Catholics and their church nationwide.
The conference coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2002, publication of a Boston Globe article that prompted a stream of revelations about abusive priests and church leaders who failed to stop them, instead moving them between parishes.
About two-thirds of the 120 people signed up to attend the conference are clergy sex abuse victims, said Eva Montibello of the Massachusetts Citizens for Children, an abuse prevention group that helped plan the event.
The conference aims to prevent child sex abuse and increase its exposure, with steps such as encouraging victims to go public with their stories — including the painful details. The last 10 years has shown that can lead to revelations from other victims, Montibello said.
Clergy sex abuse victim Robert Costello, also a conference organizer, said they also want to celebrate progress helping victims heal and forcing the church to confront abuse.
“It’s important to mark the change that has occurred,” Costello said. “In the history of the church, which moves millennium per millennium, 10 years is lightning speed. And survivors did that. Supporters did that.”
The conference, called the “10th anniversary Celebration & Conference: Confronting the Crimes & Cover-up of Sexual Abuse by the Boston Clergy,” runs from Friday night through Sunday at a Boston hotel. Events include media and legal panels, talks on making the church more accountable and a play, “For Pete’s Sake,” written by and starring the victim of a pedophile priest.
On Sunday, participants will demonstrate at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the mother church of the Boston Archdiocese, continuing the regular protests there since the scandal broke.
Prominent clergy sex abuse victims’ attorney Mitchell Garabedian, a speaker on the conference’s legal panel, said the meeting will keep pressure on the Boston Archdiocese to do more.
The church has enacted reforms in the last decade, but Garabedian said they largely amount to hollow gestures.
Clergy sex abuse advocates say too few church leaders and abusers have been held criminally accountable, and they’re pushing for changes in statute of limitations laws. Such laws can prevent prosecutions if the alleged abuse was too far in the past.
Advocates also say a list of 159 accused priests, released this year by the Boston Archdiocese, left off dozens of clerics.
In five pages of reflections on the crisis, released this week, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley said the crisis will never really end and the church must continually seek forgiveness.
But he also pointed to progress, including settling 800 claims of abuse, training 300,000 children and 175,000 adults to spot and prevent abuse and $7 million spent to provide counseling and medication for victims.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue said Thursday that the church has a better record than any other institution fighting child sex abuse, but some victims won’t ever be satisfied.
Costello, 50, said he was raped for years as a child by Rev. John Cotter, who he said would digitally penetrate him in the shallow end of a swimming pool under the guise of teaching him to swim. That left him in such pain, he couldn’t sit on bus rides home from the pool, he said.
Abuse victims don’t want to bask in the past — they wish it never happened, and it’s often led to personal, financial and drug problems, he said. But the conference can recognize that many people have been able to come forward and start dealing with their pain in the last decade, while also bringing change to the church.
“We forced them to take a look at it. And it went global,” Costello said. “We need to celebrate that.”