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  Home :: Papal Visit - USA :: USA - As Visit Nears, Sexual Abuse Victims Group Plans Protest
United States of America
The Pope and his addressing the issue of clergy and sexual abuse by priests.

A decade ago, Toni McMorrow and her husband might have joined in theprayer and pageantry of the pope's visit to Washington. But now, shesays, Benedict XVI's arrival and the throngs who will cheer him are "like daggers cutting into our broken hearts."

McMorrow thinks that her son was molested seven years ago by a priest at their Germantownchurch, she said. And, like many victims of clergy sex abuse and theirfamilies, she doesn't think the pope has done enough to punish bishopswho engaged in or covered up abuse.

Together with lay Catholic groups, the victims' families areplanning what they say will be respectful protests timed to coincidewith the pope's trip, which begins tomorrow. "We won't be bringing anybullhorns into the stadium or disrupting anything," said BarbaraBlaine, president of the largest victims support group, the8,000-member Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "But we dowant people to know that the sex abuse scandal is not history."

Blaine spoke at a small protest yesterday afternoon by theReflecting Pool of the U.S. Capitol, where members of the survivorsnetwork laid out 19 white paper crosses bearing photographs of childrenallegedly abused by priests. The group also issued a list of 19 U.S.bishops who have been accused of abusing minors; 13 of them are alive,and three are still in office.

"Bishops can remove priests, but only the pope can discipline abishop," said Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org,based in Boston."As the country goes a little bit pope-crazy this week . . . we shouldremember that this is not just a 'meet and greet' for the pope with theAmerican people. It's also a managerial moment for the pope with hisbishops."

The percentage of Catholics who are satisfied with the U.S. bishops'leadership has jumped 14 points, to nearly 72 percent, since bottomingout in 2004, according to a survey released yesterday by Georgetown University'sCenter for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The report attributedthe recovery in the bishops' approval rating to their efforts toprotect children after the sex abuse scandal exploded in Boston in2002.

By the U.S. bishops' count, more than 5,000 priests have beencredibly accused of abusing about 12,000 children in the United Statessince 1950. The church has spent $2 billion on legal claims, sixdioceses have declared bankruptcy, and hundreds of priests have beenremoved. Most dioceses now require criminal background checks onemployees and are teaching children, parents and teachers how torespond to signs of abuse.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vaticanambassador to the United States, has said Benedict will speak about thescandal during his trip. But no meetings with victims have beenannounced, despite the urging of U.S. cardinals.

"I do know that some [cardinals] asked," said Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of Austin,chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Sexual Abuse, "and I thinkit's a reasonable request, an appropriate request, because it wouldgive further evidence that he's aware that victims have been hurt, thatsome people have left the church, that it's hurt the image of ourchurch."

McMorrow, 46, a pediatric nurse in Frederick,said in an interview last week that she was disappointed that the popedid not respond to requests from survivors groups for a meeting. Buther main concern, she said, is "where is the accountability of thebishops?"

In 2001, McMorrow sent her son, Brandon Rains, then 14, to be analtar boy at Germantown's Mother Seton Parish. She said a priest, theRev. Aaron Joseph Cote, showed the boy pornography, then molested himfor months.

"We didn't know what was going on, but now the timeline is clear,"McMorrow said. "Brandon just started spiraling down really fast, usingheavier kinds of drugs and alcohol, and acting out, and running away."

It's a familiar story -- except, perhaps, for the ending. McMorrowreported the abuse to the Washington archdiocese in 2003, a year afterU.S. bishops pledged to permanently remove from ministry any priest whois credibly accused of abusing a minor. Cote disappeared from MotherSeton Parish. But, it turned out, he did not disappear from ministry.

"My wife and I really had complete faith and trust in the church fortwo years. We thought they were taking care of it," said JosephMcMorrow, Rains's stepfather. Then in 2005, he discovered on theInternet that the Dominican order, to which Cote belongs, had sent thepriest to Providence, R.I., where he was serving as a youth minister.

In November 2005, Rains, who had turned 18, filed a civil lawsuit against Cote and the Roman Catholic Church.That same day, Cote was removed from ministry, and the suit was settledlast summer for $1.2 million. But Cote has never admitted wrongdoingand remains a priest. Last week, a family in Springfield, Mass.,filed another suit against Cote and the Dominicans, alleging that heabused their preschool-age sons after leaving the Germantown church.

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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia