Family Plans to Take Abuse Case to Pope
Father, Sons Plan to Take Their Cases of Alleged Clergy Sex Abuse Directly to Pope

ABC News [Lowell MA]
March 14, 2003

Frustrated by what they see as the Roman Catholic hierarchy's lack of concern about sex abuse, five alleged victims including a father and his two sons are planning to take their concerns to Rome and perhaps all the way to the pope.

"There needs to be that connection made. They need to know this at that level," 40-year-old Gary Bergeron said.

Bergeron and his brother Edward say they were victims of a priest; their 77-year-old father Joseph Bergeron says he was a victim as a child. Frustrated by what they see as the church's lack of concern, the Bergerons, along with two other alleged victims, said they will head to Rome on March 22.

"With me, my brother, the other men going over there, it happened one-on-one," Gary Bergeron said. "It needs to be engaged one-on-one."

Other clergy sex abuse victims have sought access to the pope over the years. David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said many have written to ask for a meeting, to no avail. He said he knows of no one who has simply walked up and asked.

"Reasonable Vatican observers would say this is a long shot, but we know what doesn't work," Clohessy said. "We know when survivors stay silent, nothing changes."

The Rev. Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, said the Vatican had no information on the alleged victims' desire to meet with the pope.

Gary Bergeron, who lives with his father in Lowell, has been an outspoken critic of the church's handling of abusive priests since last April, when he first accused the Rev. Joseph Birmingham of molesting him. His brother Edward said he also was abused by Birmingham, who died in 1989.

More than 50 of Birmingham's accusers have sued the Boston Archdiocese, claiming church officials knew about the molestation and failed to keep him away from minors.

Also last spring, Joseph Bergeron revealed his own alleged abuse when he was an 8-year-old altar boy.

When he could not get spiritual counseling for his father, Gary Bergeron decided to go to Rome.

The archdiocese has acknowledged making mistakes and says it is working hard to help victims heal and to make amends financially. The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said the archdiocese will not discuss details of counseling it provides to victims, however.

He has said he would not discuss the Bergerons' case for confidentiality reasons, and did not return a call for comment earlier this week.

The Bergerons have asked for help in meeting the pope from James Nicholson, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, papal nuncio in Washington, so far with no response.

Montalvo's office earlier this week referred reporters' calls to the Vatican. An aide to Nicholson said the ambassador has no influence over who gets to see the pope, but would consider the request and forward it to church officials.

If he meets the pope, Gary Bergeron said his message will be simple.

"I just want an opportunity to explain to him what it's really like, and what Boston is not doing," he said. "I would ask him to help me heal my father. And I would ask him to help me make my children safe, and my grandchildren safe."

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