Group Protests outside Order
Claims Priests Are Abusers

By Peter Schworm
Boston Globe
June 13, 2003

WALTHAM - Some 45 people, nearly half of whom said they were victims of clergy sexual abuse, protested for hours yesterday outside the Stigmatine Fathers' provincial house in Waltham, where members of the religious order were celebrating the feast of its founder.

Four protestors were abused by Stigmatine Fathers' priests at a Wellesley seminary in the 1950s, according to John Vellante, who organized the protest to coincide with the Feast of St. Gaspar. Vellante, who said he was sexually molested at the seminary, said he hoped the rally would convince the order to own up to its crimes and justly compensate its victims.

"The mentality of these people is that `it couldn't have happened here,"' said Vellante, who carried a sign that read "Stigmatine priests abused children, too."

"But we know that it did," he said.

Vellante, a former Globe reporter, said victims have taken no legal action, but that attempts to reach financial settlements have been unsuccessful.

Protesters carried signs accusing officials with the order of disregarding their allegations, colluding to cover up crimes, and ignoring their requests for compensation. They received many honks of support from passing traffic, but drivers from the campus either disregarded them or shot them angry glances.

Protesters said no one from the order spoke to them, a snub they saw as symbolic.

"It would have been nice if they had acknowledged our presence," Vellante said. "But they've never acknowledged any of this, so why would they now?"

A man inside one of the buildings on the Waltham campus, who said he worked for the order, declined to comment on the protest, as did several other people attending the festivities. A written request for comment from order officials was not immediately answered. There was no answer on the campus's phone.

The Globe first reported the allegations against the Stigmatine Fathers last August.

David Leonard, a 60-year-old from Frankfort, N.Y., drove more than four hours yesterday morning to attend the protest. Leonard said he was sexually abused by two different priests as a teenager and was ordered by a third to "swear on the Bible never to tell."

Leonard, who left the Elm Bank seminary in Wellesley in 1961 after attending for three years, said the abuse forced him in and out of mental institutions as an adult. He said he hoped public pressure would force the order to confront its past.

"This is not an attack on the church," Leonard said. "It's a protest against the hierarchy that allows this evil to perpetuate. They've hid their heads from this for all these years."

Mike Gustin, 48, of Westford, said he hoped the protest would help keep the issue of clergy sexual abuse in the public consciousness. Too many people, he said, still do not grasp the scope and severity of the problem.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure that this never happens to anyone ever again," said Gustin, a member of the Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic group formed in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

John Mahoney, 72, a Voice of the Faithful member from North Andover, said the order does not "want to face up to its crimes or have sincere communication with the victims."

"They are in total denial, and it's not just," he said.

Rosemary Donovan-Morgan, a 75-year-old Milton resident, said she is a regular presence at abuse survivors' rallies. Carrying a sign that read, "Shame for raping young seminarians," she blamed the church for not making amends.

"There can be no forgiveness if there's no justice," she said, "and there doesn't seem to be any so far."

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 6/13/2003.


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