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Catholics talk about child abuse

October 22, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

Under the bright fluorescent lights of a St. Ann Catholic Church meeting room on Monday, Cardinal William H. Keeler discussed the painful topic of child sexual abuse by priests.

"We want to shine a purifying light and healing light where darkness has allowed abuse to exist and to continue," Keeler told a group of about 30 people who attended the "listening session." It was the eighth of nine sessions the archdiocese is holding across the state.

Keeler said the archdiocese will not tolerate abuse and is committed to helping victims.

Keeler sat next to Mark Serrano, 37, who told the group that he was sexually abused by his priest in Mendham, N.J., starting at age 10. Serrano wore a photo of himself at that age around his neck.

"I knew not of sex. I knew not of my body," said Serrano, his voice breaking.

As he told the graphic details of his abuse, a woman in the audience whispered loudly, "My God."

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Serrano said he reported the abuse to church officials at the age of 20, but they failed to take action. He promised not to discuss the incident when he settled a lawsuit 15 years ago but broke his silence earlier this year.

"The problem is the church created this crisis when they looked the other way," said Serrano, who now lives in Leesburg, Va.

Serrano commended Keeler for posting on the archdiocese's Web site the names of priests who were accused of sexual abuse. None is currently serving in the archdiocese.

But he called for even greater disclosure, as well as outside involvement in abuse investigations.

The Rev. Patrick M. Carrion, director of the division of clergy personnel, explained the investigation process that has been in effect since 1992 in the archdiocese.

Allegations of abuse are investigated by his office, along with members of clergy, lawyers and other laypeople. At the same time, the church forwards all credible reports to state authorities, he said.

Brooks McBurney said he wanted to convey his anger at the church management.

"You let us down," he said, and invoked the Watergate scandal with, "What did you know, when did you know it and what did you do about it?"

Keeler stepped up to the microphone and said the church learned about the problem in the mid-1980s.

The Baltimore Archdiocese responded by immediately removing and not transferring accused priests, but the same guidelines were not followed throughout the church, which led to the recent scandals, he said.

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