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Sex Abuse Protesters Bring Cross, Photos to Cathedral

They accuse the archdiocese of a 'media stunt' in dedicating a chapel to victims.

June 02, 2003|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

A week after Cardinal Roger M. Mahony dedicated a chapel at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for victims of sexual abuse by priests, protesters Sunday defiantly entered the church with a wooden cross covered with photographs of abuse victims.

There was brief confusion outside as security guards seemed unsure whether they should allow the cross into the cathedral. A few parishioners tried to block the way, yelling, "You can't do that! You can't do that!"

But the guards and parishioners quickly moved aside. Trailed by news cameras, the protesters carried the 6-by-8-foot cross into the small chapel.

"I am a Catholic and this is my cathedral," abuse victim Jim Robertson said, as he and two others held the cross.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 03, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Sex abuse protesters -- A photograph caption in Monday's California section depicting a protest at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles against the Roman Catholic Church's handling of sex abuse by priests incorrectly identified one of the demonstrators as Jim Robertson. His name is Daniel Patta.

After a cathedral worker moved an altar, the cross was placed in the middle of the chapel.

"Let the people who come into this chapel look at the eyes of the victims," Robertson said loudly.

More than 30 protesters, some holding signs with photographs of themselves or family members at the age when they said they were abused, had begun demonstrating about two hours earlier outside the cathedral.

They said they were protesting a "culture of secrecy" in the 15-month-old sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church. Some of the signs had photographs of the victims and the priest they said abused them, and said things like: "She was only 15

Much of the protesters' anger seemed aimed at the establishment of the special chapel, which abuse victim Mary Grant called "a media stunt" meant to divert attention from the scandal.

"Prayers without actions are nothing more than meaningless gestures," said Grant, who is regional director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"Catholics have a right to know the truth. It's a public safety issue. We don't want people to be deceived that a chapel is going to fix that."

Grant and others criticized Mahony for inviting the media and not victims of abuse to the chapel's dedication May 25. They accused the Los Angeles Archdiocese of hastily dedicating the chapel after church officials learned that the group planned a larger than usual protest at the cathedral Sunday.

"That's not true," said archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg, who was at the cathedral. "This was something people have talked about for a great deal of time. A number of victims have approached us asking for a more spiritual component to the healing process."

Mahony presided at Sunday's 10 a.m. Mass but did not meet the protesters.

Inside the chapel, many of the protesters hugged and prayed. Some, like Mary Ferrell, holding a black-and-white picture of herself at age 7, when she said her San Pedro priest abused her, had never been inside the cathedral.

"I like it.... I like it," she said. "It's a step. It's very small, but it's something."

After the protesters left, Tamberg told reporters that the archdiocese will discuss whether to allow the cross and the pictures tacked to the wall to remain in the chapel.

Church officials had already put in the chapel two bulletin boards for parishioners to attach photos of victims.

The protesters quickly covered both with photos Sunday and began sticking them on the walls.

"That cross in there is tremendously meaningful to those victims, but it might be a distraction for others," Tamberg said. "We have to find something that everyone will feel comfortable with."

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