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OBITUARIES : Catherine Mulkerrin, 1935 - 2008

Nun advocated for victims of pedophile priests

May 21, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Sister Catherine Mulker- rin, who pressed Roman Catholic Church leaders in Boston to warn parishioners about priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children, has died. She was 72.

Mulkerrin died of cancer Saturday at Bethany Health Care Center in Framingham, Mass., said Sister Joanne Gallagher, spokeswoman for her religious order, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Boston.

Mulkerrin "was a gentle, caring woman . . . of keen insight who was always ready to listen and respond with compassion," the order said in a prepared statement.

As assistant director of the Boston Archdiocesan Office for Victims of Abuse from 1992 until resigning in 1994, Mulkerrin received allegations of clergy abuse and dealt directly with victims. She once said she heard allegations against more than 100 priests during that period.

Many of her memos to supervisors were later released as part of lawsuits filed against the archdiocese by alleged victims. "I know I sound like a broken record," according to a memo from Mulkerrin that was released in 2002, "but we need to put in church bulletins: 'It has come to our attention a priest stationed here between 19XX and 19XX may have molested children -- please contact . . . .' "

She said archdiocese leaders ignored her repeated concerns that priests accused of sexual abuse were allowed to return to parish work without the kind of supervision she had recommended.

"I expressed concern, consternation. What are we thinking of? What are you thinking of?" Mulkerrin said in a deposition released April 8, 2003, about her conversations with Bishop John McCormack, who handled sexual abuse complaints involving priests as an aide to Cardinal Bernard Law, head of the archdiocese during the scandal. Law resigned in 2002; McCormack became bishop of New Hampshire in 1998.

Mulkerrin said in the deposition that McCormack had told her he was trying to address her concerns. He later said through a spokesman that he was following policy but acknowledged making mistakes during his time in Boston.

"She really confronted the Archdiocese of Boston six years before the sexual abuse scandal broke out. . . . I think that she was incredibly brave to do that," said Sheila Boyle, 60, who received a settlement from the church after she was abused by a now- defrocked priest. Boyle said when she talked with Mulkerrin years later, the nun said she thought that she had been a failure. But her sensitive and compassionate handling of sexual abuse victims avoided subjecting them to additional psychological trauma, Boyle said.

The clergy abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002. Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly addressed the issue during his visit to the United States in April. He also met privately with five victims and Law's successor as archbishop, Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

Mulkerrin was born Dec. 19, 1935, in Medford, Mass. She attended Boston Teachers College and, after becoming a nun in 1955, worked as a teacher and college librarian. She later earned a master's degree in religious studies at Fordham University in New York.

Elected president of her order in 1978, Mulkerrin renewed the religious group's efforts to help the poor and served as chair of the New England Regional Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She resigned from her positions in 1984 after being diagnosed with cancer. She later began working for the Archdiocese of Boston when her health improved.

Mulkerrin is survived by a brother.

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news.obits@latimes.com

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