Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Bishops: No media at victim sessions
By GREGORY D. KESICH, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc
Maine's two Roman Catholic bishops will not take part in meetings with people who say they were sexually abused by priests if the news media are there, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Negotiations over ground rules for the highly publicized "listening sessions" broke down Monday after Sister Rita Mae Bissonette said Bishop Joseph Gerry and Auxiliary Bishop Michael Cote would not go forward with the meetings if they followed a format tentatively agreed to 10 days earlier.
On May 17, Bissonette, who was representing the bishops, agreed to three listening sessions with members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. One session was to be closed to the media for victims who did not want to tell their stories in public, but the media was to be invited to observe the other two.
On Monday, Bissonette told SNAP coordinator Cynthia Desrosiers that if the media came to the sessions, the bishops would not.
"They said they would not feel comfortable with cameras there," said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the diocese. "They would like to do this so progress is made. They don't want this to turn into a shouting match. They are worried that it could turn off victims and change the whole tenor of the meetings."
Desrosiers said she was frustrated by the change. "I don't feel like we are any further along than when we started," she said. "I think it's too early to say" if the differences can be resolved.
Bissonette revealed the bishops' position at a meeting Monday where she and Desrosiers were interviewing candidates for running the sessions.
All three candidates recommended that the media be excluded from the sessions, but Desrosiers said many victims think it is important for the public to see how the church responds to their charges. The victims also don't want people to think they have something to hide.
However, other victims have told Desrosiers that they also would prefer private sessions, so the group may agree to the bishops' demand, especially if church officials agree to speak to reporters after the sessions.
No dates have been set for the meetings. Both Gerry and Desrosiers will be attending the American Conference of Bishops meeting in Dallas next month, and the Maine sessions would take place after that.
Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org