FOREST HILLS—The mother of local children sexually abused years ago by a St. Andrew the Apostle Church priest is attempting to get the site officially landmarked as a permanent monument to the abuse crisis.
Besides preserving the actual building, which is up for redevelopment, Maryetta Dussourd also hopes to see some sort of victims’ memorial at the site. The ideas remain vague, ranging from a monument to a museum.
There are possible sources for inspiration. A monument to survivors of priest abuse was established in 2004 at a still-functioning Catholic church in northern New Jersey. That monument—dramatically shaped like the proverbial millstone around one’s neck—was the first of its kind in the nation and possibly the world.
Another survivors’ monument was set up in April at an Iowa church.
Meanwhile, high-profile support for Dussourd’s effort continues to build. Supporters of a memorial now include Rev. Thomas Doyle, an internationally known victim advocate who, as a Catholic Church lawyer in the 1980s, was among the first whistleblowers on the priest sexual abuse crisis.
“I definitely want to support this as a reminder of the horrendous harm the institutional church has done,” Doyle told the Gazette. “The fact that [infamous child-molesting priest John] Geoghan was at St. Andrew’s for so long a time and so many victims at the parish sets it apart as a very dark example of the worst chapter in the Church’s history in at least a thousand years.”
St. Andrew’s, at Walk Hill and Wachusett streets, is one of many properties closed and put up for sale by the Boston archdiocese to raise funds. As previously revealed by the Gazette, a prospective developer has been selected for St. Andrew’s, but their identity and plan have not been revealed yet.
Mike Foley, the broker for the archdiocese, said he would alert the prospective developer about the memorial idea along with the Gazette’s request for comment. The developer did not contact the Gazette by press time.
The nearby Young Achievers Science and Mathematics School has sought to expand into part of the St. Andrew’s complex and has had early discussions with the unnamed developer, as the Gazette previously revealed. Principal Virginia Chalmers did not return a Gazette phone call for comment about the victims’ memorial idea and how it might work with the school’s plans.
A spokesperson for the Boston archdiocese had no immediate comment.
Concerns about the future of the site were raised by a Gazette report that the St. Andrew’s complex has no official historical protection status, leaving a developer free to demolish or alter any of the buildings. The five buildings on the 3.1-acre site include the 1921 stone church and a rectory and convent dating to around 1865.
The Boston Preservation Alliance and Historic Boston Incorporated support preserving the site for its aesthetics and importance to Jamaica Plain and Boston archdiocese history.
But St. Andrew’s is significant for a darker side of history, as home to Geoghan from 1974 to 1980. Geoghan molested scores of children before being murdered in prison, including Dussourd’s three sons and four other children in her care.
In 2001, the Geoghan case triggered international scandal by revealing the extent of church officials’ knowledge and soft treatment of child-molesting priests. Dussourd and her family had filed the first Geoghan-related lawsuit years earlier, and their complaints became key evidence of high-level cover-up of the priest abuse crisis. The repercussions included the dramatic resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston.
Dussourd has said she fears the developer will demolish St. Andrew’s, effectively erasing part of the history of a sexual abuse scandal that itself involved denying and covering up past crimes.
The only thing close to a guarantee against demolition is official Boston landmark status. That gives the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) review power over any demolition or exterior changes. Interior changes or uses of the property are typically not restricted.
The landmarking process begins with a petition signed by residents and submitted to the BLC by anyone. Dussourd told the Gazette last week that she got BLC paperwork and has begun that process.
“I have started to get signatures,” she said in an e-mail to the Gazette.
Once a petition to landmark a site is submitted, the BLC votes to accept or deny it. If the petition is accepted, the BLC staff will then study the significance of the site, with no particular deadline. Eventually, the BLC will vote whether to landmark the site. If a site is named a landmark, the mayor and City Council also have to approve the decision.
A similar landmark process happened with the former Blessed Sacrament Church complex in Hyde Square. When the Gazette reported that the site had no historic protections, a resident submitted a landmark petition. The BLC has yet to vote on landmarking the site, but it has used the process to gain leverage over the redevelopment, including convincing the developers not to demolish a historic rectory.
Even if the St. Andrew’s buildings are preserved, that doesn’t automatically mean that a monument of some sort can be built there. The new owner’s permission would be needed for that.
Dussourd is marshaling support for the memorial idea. The Gazette has received support letters from as far away as California and England.
Mitchell Garabedian, the famous attorney who represented nearly 150 Geoghan victims in a landmark lawsuit against the archdiocese, previously told the Gazette that he would support whatever the victims want. But he also spoke favorably of preserving St. Andrew’s, calling it a “constant reminder to the world” of the lessons of the abuse crisis.
Doyle likened the idea to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum built on the site of a building wrecked by the infamous 1995 terrorist bombing. As an Air Force chaplain, Doyle was assigned to Oklahoma City the year after the bombing and saw the memorial transformation first-hand.
Doyle said a monument to survivors of priest abuse also fits within the realm of Catholic iconography.
“The Church has memorials all over the place,” Doyle said. “They memorialize, usually, religious leaders. I think something like this would emphasize…that the real church is the people who need comfort and understanding the most—in this case, victims of priest sexual abuse.”
Any kind of memorial would have to address complex emotions, to say the least. Wrapping pain, anger and inspiration into a single monument to crimes that many people tried to disbelieve is a tall order.
That challenge was faced by the Church of St. Joseph in Mendham, N.J., the site of apparently the world’s first monument to survivors of priest sexual abuse.
It was also taken on by Sts. Philip and James Church in Grand Mound, Iowa, following a lawsuit settlement with the diocese that stipulated some type of survivors’ memorial at each parish.
Like St. Andrew’s, St. Joseph in New Jersey was home to a serial child molestor, the former pastor James Hanley, who has admitted to molesting more than two dozen children. As with Geoghan, Hanley’s crimes were hushed up and he was moved quietly through various parishes.
A difference is that St. Joseph’s next pastor, Rev. Kenneth Lasch, openly embraced abuse victims and called the church hierarchy to task. Lasch became a national victims’ advocate and counselor and supported the memorial idea. Lasch, who reportedly has retired from public activism, did not respond to a Gazette request for comment for this article.
The monument was the idea of Bill Crane, a Hanley survivor and now coordinator of the Oregon chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Crane did not respond to a Gazette request for comment for this article.
The memorial idea reportedly came up at a funeral for another Hanley survivor, who had committed suicide by stepping in front of a train. Among the reported inspirations was the famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Crane’s idea was for a monument shaped like a millstone, inspired by Jesus’s words in the Biblical verse Matthew 18:6: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (King James Version).
A millstone is a wheel-shaped stone used in pairs to grind flour in water- or air-powered mills. They are typically large and heavy.
While Jesus’s words are threatening, the monument is also intended to play off the modern “millstone around your neck” phrase taken from it, meaning a burden someone bears. In this case, both survivors and perpetrators bear their own kinds of burdens.
Crane had an Oregon artist create the millstone monument, which is a disc of black stone about two feet in diameter, standing on edge, with a hole through the middle.
The flat surfaces of the stone are polished smooth to reflect the viewer. The round outer edge was left rough to echo the harshness of the Biblical “millstone” verse, which is inscribed there.
SNAP now sells miniature version of the monument and lapel pins in its image as a fund-raiser items.
There was some controversy about the monument and the decision to include the harsh Bible quote on it, as the National Catholic Reporter reported at the time.
“The millstone is symbolic of the burden [victims] have carried because of sexual abuse,” Hanley survivor Buddy Cotton told the National Catholic Reporter at the time. “It also stands as a warning to anyone who would hurt children.”
At the millstone’s dedication in April, 2004, survivors laid forget-me-not flowers next to the stone. The millstone was set up next to a church center where victims frequently met for counseling.
Survivor Mark Serrano, who was the first to speak out about Hanley’s crimes, cited many purposes for the memorial at the dedication: a “touchstone” for survivors; a memorial to the damage done; a warning to protect children; and a reminder that healing is possible.
“By our very presence, we transformed this place from hunting grounds to healing grounds,” Serrano said, in remarks published on the SNAP web site. “For some, this will now be hallowed ground.”
The monument at Sts. Philip and James in Iowa is simpler but just as powerful to the dozens of reported victims of defrocked priest and former pastor James Janssen. Janssen reportedly publicly denies the molestations and related bizarre crimes he has been accused of, but diocese records show he confessed to some molestations.
A 2004 abuse lawsuit settlement required some type of parish memorials, according to the Des Moines Register. But a three-foot-high granite marker at St. Philip and James appears to be the only prominent example. Like the New Jersey church, Sts. Philip and James is still functioning and is known for its unusual support for sexual abuse victims.
Dedicated with the release of white doves, the monument is engraved with an image of an angel looking over a boy. Like the New Jersey monument, it includes a Bible verse (Luke 12: 2-3) that bears an air of warning: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”
It also is inscribed with a more plain-spoken message from the church members: “Dedicated to our children who survived abuse by those we trusted.”