Former archbishop says he failed abuse victim

Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A letter from retired Archbishop Francis Hurley apologizing for his failure to help a teenage parishioner who reported sexual abuse by a priest two decades ago was read in churches throughout the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

The letter, read Sunday, was a response to a recent account by Service High School principal Pat Podvin. Podvin said in an interview with KTUU-TV earlier this month that he was abused by former Anchorage priest Francis Murphy in 1982, when Podvin was 18. Podvin said he reported the abuse at the time to Hurley but never heard back from the archbishop.

In the letter, dated Feb. 15, Hurley refers to himself as a sinner and said he failed Podvin by not responding to his report. Hurley said he has personally apologized to Podvin.

''The word 'failure' might seem like a weak or soft word,'' Hurley's letter says. ''It is not. Failure can lead to catastrophes.''

In the letter, Hurley also urged anyone who has been sexually abused by a member of the Catholic Church to contact Archbishop Roger Schwietz or other church leaders. The church now has a committee that responds to allegations of sexual abuse. The committee advises the archbishop on what to do in each case, Hurley said.

''It is a very saddening thought that the policy was not in effect in 1982,'' Hurley wrote.

Podvin came forward after Murphy's name surfaced in Boston in documents that showed he was one of several priests accused of sexual abuse who were allowed to move to other states.

Hurley first apologized publicly in a news conference the day after Podvin's interview aired. He said he hadn't realized how much the incident had affected Podvin.

Hurley said he made sure Murphy received counseling but didn't seek any for Podvin.

Murphy now lives in Cuba, N.M., where until recently he ran a youth counseling program. School officials said they suspended the program for at-risk youths after learning of the accusations.

The letter concludes: ''I ask your prayers for victims and their families, for the Church and all its members, and in keeping with our Catholic tradition, also for the abusers. Finally I ask your prayers for me. God bless you.''

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