To the Rev. Robert Bullock, the lesson of the clerical sex abuse crisis that began in his own Boston Archdiocese is simple: Priests cannot risk remaining silent and subservient.
"Crimes were committed in our parishes by our brother priests," said Bullock, a co-founder of the Boston Priests Forum. "What made us so passive, so supine, so unwilling to take risks?
"We can't be that way again. Those things are going to happen again. We can't be complicit."
Already credited by some with playing a role in the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law as Boston archbishop, Bullock and others in the group hope the forum grows to combat the secrecy at the heart of the sex abuse problem among the clergy.
But some priests see the existence of a group of clerics independent of the archdiocese as divisive.
The Rev. Joseph Hennessey, a Boston-area priest, said the forum can best serve the archdiocese "by disbanding."
"The church is like a family," he said. "Families settle things
The forum estimates that about 250 of the archdiocese's 550 active priests are members. Hennessey and others say those who support the forum are primarily the more liberal clerics.
The Rev. Paul Kilroy, a forum founder, said canon law gives priests the right to form their own groups, adding that his group must play an important role as the archdiocese moves forward.
"We have to get out of the bunker mentality," Kilroy said. "We have to get out of the secrecy."
The forum's start was innocuous: three priests meeting for dinner in September 2001 to hash out concerns such as loneliness and overwork. But the hunger for fellowship was sharp, and the group grew to about 50 by the end of that year, just before the sex scandal broke.
Law became the lightning rod for dissent among parishioners and alleged victims after shifting priests accused of molesting children from parish to parish.
Priests were demoralized by their colleagues' misconduct and the hierarchy's mishandling of those cases. But they also worried about false accusations, and the forum spoke out when Law seemed cool to their concerns.
Some labeled them rebels after 58 priests, including members of the forum, signed a letter calling for Law to step down days before he gave his resignation to the pope Dec. 13.
Priests take a vow of obedience to their bishop, and disputes between clergymen and prelates are usually settled privately.
Forum leaders have expressed a willingness to work with Bishop Richard Lennon, the archdiocese's interim leader.