“Victims and survivors refer to Tom as the bravest priest in America,” Meservey said. “This bravery is matched only by his compassion.”
Doyle said he was surprised to learn of the award. “It matters not because I like the limelight — I don’t — but because it acknowledges the victims and survivors of both spiritual and physical abuse by Catholic clergy,” he said. “It pours cold water on the collective bishops’ attempts to convince the people that the problem is now over, which it is not. Every time something like this (award) happens, no matter who gets it, it puts a spotlight on the problem.”
The ultimate success of events like this, he said, would be if people came forward to acknowledge that abuse had happened to them and now want to seek help.
Seldon, too, noted the award’s importance as a way to continue addressing injustices. In 1968, when Seldon learned that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated, he dedicated his life to eradicating racism. He founded Community Change Inc. in Boston, a nonprofit addressing racial issues through community activities, resources and education. Seldon also taught a course on racism for 52 semesters at Boston College before retiring. At age 73, he became a National Park Service ranger for the Boston National Historic Site and a historian specializing in the abolition movement. He resides in Wakefield.
“We pay tribute tonight to those who died rather than compromise their personal beliefs,” Seldon said. “This award is a wonderful recognition of trying to get things done.”
In addition to the annual award, the mission of the all-volunteer board of the Salem Award Foundation includes upgrading and maintaining the Witch Trials Memorial — which has received 7 million visitors over the past 20 years — as well as educating the public about human rights and social justice through community partnerships and lectures. The organization sponsored two documentaries during the Salem Film Fest and is currently planning a new book award to honor high school students who exhibit “courage and determination in going beyond the usual approach to a social problem.”
“We want Salem to be known as much for human rights and social justice as it is for many other issues,” Rose said. “This award shows how a single person, with enough passion and enough courage, can help change the world.”