As we move into day five of Life After Michael Jackson, I'm wondering: How can it be that I feel so bad for the sad, tormented man he'd become?

I wouldn't normally feel inclined toward a forgiving view of someone credibly accused, as the King of Pop was, of child molestation. Yet I find myself boomeranging like an atom between two "Yes, but . . ." poles:

Michael Jackson slept with little boys. Yes, but . . . he could stir in us a thrilling range of human emotion - from exuberance and delight to restlessness, rage and yearning.

Michael Jackson paid multimillion-dollar settlements to make child-molestation cases go away. Yes, but . . . he was so brilliant a performer, he transcended color lines that had kept most black entertainers from the diverse audiences they deserved.

Although Michael Jackson was acquitted of seducing a young cancer victim, lewd details exposed at trial showed Jackson to be as creepy as a neighborhood perv on a kiddie prowl.

Yes, but . . . can anyone listen to his utterly perfect "Man in the Mirror" without feeling inspired by its urgent call for personal change, for a greater good?

I contacted David Clohessy to stew over the ambivalence I've been feeling about the Gloved One's legacy.

Is it possible, I asked, to appreciate the totality of who Michael Jackson was, when his demons drove him to behave in such a disturbing way with children?

"I feel both sympathy and revulsion" for Jackson, said Clohessy, a childhood victim of molestation and national director of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "I feel sorry for anyone who came from a family where burning ambition was just drilled into children.

"On the other hand, there's a danger in minimizing the abuse charges. When you watch a 30-minute memorial to Michael Jackson, and they don't even mention the molestation until 22 minutes into it, it tells present sex-abuse victims that abuse isn't that bad.

"When there's all this adulation, what does that tell the kid who's being molested by his charismatic track coach, who tells the kid no one will believe him if he tries to get help?"

Still, Jackson's case seems different to me, which is not to dismiss his sex scandals. His formidable talent and tremendous contributions to pop culture do not trump his vile ways with kids.

Besides, anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I've been a loud, frequent critic of the Philadelphia Archdiocese for its repugnant and soft handling of sex abuse by clergy.

How can I feel sympathy for Jackson, when I feel not a morsel of it for the priests who betrayed the trust of their flock?

Easy: Unlike so many of Philadelphia's sex-abuse victims, for whom the statute of limitations on prosecution ran out long ago, Jackson's accusers have had the chance to tell their stories. And if you talk to any abuse survivor, they will tell you that that is what they want most: to be heard.

Incarceration for their perpetrators would be nice, yes. Or a financial settlement to equal the pain they've carried.

But the chance to be heard?

It is priceless, powerful and and healing.

Two of Jackson's accusers were vindicated when Jackson handed them multimillion-dollar settlement checks. A third had his say in court.

Though Jackson was acquitted, it was not because the jury was overwhelmingly convinced of his innocence.They just weren't entirely sure of his guilt.

And everyone knew it.

The bottom line is, Jackson's victims were able, by being heard, to level the power he'd once held over them. No, he didn't serve time, but he didn't get away with anything, either.

One look at his scrawny frame, carved-up face and screwed-up life made that clear to anyone who could stand to see the circus freak that Jackson had become.

And it makes me feel compassion for the little boy he once was - a love-starved tyke whose corrosive household groomed him for an adulthood where he crossed boundaries no grown-up should cross.

My heart hurts for that little boy. It goes out to the wounded man he became. It aches for those who say he harmed them.

Funny how much a heart can feel - once it feels the right voices have been heard. *

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