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Law's words frame new play

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Earlier stories

Spotlight Report

Catholics observe Good Friday with protests, prayer

Both inside and outside cathedral, abuse issue cited

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 3/30/2002

As several hundred demonstrators prayed outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Cardinal Bernard F. Law yesterday kicked off the holiest period of the Christian calendar with a prayer for victims of clergy sexual abuse and a vow to attempt to restore ''trust among the faithful.''

The worship rituals, both inside and outside the South End church, were rich with symbolic parallels between the betrayal, suffering, and resurrection of Jesus and the current situation of the Catholic Church, which is struggling globally to respond to lay anger over the hierarchy's frequent decisions in the past to allow priests accused of sexual misconduct to continue to work in ministry. Both Pope John Paul II and Law have described clergy sexual abuse as a betrayal of the church by sinning priests, and have acknowledged that the church is suffering as a result.

Law, who has been besieged by calls for his resignation and by criticism from around the nation, took the role of Jesus during yesterday's Good Friday ritual. He chanted the part of Christ in a reading from the Gospel of John describing the crucifixion, and he carried a large wooden cross down the nave of the neo-Gothic cathedral.

Outside, demonstrators wore purple ribbons, and in some cases purple clothing, to symbolize their sympathies with suffering victims. They staged their own worship service that closely paralleled the simple liturgy inside the cathedral, praying before makeshift stations of the cross and then venerating a hand-held cross at almost exactly the same time that inside the cathedral worshipers were venerating the cross borne to the altar by Law.

Police estimated the crowd of demonstrators at 350-400, and at one point the group encircled the cathedral with joined hands. The crowd of worshipers inside the cathedral appeared to be slightly larger than the crowd outside.

Law, who has repeatedly apologized for his handling of clergy sexual abuse cases and has vowed to improve the church's child protection systems, yesterday focused largely on the deeply religious themes of the day, which marks the suffering and death of Jesus. He referred only briefly to the scandal that is roiling the church, and not at all to the demonstrators outside.

''We bring to the cross our collective sufferings as Church, particularly in this challenging hour, as we seek the reconciling, healing love of Christ for those who have suffered sexual abuse as children by clergy, as we seek to strengthen the effectiveness of our resolve to protect children, as we seek the restoration of trust among the faithful,'' Law said in his homily.

The protesters, many wearing buttons reading ''Solidarity + Reform,'' did not share a consensus solution for the church - the loose coalition had not even attempted to reach agreement on whether Law should resign, women should be ordained, or any of the other changes that have been bandied about. A few held handmade signs, including one woman who brought her child and a placard reading, ''Will children ever be safe in church?'' and another who held a sign reading ''Reform or Be Destroyed.''

Many of the protesters said they simply wanted to support victims.

''It's really important that rank-and-file Catholics show victims they're no longer alone,'' said protest organizer Anne Barrett Doyle. ''On Good Friday we grieve for the victimization of Jesus Christ, and I think Jesus is victimized again in these people.''

Some wrote notes to victims on a large sheet of white paper, and the final portion of the three-hour demonstration was filled with talks by teary men and women who said they had been victimized by priests.

''I'm here because it feels very good not to have to be secretive,'' said Jane Laucks, who held a sign reading ''My Son is a Victim.''

The protest was the largest in Boston to date, and the first to feature a substantial number of nuns. At least three religious orders of women were represented at the demonstration, including the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and the Sisters of St. Anne.

''There needs to be significant change,'' said Sister Eileen Brady of the Sisters of Mercy. ''When the church says you can't even discuss the ordination of women, that's unjust. And we stand for justice.''

Sister Jon Julie Sullivan of the Sisters of Notre Dame said ''there aren't even words to tell you how many changes we need.''

C.J. Doyle of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts criticized the protesters. He said the victims have been co-opted by advocates of women's ordination, ''open acceptance of homosexuals in the clergy,'' and ''disdain for ecclesiastical authority. What we're witnessing is a group of dissidents who are exploiting a tragedy.''

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 3/30/2002.
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