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Spotlight Report

Priests agonize over disclosures

Some call openly for Law to depart

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 12/6/2002

The potential bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of Boston, a string of sordid revelations about rogue priests, and the apparent punishment of an outspoken cleric have left many of Boston's priests stunned, demoralized, and feeling increasingly powerless.

Even as they went about their work, leading the familiar, joyous rituals of Advent season, priests yesterday were e-mailing and calling one another to share their upset and shame over the alleged misconduct by some of their brother priests, and their anger at Cardinal Bernard F. Law for failing to remove the miscreants.

''It's demoralizing, dispiriting, and disheartening,'' said Monsignor Peter V. Conley, pastor of Saint Jude Church in Norfolk. ''I worry about the next generation. What are they going to think of us?''

And, despite their vows of obedience, some are openly calling for Law to leave.

''It's beyond time for him to leave,'' said the Rev. Stephen S. Josoma, pastor of Saint Susanna Church in Dedham. ''It's clear now that they knew all along and didn't do anything, and that they moved people around again and again, despite their denials.''

Leaders of the Boston Priests Forum, the largest organization of local priests, say many of their members are now demanding that the group call for Law's resignation. Although the forum once held an informal show of hands that indicated a majority of members supported Law's resignation, it has thus far resisted a formal vote on whether Law should go.

''I'm hearing from a lot of priests, and the level of outrage is more than ever - the anger is very, very deep,'' said the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon and the leader of the priests' forum. ''The demands for his resignation seem to be more widespread, and just unrelenting. He's become compromised and marginalized and diminished. He's become a tragic figure.''

Some of Law's most loyal supporters are also deeply troubled.

Conley, who was the longtime editor of the Pilot and a friend of Law, said he was disturbed by Law's decision this week to bar archdiocesan meetings at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Newton without alerting the pastor, the Rev. Walter H. Cuenin, to the ban or the reasons for it. Cuenin believes the ban was triggered by his invitation to more than 100 priests to attend a meeting today - which is still going to take place - to discuss the difficulty of raising money for the archdiocesan capital campaign.

''I find the fact that he never had the courtesy to call Walter alarming, and I called Walter with a few words of encouragement,'' Conley said.

The Rev. Joseph M. Hennessey, the pastor of Saint Joseph Church in Kingston and a critic of the Priests Forum and Voice of the Faithful, is also disturbed.

''Obviously I feel horribly for Cardinal Law, but he'd be the first one to tell you that the church transcends the present occupant of any office,'' Hennessey said. ''The only thing that consoles us is looking at church history - things have been worse, and yet we perdure because there's something divine in the faith that goes beyond the inadequate or wrongheaded decisions made by any current occupants of any given offices.''

Laypeople are also reeling from the disclosures, which seem destined to continue through the Christmas season, as lawyers release the contents of scores of files on priests which the archdiocese was ordered to turn over.

''People have the sense that we're at the edge of an abyss,'' said James E. Post, president of Voice of the Faithful. ''This week's disclosures point again to a pervasive administrative pattern that gave no weight to the injury that was being caused to innocent victims.''

Post said Voice of the Faithful will probably debate whether the cardinal should resign at a meeting of its top 100 leaders next Wednesday. As with the Priests Forum, it seems clear that a majority of members of Voice of the Faithful support Law's resignation, as indicated by a show of hands at a meeting last spring, but the organization has never taken a formal position on the matter.

But Post said that the landscape has now changed. He described Law's action against the Newton parish as ''the desperate acts of someone who is beginning to lash out.''

''You have 2 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston with no pastoral leadership, the priests are at sea, and we're in the season of Advent, looking for light,'' he said. ''It's not a pretty picture.''

Many priests say they are seeing dwindling attendance at Mass and reduced financial contributions as the crisis enters its 12th month, and they are increasingly frustrated.

''It seems that our leadership has been compromised, and continues to compromise the mission of the church by its behavior,'' said the Rev. Robert J. Bowers, pastor of Saint Catherine of Siena Church in Charlestown. ''There is a remarkable history of coverup and abuse, and the accountability rests directly with Cardinals Law and Medeiros and their administrations. I'm tired of being embarrassed by them.''

Law's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday. Law has not spoken publicly since his homily last Sunday.

Law seemed to find a defender in the Cuenin controversy in one prominent Catholic, Deal Hudson, the editor of Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic journal. Hudson yesterday issued an e-mail declaring that Cuenin is ''hardly a martyr'' and asserting that his ''success ... has come about largely as a result of his wildly dissident positions.''

Cuenin has publicly questioned the church's position on homosexuality, and doubted its ban on the ordination of women.

But the parish council at Cuenin's church drafted a letter of support for their pastor. The council's lay leader, Drew J. Hannah, said Hudson's characterization is ''an inflammatory label that doesn't connect in any way to the reality of our situation.''

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/6/2002.
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