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Spotlight Report

Lennon is expected to address crisis at Mass today

Will officiate during services at cathedral

By Michael Rezendes and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 12/15/2002

In December 2002, Bishop Richard G. Lennon replaced Cardinal Law as leader of the Archdiocese of Boston.  
Coverage of Bishop Lennon
Facing high expectations from beleaguered priests and dispirited lay Catholics, Bishop Richard G. Lennon will make his first public remarks as interim leader of the Boston Archdiocese when he celebrates Mass this morning at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End.

Donna M. Morrissey, the archdiocesan spokeswoman, said Lennon chose to spend yesterday out of the public eye, readying remarks that are expected to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis that prompted the resignation on Friday of Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

After Mass, the archdiocese's youngest bishop - he is 55 - may make brief remarks to reporters.

On Thursday, Lennon was notified by the Vatican that he would be vaulted over a half dozen more senior auxiliary bishops to become apostolic administrator, a role that may end up being substantially more important than that of temporary caretaker until the Vatican decides on a permanent replacement for Law.

Archdiocesan officials said Lennon faces enormous challenges: He needs to begin restoring the faith of the laity in church leadership and rebuild the morale of his priests. He needs to reach out to sexual abuse victims. And he is seeking a way to settle the claims of an estimated 500 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests.

James E. Post, president of Voice of the Faithful, said he was not surprised Lennon stayed out of the public eye yesterday. Lennon, he said, needed the time to prepare for a homily that Post described as ''probably the most important homily or talk he has ever given.''

''He has to reach out to people who were so greatly disaffected during the course of this year, he has to reach out to survivors and the survivor community, he has to reach out to the priests, and he has to reach out to the laity,'' Post said. ''I think he has to acknowledge that all the raw nerves out there are warranted because of what we've all been through, and then begin to paint a picture of how we all go forward.''

In particular, Post said Voice of the Faithful members and other Catholics will be listening for the tone Lennon sets, and for any clues about the process he will use to bridge the rifts that opened between priests and the chancery, and between the laity and their church in the weeks and months before Law resigned.

''That's an awful lot of freight to put on one homily,'' Post said.

Post also said that Lennon, although known as an effective listener and an able canonist with ''a terrific work ethic,'' does not have Cardinal Bernard F. Law's oratorical skills.

Like Law before him, Lennon can expect to be greeted outside the chancery by demonstrators who have protested the church's forgiving treatment of sexually abusive priests on Sunday mornings since January, when the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted.

Joseph E. Gallagher Jr., cofounder of the Coalition of Concerned Catholics and Survivors, said he expects 30 to 40 demonstrators outside the cathedral.

Gallagher, a father of four boys who were altar servers for predator priest John J. Geoghan, although none were molested, said he met Lennon during a ''listening session'' at Weston's St. Julia Church, Geoghan's last assignment, and left unimpressed.

''He didn't seem to have many answers and he didn't show us he had a profound grasp of the problem,'' Gallagher said. He said he took particular exception to a statement he said that Lennon made about the prevalence of priests who molest children.

''He said that in no way, shape, or form would he consider the problem involving a significant percentage of the priests,'' Gallagher said. ''We had a very spirited exchange on that issue.''

This story ran on page A48 of the Boston Globe on 12/15/2002.
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