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Spotlight Report

Priests cite need for church's rebirth

Homilies focus on reuniting, healing Catholics

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 12/15/2002

With biblical words of healing and justice, and words of their own about redemption and renewal, pastors yesterday began welcoming area Catholics to a church eager to celebrate its season of light after a stormy year darkened by scandal.

As Cardinal Bernard F. Law returned from Rome, where he tendered his resignation to Pope John Paul II, faithful Catholics began returning to weekly Mass, where the message from the pulpit was about forgiveness and rebirth.

''For all of us Catholics, there has been a dark cloud over our heads,'' the Rev. Daniel J. Riley, pastor of St. William Church in Dorchester, said at an evening Mass yesterday. ''Hopefully, for some of our brothers and sisters who have stopped coming to church, they will be back again.''

On the third Sunday of Advent, in which lectors read biblical verses about the need to ''heal the brokenhearted,'' many pastors said yesterday that they plan to use scripture as a metaphor for a church they hope can now move beyond the crisis that Law had come to personify.

''For nearly a year, we have not been whole,'' the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon, said in a sermon he plans to deliver this morning. ''Our parish and all the others have lost members. People have taken a leave. Some have found it impossible to come.''

Bullock, a leader of the Boston Priests Forum, said he hopes his parish will begin to reunite beginning today.

''The great work now for our church, our archdiocese, is to rebuild trust and confidence, to heal, and help supply the motives of credibility that have all been so shattered,'' he said. ''We have been at the epicenter of the greatest crisis in the history of American Catholicism. We have suffered this for a year, thinking about it and talking about it.

''We have prayed together and tried to analyze the deeper meaning. This has been our desert. Who then is better prepared to be the epicenter for healing and wholeness?''

The scandal suppressed weekly church attendance and cut into the offertory collection - trends that pastors like Bullock and the Rev. John W. Hanley, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Lowell, hope to see reversed.

''There's no doubt that people have stopped going [to church]. They've stopped giving. We can see it in the collection,'' said Hanley. ''Some people have told me that as long as the cardinal was in place, they weren't coming back. I'm hoping they're true to their word.''

As he prepared his homily for today's services, Hanley said he will solicit prayers for the cardinal, for the victims of clergy sexual abuse, and for the courage to realize that the cardinal's resignation alone will not resolve the crisis.

''We had a priest's luncheon [Friday] and it resembled an Irish wake,'' said Hanley. ''We need to begin the healing process that really will take our entire lifetime to complete.''

At the Church of the Sacred Heart in Roslindale, Monsignor Francis H. Kelley, the church pastor, said he hopes the flame from today's Advent wreath provides a light of renewal for his parishioners, who are firm in their conviction that they embody the church and are its future.

''The lay people here believe that,'' Kelley said before celebrating the 4 p.m. Mass. ''I'm not sure all our bishops do or even some priests. They see themselves as the church. What our people are saying is: `We are not leaving the church. This is our church.'''

In the church, where the sanctuary was adorned by the candlelit wreath and a finely trimmed Christmas tree, Kelley offered prayers for Law and his temporary replacement, Bishop Richard G. Lennon, appointed Friday as the archdiocese's apostolic administrator.

In a letter to parishioners, Kelley called Law's resignation the necessary healing salve for a church wounded by scandal.

''In addition to the sexual abuse of our young people, our clerical leadership has whitewashed these sins and crimes,'' Kelley wrote in a letter inserted in this weekend's parish bulletin. ''A great storm of protest has washed away the cover-up. We need to move forward with a new honesty and truthfulness. Our church leadership has to change.

''This is a large and unfair burden to place upon Bishop Richard Lennon. All of us, bishops, clergy and laity, need to find ways to act and to live together as a church.''

In Brockton, the Rev. Francis J. Cloherty, pastor of St. Patrick Church, said that with emotions still tender, he plans to discuss the cardinal's departure and the crisis in a ''listening session'' in a meeting room after Mass today.

''Bishop Lennon is a good guy and we've got to keep moving without waiting to see who the next archbishop is,'' said Cloherty.

Yesterday, as a cold rain and darkness fell on Boston, the Rev. Walter F. Keymont celebrated Mass at St. Ann Church in Dorchester, where he told his parishioners that arrogance is the root of the archdiocese's crisis.

''In many respects, as a priest of this archdiocese, I felt betrayed,'' Keymont said of the church's failure to protect children. He asked his parishioners to pray for Law, Lennon, and the victims of sexual abuse, especially the ones who were abused at St. Ann.

The pastor also criticized the 58 archdiocesan priests who signed a letter requesting Law to resign. ''I was always taught you do not kick a man when he's down or dance on his grave,'' Keymont said. ''It was not an act of courage. It was an act of arrogance. ... It was arrogance that got us into trouble before and it'll be arrogance that will make it worse.''

In an interview before Mass, Keymont said no one should think that Law's decision to step down means the scandal is over.

''It's not over by a long shot,'' he said. ''I'm sure there are going to be more trials and depositions. This will never be over unless we return to living a holier life.''

In Dorchester, Riley held a portable microphone in his hand as he walked to the front of the altar at St. William Church, which was adorned in the pink and purple colors of Advent.

''We have just lived through a historic week and dramatic week. How are you all feeling?'' he asked nearly 100 parishioners.

No one answered. It appeared that they did not know how.

Riley criticized the hierarchy of the Boston Archdiocese, and offered apologies to parishioners for its negligence.

''It's also sad in terms of the very poor handling of the priest abuses on the part of numerous bishops, not just one bishop, but numerous bishops,'' he said. ''Imagine if they had done even a halfway decent job. How many children would be spared the nightmare that they have to live with?'' he asked.

In Sharon, where Bullock had become one of the most conspicuous clergymen to call for Law's ouster, parishioners are expected to hear from him today that he takes no glee in Law's demise.

''The resignation of the cardinal is, most agree, a necessary step,'' Bullock said in his prepared sermon, a copy of which he supplied to the Globe. ''But his leaving is not like a victory. Not for priests anyway. There was for us on Friday deep sorrow and sympathy. Every priest who signed the letter did so with pain and reluctance.

''A Vatican official, unnamed, said that letter was the last straw: `When priests override their vows of obedience and openly revolt against their bishop, it is impossible to govern the diocese.' That is not what happened. There was not a revolt and the reason for the letter was that we were not being led.''

Globe correspondents Peter DeMarco, Jenny Jiang, and Patrick J. Calnan contributed to this report.Thomas Farragher can be reached at

This story ran on page A50 of the Boston Globe on 12/15/2002.
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