Kevin Cullen

Forgive their trespasses

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / June 14, 2011

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The problem with being a zealot is you’re never satisfied. Even when you get your way, you’re miserable. Trying to turn back a ticking clock will do that.

Some Catholic zealots got their knickers in a twist when it emerged that St. Cecilia’s Church planned to hold a Mass to celebrate Pride month.

They fired off indignant e-mails, asking how the archdiocese could just sit there while a beautiful church in the Back Bay was turned into an outpost of Sodom.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley was forced to reassure the masses that Masses do not celebrate anything prideful. Certainly not a secular event celebrating homosexuality. It was all a mistake, some unsanctioned language in a church bulletin. The Mass was postponed, at least until it can be recast as something with the implicit stipulation that the church loves homosexuals but doesn’t approve of homosexuals making love to each other.

So the Mass is off, the offending language excommunicated, but that’s not enough for the zealots. They have inundated the chancery with e-mails, their blogs full of fury. They want a scalp, someone to pay, someone to, figuratively we presume, burn at the stake. And the someone in their crosshairs is the Rev. John Unni, pastor at St. Cecilia’s, and one of the nicest, most compassionate priests in the city. O’Malley has backed his priest, infuriating the zealots even more.

Last year, I sat in St. Cecilia’s and listened to Father Unni talk about how we, sitting in comfort, had a Christian obligation to — if not actively help — at least actively care about the people of Haiti after the earthquake. He started volunteering in Haiti 25 years ago, six years before he became a priest.

“We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers,’’ he said.

He’s the real deal. One of those priests who lives the Gospel. And now that Gospel, or at least an interpretation of it, is being fashioned as a blunt instrument to use on a good priest whose only sin is being idealistic enough to believe that when Jesus said we should love our neighbor he actually meant it.

“I had no agenda,’’ Father Unni told me. “But I don’t want to compromise the cardinal. I don’t want to compromise gay folks in the parish. When you hear what people have been through, being ostracized, when you walk with people on their journey, that changes your heart.’’

C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, says whoever wrote the item in the bulletin is an apostate who needs to be removed from the church. Doyle took no pleasure in his group’s role in getting the Mass postponed because he and other like-minded conservative Catholics are frustrated. They believe O’Malley is not acting on principle, but only to dampen scandal.

“Orthodox Catholics are getting sick and tired of fighting this two-front war,’’ he said. “The church expects us to fight for traditional marriage, for the sanctity of human life. At the same time, we’re undermined by a culture of dissent and betrayal from inside the church itself.’’

Yesterday, John Unni was thinking of his father, a former Marine who died young. His father used to tell him that he had to be tough, to fight back against his enemies. But, just before he died, his father said he wanted to be more like his son, more gentle, more forgiving.

The hateful e-mails made him think of his father, and of Jesus, of the idea of turning the other cheek.

“I started praying for these people,’’ Father Unni said. “But it happened to me. The energy in me changed. Even if you disagree with someone, why would you be hateful?’’

St. Cecilia was a martyr. Her executioner killed her but failed miserably in his furtive attempts to cut off her head.

Hopefully, those who want Father Unni’s head will be similarly frustrated. Self-righteousness can dull any blade.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at