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A new Archbishop for Boston Boston Globe
JULY 30, 2003
A new Archbishop for Boston Boston Globe

'Good priests' moved to tears at archbishop's words of comfort

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 7/31/2003

Outside the church, they were insulted, taunted, cursed. But inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the new archbishop had words of comfort and encouragement for the hundreds of innocent priests who have been among the collateral damage of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

"We gather here with so many priests, so many good priests, struggling to make sense of it all," Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley said.

He was interrupted by applause, a show of appreciation from the laity inside the cathedral for the priests of the archdiocese. Many of the 600 priests who were invited to the installation rose to acknowledge the gratitude. Some of them had tears in their eyes. Many had wide smiles.

"Boy," said the Rev. Michael A. Hobson, standing on the front stairs of the cathedral after Mass, "did we ever need that."

Two months ago, Hobson became pastor of St. Agnes Church in Middleton, which is still recovering from the damage inflicted by a lay worker who was imprisoned two years ago for raping and molesting children from the parish.

"We are still healing," Hobson said.

Standing near Hobson was a retired priest, the Rev. Richard A. Driscoll, who at 78 refuses to stop working because he says there is too much work to do.

"I'm living in Topsfield, but I help out at St. Agnes. St. Agnes was so hurt by all this. I want to help any way I can," Driscoll said.

Driscoll said O'Malley's words, and the audience's reaction, lifted his spirits.

"It was so wonderful what happened in there today because it reminded people there are so many good priests, and I hope I am one of them," he said.

The Rev. Francis "Bud" Reardon, a Dorchester native now working as a priest in Boca Raton, Fla., came north to see off the man who had been his bishop for just nine months. Reardon, who had worked in Palm Beach where two of O'Mally's predecessors were accused of abusing young people, cried when the applause washed over him.

"I was moved to tears," he said. "It was really affirming. And it was very humbling, too."

As they put on their vestments in the basement of the cathedral, preparing for the procession that began O'Malley's installation, many priests spoke of their hope that yesterday marked a new beginning for their church, and for themselves.

Some spoke of how they have been insulted on the streets by strangers who accuse them of being child molesters. One priest sheepishly admitted he had taken off his Roman collar more in the past year than in the previous 10. All spoke of the pain the scandal has caused them, because despite their sympathy for the victims abused by their fellow priests they have been found guilty by association.

"It's been unfair," said the Rev. Thomas Corcoran, a priest from St. Ann's Church in Dorchester. "We keep doing the job for which we were ordained. But the focus has been so much on the negative. We need to be positive and to focus on the good the church does, and the good done by so many priests. I really feel we have turned a page. It's a very challenging time to be a priest, but a very good time to be a priest."

O'Malley told his new charges that "Jesus never promised us that nothing would ever go wrong. But yes, he promised that he would be with us always."

O'Malley acknowledged the difficulties many priests have faced since the abuse crisis exploded in January 2002, telling them, "My brothers, never forget that serving Christ and his people is worth suffering for."

O'Malley likened the burdens faced by priests working in the shadow of the abuse scandal to that of Jesus Christ carrying his cross. For many priests, and for those who care about them, the weight of the scandal has beenheavy.

As the priests made their way into the cathedral, Anne Burns, 46, sat in her wheelchair and dispensed hugs to several of them. She winced when she heard the crude insults hurled by some demonstrators.

"They don't deserve that," said Burns, a parishioner at St. John-St. Hugh Church in Roxbury.

Ray Flynn, the former mayor of Boston and US ambassador to the Vatican, said his eyes filled with tears when applause echoed through the cathedral. "The good priests have been taking it on the chin for the actions of the bad ones, and there's been a tendency to forget that most priests are good, faithful men who didn't deserve this," said Flynn.

The priests and religious leaders appreciated O'Malley's endorsement of them and his stirring call to help the poor. When O'Malley declared that, "The homeless, schizophrenic man off of his meds who says he is Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ in a distressing disguise," Brother Savio, a Franciscan friar, was moved.

"He hit me in the heart," Savio said. "I've worked on skid row. I've worked with the down and out. I've worked in a chapel in a mall, and I'm going back to the mall. He's got the joy, this guy. He's down to earth. The joy of God is here again. And I'm ready to get back out there."

This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 7/31/2003.
© Copyright 2003 New York Times Co.

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