The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


New bishops chosen for two dioceses

Transitions for Worcester, Springfield

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 3/10/2004

Correction: Because of a reporting error, the original published version of this story incorrectly reported the number of priests accused of abuse in Worcester. The Diocese of Worcester reported last month that 112 allegations of sexual abuse of minors had been made against 45 priests (43 diocesan and two from other dioceses but ministering in Worcester) between 1950 and 2003.

Pope John Paul II yesterday appointed new bishops to oversee the Roman Catholic dioceses of Springfield and Worcester, completing the replacement of all four Massachusetts Catholic bishops since the start of the sexual abuse crisis.

The ailing pontiff moved with unusual speed in Springfield, naming a bishop with experience cleaning up an abuse-tarnished child-care agency in New York to oversee an abuse-tarnished diocese in western Massachusetts.

The pope named Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, an auxiliary bishop in New York, to head the Diocese of Springfield, and Bishop Robert J. McManus, an auxiliary bishop in Providence, to head the Diocese of Worcester.

Installation of the new bishops this spring will result in a remarkable transformation of church leadership in this heavily Catholic state, wrought by an unprecedented scandal that led to grand jury investigations in Boston and Springfield.

Over the last 15 months, Archbishop Bernard F. Law of Boston resigned after being accused of failing to remove abusive priests from ministry; Bishop Sean P. O'Malley was brought to Boston to succeed Law; Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of Springfield resigned and is facing possible criminal charges after being accused of abuse; and Bishop Daniel P. Reilly of Worcester retired.

Within the last two weeks, all four dioceses have issued reports acknowledging having spent millions of dollars to settle hundreds of cases of clerical abuse of minors, but said most of it took place several decades ago.

"This is a challenging time to be a bishop or, indeed, a Catholic in the United States and, in particular, here in New England," McManus, who will be installed May 14, said yesterday. "The shocking scandal of sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and the mishandling of this dreadful situation by some church leaders have brought shame and ridicule on the Catholic Church in the United States."

The bishops are also waging their most intense public policy battle in years, attempting to persuade the Legislature to place on the ballot a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. Public support for gay marriage has fallen since the bishops started speaking out, according to Globe polling; it is not clear what role the bishops' outspokenness has played in that shift.

"Every place these bishops go, the sexual abuse crisis is still in front of us, because we've had such a terrible time here in Massachusetts," said David J. O'Brien, a professor of Roman Catholic studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. "In Springfield, there is still the possibility of the former bishop facing a criminal trial, and there is the whistleblower priest who was isolated. Here in Worcester, it's not quite as acute, but we do have some very serious problems of pastoral care."

In Springfield, Catholics are reeling from allegations that Dupre sexually abused two boys in the 1970s and 1980s. District Attorney William M. Bennett of Hampden said last week that he had convened a grand jury because he believes there is probable cause to support the abuse allegations.

McDonnell will be installed April 1. In a statement he read in Springfield yesterday, McDonnell did not refer directly to clergy sexual abuse, but offered a prayer: "Let [God] help us all ask forgiveness of any who have been wronged; Let him help us all forgive any who have wronged us; Let him help us all heal any hurts that individuals or groups may feel."

The pope did not issue a statement explaining his choices, but his swift action in Springfield appears to reflect a recognition of the severity of the crisis there.

"Any time you have a bishop facing the prospect of jail time, that diocese is in crisis," said John L. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. "This is an obvious response to a diocese in crisis."

O'Malley issued a statement yesterday congratulating the two new bishops.

"It is particularly gratifying that the Holy Father has chosen so quickly to name Bishop McDonnell to Springfield in light of the turmoil that the diocese has been undergoing in the past few weeks," said O'Malley, who as chief regional bishop -- or metropolitan -- has some responsibility for making sure bishops in this area are held accountable for their actions. "It speaks well of the care that he has for all of the Church of Christ."

McDonnell, 66, is a native New Yorker whose most relevant experience came in 1990, when he spent six months helping to run Covenant House after the resignation of its founder and director, the Rev. Bruce Ritter, who was accused of having sex with young men who sought shelter at the agency and of financial misconduct. McDonnell went on to serve as chief operating officer of Catholic Charities in New York; he was ordained a bishop in 2001 and is currently co-vicar general of the Archdiocese of New York.

McDonnell was a parish priest after being ordained in 1963, and later served as vice chancellor for the archdiocese and as chief operating officer for its Catholic Charities office, among other postings.

McManus, 52, was born in Providence, and since 1998 has served as rector of the diocesan seminary there. Ordained in 1978, he was a parish priest and served in several locations before becoming rector. He was ordained a bishop in 1999.

He has been a strong supporter of the church's traditional teachings; last summer he called US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy's criticism of the church's opposition to same-sex marriage "erroneous," "insulting," and "uninformed."

The Diocese of Worcester reported last month that 112 of its priests had been accused of sexually abusing minors from 1950 to 2002, and that it had spent $2.3 million in victim settlements. Since 2002, District Attorney John J. Conte of Worcester has brought sexual abuse charges against seven priests, but five of the cases originated outside the Worcester Diocese, according to the diocesan spokesman, who said all abusive priests have been removed from ministry there.

Both new bishops won praise from Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer who has represented numerous victims of clergy sexual abuse, including the two men who say they were abused by Dupre.

Of McDonnell, MacLeish said: "Here they have appointed a good man to replace Dupre, and that he will be sworn in by April tells me that the Vatican finally realizes it needs to address this problem quickly."

MacLeish credited McManus with pressing the Providence Diocese to settle, in 2002, allegations of abuse involving its priests. McManus was a nonvoting member of Providence's child protection board, created by the diocese that year to handle allegations of sexual abuse in Rhode Island.

Peter Pollard, coordinator of the western Massachusetts chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, urged both McManus and McDonnell to move quickly to show they understand they need to restore confidence in the church. "It would mean a great deal if he [McDonnell] cleaned house," Pollard said. "He needs to take the responsibility of showing he treats survivors who come forward as doing a service to the diocese and not as enemies."

Michael Paulson can be reached at Kevin Cullen and Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe staff contributed to this report, along with Globe correspondent Connie Paige.

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