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Spotlight Report

Parishes seek to distance themselves from cardinal

By Scott S. Greenberger and Corey Dade, Globe Staff, 5/6/2002

Given the mood of his congregation, the Rev. Peter Casey knew that the best way to solicit contributions for Cardinal Bernard F. Law's annual fund-raising drive was to separate the drive from Cardinal Law.

Casey, the pastor at Milton's St. Agatha Parish, opted not to read Law's fund-raising letter or play Law's taped appeal during Mass yesterday. Instead, he told his congregation that the drive should be called "the archdiocesan appeal" and emphasized that much of the money would flow to poorer parishes.

"I felt my announcement in the bulletin, along with my announcement after Communion, for this particular time in the history of the archdiocese was enough," Casey explained after his parishioners had filed out of church.

Many Boston-area pastors were faced with a similar dilemma yesterday as the archdiocese launched its annual appeal in the midst of a growing clergy sex abuse scandal: How would they present the drive to a laity that, according to polls, favors Law's resignation for his failure to crack down on abusive priests?

The appeal raises money for the core operations of the Boston archdiocese and numerous charitable works. This year, it is also being viewed as a measure of Law's credibility. The archdiocese is seeking $16 million, the same amount it raised last year.

Judging from conversations with nearly a dozen worshipers at St. Agatha's, Casey was wise to de-emphasize Law's role in the appeal. But despite his efforts, most said they had no intention of giving this year.

Linda MacKay of Milton said she planned to contribute to Catholic Charities, but not to the Cardinal's appeal.

"I love the church. I'm a loyal Catholic and I have no question about my faith," MacKay said. "A lot of wonderful things have been supported by the Cardinal's Appeal in the past, but I guess it's a matter of being heard, and sometimes the pocketbook talks."

Another parishioner, a former priest who was attending Mass with his wife, said, "We feel betrayed."

"I've been going through the agony of a priest, and I feel the betrayal as a layman," said the man, who didn't want to be identified. His wife said she was so disgusted with the scandal she skipped Mass five consecutive Sundays.

The worshipers' reaction mirrored a survey distributed at St. Agatha's in March, before revelations about Law's handling of the Rev. Paul Shanley, who was arrested for child rape last week. A newsletter summarizing the results said "a large number" of the 305 parishioners who filled out the survey expressed "powerful negative emotions toward the hierarchy" for its handling of the scandal.

The Rev. Robert Bullock of Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon reminded his congregation that the money collected during the appeal helps people with AIDS and victims of domestic abuse.

"While there are a lot of people who feel they want to make a statement by not contributing, there's another point to make, which is that the statement is made at the cost of other people, and ministries that are important," Bullock said.

"People are conflicted about this, but I think that many, if not most, will contribute."

The Rev. Michael F. McLellan of the Blessed Sacrament Church in Jamaica Plain agreed. He said the scandal hasn't dampened contributions by his congregation, which has already exceeded its fund-raising goal of $135,000 for the archdiocese's capital campaign. However, Blessed Sacrament won't solicit donations for the Cardinal's Appeal until the fall.

The parish, which is primarily Latino, has remained supportive of Law, but McLellan insisted that the gravity of priests' sexual abuse isn't lost on congregants. The crisis has moved many of them to be more inquisitive than in years past about how their donations will be used, McLellan said.

"Support for the church, support for Cardinal Law, doesn't mean blindly accepting everything," he said.

As the morning's only English-language Mass ended yesterday, Luis Vega, 26, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament for nine years, unfolded a $20 bill and dropped it in the offering basket.

"There is a lot going on in the church," said Vega, "but I like to come. It's good for me."

This story ran on page A4 of the Boston Globe on 5/6/2002.
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