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Spotlight Report

  Eileen McNamara  

Suffer the little children


It's not the chancery they'll be converting into condominiums to pay for the misconduct of priests and the malfeasance of bishops.

It's not St. John's Seminary in Brighton or Pope John XXIII Seminary in Weston they'll be selling off to real estate developers.

It is the urban parishes and the brick schoolhouses that serve the poor in newly gentrified neighborhoods that will be padlocked to pay to preserve the comfort of a corrupt leadership in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Chancellor David W. Smith said last week that the sex abuse scandal will force the archdiocese to slash its operating budget by as much as 40 percent for the fiscal year that begins tomorrow. He would have us believe that such Draconian cuts will not threaten the religious, educational, or charitable mission of the church. Even those of us who barely scraped through math with Sr. Mary Trinita know that promise does not add up.

In public, Smith insists that "closing schools and walking away from our commitment to Catholic education is not in our future." And yet, says someone privy to the inner financial workings of the archdiocese, the agenda already includes an active discussion about which parishes and how many heavily subsidized schools could be closed to make this mess go away.

Now, there's a solution that disillusioned Catholics can get behind: Make the powerless pay for the rape of the innocents!

Expect "declining enrollments" to be the explanation for the closure of small parish elementary schools and larger diocesan high schools serving the inner city poor. That was the cause cited in March for the sudden decision to shutter three parochial schools in Boston and Cambridge.

There is no question that the number of students was down at St. Clare High School in Roslindale and Most Precious Blood grammar school in Hyde Park and St. John the Evangelist elementary school in North Cambridge. But declining enrollments haven't prompted the Archdiocese of Boston to turn out the lights at St. John's, the seminary adjacent to the chancery and archbishop's mansion in Brighton, or at Pope John XXIII, the suburban seminary founded in 1964 by Cardinal Richard Cushing to train older men for the priesthood. The number of graduates ordained last month from both seminaries totaled five. Five.

Archdiocesan officials who did not hesitate to fold 167 children from St. John's grammar school into the student body of St. Catherine School in Somerville in the middle of the school year can't find a way to accommodate a handful of men rattling around the spacious grounds of Pope John XXIII at St. John's Seminary in Brighton before the start of classes next fall?

Imagine what the more than 35 wooded acres on which the nearly deserted Pope John XXIII seminary sits would fetch in the inflated real estate market of Weston, the wealthiest of Boston's western suburbs. Only a handful of men would be displaced to turn the campus into a subdivision of much sought-after six-bedroom McMansions. Last fall's entering class numbered 18. Eighteen.

Smith, the chief financial officer of the archdiocese, thinks it is divisive for the group of lay people known as Voice of the Faithful to provide an alternative channel for charitable giving to Catholic causes that is unaffiliated with the archdiocese and its discredited archbishop. "I don't believe you can properly separate the mission of the church from the bishop," says Smith, apparently still unaware that the beliefs of those in the chancery are no longer taken as gospel out here where the people are learning, at breakneck speed, to think for themselves.

Out here, if I prayed in an under-enrolled parish in Charlestown or sent my child to a heavily subsidized Catholic school in Cambridge, I would not be relying too much on the promise of David Smith and his bosses that there are not some padlocks hidden in their back pockets.

Eileen McNamara can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 6/23/2002.
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