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Spotlight Report

Pope's homily draws mixed response from local Catholics

Abuse comments draw praise, but derision as well

By Corey Dade, Globe Staff, 7/29/2002

They cheered in Toronto yesterday after Pope John Paul II addressed the clergy sexual abuse scandal there, but reactions in Boston, the epicenter of the crisis, were of equal parts hope and dismay.

The pope's homily in Toronto

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Advocates for victims of pedophile priests said the pope, commenting publicly on the crisis for the first time in months, brought them no comfort. Church reformers had hoped for a more forceful stand, if not a call for systemic change. And several other Catholics said the pontiff's remarks at World Youth Day were appropriate - but long overdue.

''He's the leader of the church and that's where it should come from. I think it's good because that's what everybody's been waiting for,'' said Patrick McFeely, as he left the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, where picket signs calling for the removal of Cardinal Bernard F. Law have become weekly events since the scandal erupted in January. ''He comes out and says how he feels, and that's how everyone else feels. It was affirming.''

Earlier yesterday in a Mass for an estimated 800,000 pilgrims in Toronto, the pope said priestly sexual abuse has caused ''a deep sense of sadness and shame.'' He acknowledged some priests had victimized children, but that most clergy wish to ''serve and do good'' and deserve the support of the young Catholics, evoking from them rousing cheers and applause.

The words sounded a hollow note among sexual abuse victims and their relatives protesting yesterday in front of St. Andrew's Church in Jamaica Plain. They said the pope's remarks were consistent with the church's continued handling of the crisis because they sympathized more with priests than with those abused by them.

''He's as complicit as the rest of them,'' said John Harris, 44, of Norwood, who says he was sexually abused by a priest. ''The corruption goes right to the top. The pope ought to resign, too. He's not one of those good priests.''

From her home in Newton, Paula Ford said she was pleased the pope acknowledged the scandal, but he missed a chance to provide poignant guidance to young Catholics.

''The young people there, they're the future of the church. I think I would have expected a real strong statement of commitment that it would never happen again,'' said Ford, whose son Gregory is among those who have filed civil lawsuits claiming abuse by the retired Rev. Paul Shanley, 71. Shanley faces criminal charges for allegedly molesting boys while a street minister in Newton from 1979 to 1989.

Phil Saviano of Jamaica Plain, director of the New England chapter of SNAP - Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests - said he was disturbed by the jubilant mood at World Youth Day, where the scandal has received modest mention.

''These kids have been oblivious to the news coverage and what we victims have been focusing on for so many months,'' Saviano said. ''Young Catholics should be very discouraged. They should be demanding accountability from Cardinal Law. The message today is: You can take part in covering up a crime and get away with it and still have the respect of thousands and thousands of people.''

But faced with such issues as teenage sex and abortion, youths had other pressing concerns needing the pope's attention in addition to clergy abuse, said the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon.

''The young people did not go there with this as the first thing on their agenda. They are very much aware of what we're all going through. ... I'm glad something was said. It does repeat what he said in Rome to the cardinals, but it was timely and an appropriate recognition.''

Globe correspondent Jack Healy contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used. Corey Dade can be reached at

This story ran on page A8 of the Boston Globe on 7/29/2002.
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