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Spotlight Report

Church marks its ties to justice system

Cleared priest returns to altar

By Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent, 11/18/2002

Accused of abuse and absolved, Msgr. Michael Smith Foster returned to parish work sobered by his experience.  
Coverage of the Foster case
Catholic leaders and a Harvard scholar used yesterday's annual Red Mass and Catholic Lawyers Guild luncheon to welcome back a monsignor falsely accused of sexual misconduct. They also urged legal professionals to defend Catholicism against ''secular'' biases.

The Rev. Michael Smith Foster, the Archdiocese of Boston's expert on canon law, stood alongside Cardinal Bernard F. Law on the altar of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for the first time since Foster was reinstated on Oct. 30, when church leaders ruled that an allegation against him was not credible.

Paul R. Edwards of Winchendon filed a civil lawsuit in August accusing Foster and another priest of misconduct. Foster was placed on leave twice as church officials weighed Edwards's claims.

The allegations weakened after the Globe reported that Edwards had an extensive history of fabricating stories. Two weeks after Edwards filed his suit, he dropped the case.

The Red Mass, a centuries-old tradition named for the color of the vestments worn by celebrants, is a service dedicated to judges, attorneys, and others who work in the judicial system.

Law implied that the Mass was a fitting occasion to publicly welcome back Foster, who is chaplain of the Catholic Lawyers Guild.

''I greet in among the concelebrants in a very special way Monsignor Michael Foster,'' Law said at the start of the Mass. ''It is always good to be with you, and particularly good today to be concelebrating with you.''

Applause rose from the several hundred worshipers, including more than 100 Boston legal professionals, and attorneys for the archdiocese. Foster smiled from the altar, and later stood alongside Law at the center of the church when they offered communion to parishioners.

''It was a very good day for him,'' said Helene Solomon, the priest's spokeswoman.

Following the Mass, Mary Ann Glendon, who is the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, addressed guild members at their annual luncheon at the Park Plaza Hotel.

Retracing a history of anti-Catholic bias in America dating back to the arrival of the Pilgrims, she called upon the guild's Catholics to stand up to bigotry in their professional lives.

''If not us, who? If not now, when?'' she asked.

She also called upon guild Catholics not to question church practices just because others have done so since the sexual abuse scandal erupted last January.

''At a time when I believe the church is under siege, Catholics are doing a great disservice when they say the church has ... a history of patriarchy ... and exclusion of ideas,'' she said. ''Can you name another institution that over the centuries has done more to advance human dignity?''

Glendon rapped as anti-Catholic several authors and political leaders dating back to the 19th century, and included the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and Eleanor Roosevelt in that group. Without being specific, she also criticized as bigots today's ''secular militants'' who attack all religions.

Many in the audience applauded Glendon's message.

''The crisis in the church gives the opportunity for those who are anti-Catholic to expound their views,'' said one member of the audience.

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 11/18/2002.
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