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Spotlight Report

Lennon sends bulletin to priests

Pledges to resolve accused clergy cases

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 1/14/2003

Bishop Richard G. Lennon, attempting to repair relations with alienated archdiocesan clergy, sent all parish priests an unusual news bulletin yesterday, telling them he is working to rapidly resolve the cases of 24 accused priests and to rewrite the church's policy for protecting children.

Lennon, who is serving as the administrator of the Archdiocese of Boston until Pope John Paul II appoints a permanent replacement for Cardinal Bernard F. Law, said he hopes to maintain regular communication with priests, some of whom have complained that they often learn about church goings-on through the news media. Over the last year, hundreds of priests took the unusual step of organizing on their own in a group called the Boston Priests Forum, and in December, 58 priests publicly called for Law to resign.

''This is an effort on the part of Bishop Lennon and others to strengthen the lines of communication to priests and parishes,'' said a spokesman for Lennon, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne.

Lennon's one-page ''bulletin to priests'' announced no major changes. In fact, it emphasized ways in which Lennon will continue work begun by Law, who resigned Dec. 13. Lennon said he will retain Law's top personal aides as his secretaries, will continue to run the ambitious $300 million capital campaign begun by Law, and will continue to consult with the same priests and laypeople Law had appointed to advisory panels.

But Coyne said Lennon will also consult broadly with priests and laypeople who did not serve on Law-appointed panels.

''I don't think there's any effort to maintain the status quo,'' Coyne said. ''The things that are in the bulletin now are things that didn't require a lot of consideration in terms of policy and procedure, but that doesn't mean everything is going to stay the same or there isn't going to be movement.''

Lennon said that the archdiocese is making headway in its efforts to resolve the cases of 24 priests who were temporarily removed from ministry this year as a result of sexual abuse allegations. If the archdiocese determines the allegations are credible, the priests are to be permanently removed from ministry, but if the archdiocese determines otherwise, the priests could be restored to their jobs, he said.

''A number of cases are very close to determination,'' Lennon wrote. ''Much of the present discussion centers around the means by which the person or persons who made the allegation will be informed about the process of the investigation and the reasons for the decision, the manner in which the priest himself will be informed, and the procedure by which he will be restored to active ministry if the allegation is determined to be without substance.''

Lennon said he hopes to issue a revised sexual abuse policy on March 1, to coincide with the effective date of a national church policy on the issue. That would be four months after the archdiocese had initially promised to have its policy completed.

Lennon's bulletin, which was faxed to all parishes late yesterday afternoon, is direct and businesslike. He told the priests he hopes to move into the cardinal's residence later this week. Law is now in the process of moving out to an undisclosed location and has said he would settle outside of the archdiocese.

Lennon said he plans to celebrate Mass occasionally at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where Law celebrated Mass each week, but that he also plans to visit parishes around the archdiocese. This Sunday, he plans to be at St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Scituate, where he was parochial vicar from 1973-1982.

Priests welcomed the letter. ''It looks like rebuilding relationships with priests is a priority for him, so this is a step in the right direction,'' said the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon. ''The very first point he makes is about priests who have been accused, and that is absolutely imperative - it is a great need and has to be taken care of.''

But some said Lennon needs to do more. ''There has to be a bold and imaginative response to the ongoing problems - the 25- to 45-year-old parishioners don't have much patience, and my sense is something bolder has to happen,'' said the Rev. Bernard P. McLaughlin, pastor of St. Gerard Majella Church in Canton.

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 1/14/2003.
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