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Spotlight Report

Lennon takes message to suburbs

By Erica Noonan, Globe Staff, 3/14/2003

DRACUT - In his first Lenten healing service in the suburbs, Bishop Richard G. Lennon called on his followers here to support victims of clergy sexual abuse.

''Our church as a whole stands in need of healing,'' Lennon told about 125 priests and worshipers who gathered last night at St. Francis Church. ''We need to embrace fully those in our midst who have been abused.''

Lennon's address focused on traditional Lenten themes of forgiveness and renewal, but included a special Rite of Penance customized to reflect the theme of child sexual abuse.

''My brothers and sisters, we have neglected the gifts of our baptism and have fallen into sin. Most especially, the great scandal of the abuse of children by clergy has deeply wounded us all,'' Lennon said. ''The church and its members must make sure the abuse is not repeated.''

The hourlong service included emotional testimony from Diane Doria, a Malden woman who said she was repeatedly raped over five years in the late 1960s by a priest from her childhood parish in Wakefield. She became pregnant with the priest's child, but miscarried. She was despondent and troubled for decades before seeking and receiving counseling and support from the archdiocese last year, said Doria, now 51.

''I feel as if this is the first step in letting people know that the church is serious about reconciliation,'' she said.

The Dracut gathering was part of Lennon's first major spiritual initiative since taking the post of apostolic administrator after the Dec. 13 resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law. The Lenten prayer services will include visits to parishes in West Roxbury, Milton, Malden, and Wellesley.

Snow and treacherous roads may have kept some worshipers at home last night, said attendee Susan Kay of Lowell.

''I wish more people could have been here to hear [Doria's testimony]. I felt it was so powerful and emotional,'' Kay said. She also praised Lennon: ''He acknowledged the reality of the pain, and lets everyone know that we are in this together.''

Before the service, Lennon held a meeting and prayer service for about 60 area priests, some of whom said they are emotionally exhausted by the scandal, church officials said.

''The past 14 months have brought out a lot of pain,'' said the Rev. Robert Blaney, of St. Francis. ''Some feel overwhelmed by what has gone on.''

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 3/14/2003.
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