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Spotlight Report

A fresh start for faithful

O'Malley holds first Masses since tentative settlement

By John McElhenny, Globe Correspondent, 9/15/2003

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley celebrated Mass with Deacon Richard Mesa at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. (Pool Photo)

Outside the church, Maryetta Dussourd stood with fellow demonstrators. (Globe Staff Photo / David Kamerman)
A new era for Boston-area Catholics began with hugs, tears, and conciliatory words yesterday as Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley celebrated Mass at the Boston Archdiocese's spiritual center, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

O'Malley, who oversaw the archdiocese's $85 million settlement offer to alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse just seven weeks after his installation, made no mention of the crisis during Mass, but afterward descended the cathedral steps to meet some of the alleged abuse victims who have protested outside for nearly two years.

"The church is taking action, but we need to do more," O'Malley said to Dale Walsh, 55, of Cambridge, who said she was abused by the Rev. Paul Shanley as a teenager.

O'Malley said an audit to be made public before year's end will outline steps the archdiocese has already taken, but acknowledged that the process of responding to the concerns of victims will take a long time.

Maryetta Dussourd of Jamaica Plain cried as she told O'Malley about her three children and four nieces who had been abused by former priest John Geoghan. Geoghan, who was convicted of groping a 10-year-old boy, was killed in his prison cell last month, allegedly by another inmate. Dussourd, 59, said faithful Catholics had been "destroyed" by the betrayal of abusive priests.

O'Malley listened intently, and then embraced Dussourd repeatedly. "God bless you. Pray for me," he said. "I need your prayers."

The cathedral, first dedicated in 1875, is the "Mother Church" of the Archdiocese of Boston. It was the focal point of protests during the last two years of the crisis that resulted in the resignation of O'Malley's predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, in December.

Yesterday's Mass in the South End and O'Malley's appearance Saturday at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Methuen marked his first public appearances since last week's tentative settlement of hundreds of clergy sex abuse claims against the archdiocese.

According to the settlement, most plaintiffs would receive between $80,000 and $300,000. O'Malley, who was installed in July as the sixth archbishop of the nation's fourth-largest Catholic diocese, received an ovation from the several hundred parishioners as he left the cathedral yesterday.

He stood outside greeting parishioners in English and Spanish for several minutes before walking over to a group of protesters.

Dussourd praised O'Malley for listening to her and other alleged clergy abuse victims, but said she remained skeptical about whether one man could change an entire church's culture.

"All I could feel is that he had heart, but I don't know him yet," she said. "It's a good first step."

More than a dozen protesters stood outside the cathedral during yesterday's Mass, holding signs and urging drivers to honk horns to show support for clergy abuse survivors. Ken Scott, 64, of Beacon Hill, who held a sign that said, "Phase One," said the tentative settlement was by no means the end of the church crisis. He said the Boston Archdiocese should erect a memorial to victims of the clergy abuse scandal.

O'Malley has acknowledged that the archdiocese will cover the cost of the settlement through loans, insurance claims, and perhaps sale of some church-owned real estate.

Rita Roux said the protesters had gotten their message across long ago. Roux, 71, a Groton resident who was attending Mass at the cathedral while visiting friends, said the protesters were "overdoing it."

"They're just looking for publicity," she said. "Go away. We've been reminded enough already."

A spokesman for the archdiocese, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, said yesterday that O'Malley would be traveling to Rome next month for the beatification of Mother Teresa. Coyne said details of the trip schedule or itinerary hadn't yet been worked out.

Yesterday, O'Malley focused his attentions on the abuse victims.

Robin Vachon, 43, of Hopkinton, told O'Malley through trembling lips that she had been abused by a religious instructor at St. Ignatius Parish at Boston College. O'Malley listened for several minutes before answering.

"I can't resolve all of the problems overnight, but we'll do what we can," he said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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