The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Priests see sadness, hope in Law's fall

By Matt Carroll and Michael S. Rosenwald, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002

Whether they signed the letter calling for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law or stood steadfastly beside him all year, priests throughout the archdiocese yesterday felt a profound sadness at the fall of one of their brothers, tempered with the hope that healing - for victims, lay people, and themselves - could begin.

Most said Law's quitting was inevitable, after a year of unrelenting scandal over archdiocesan coverups and the shuffling of sexually abusive priests from parish to parish.

Many churches have suffered drops in attendance and falloffs in collections as outraged parishioners voted with their feet and pocketbooks.

''This is a death,'' said the Rev. Robert L. Connors of Immaculate Conception Church in Newburyport, where attendance has fallen a few hundred people on average over the past year. ''We have lost a member of our family. There is no triumph today.''

Outside Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton, several leaders of the Boston Priests' Forum, which served as a catalyst for priests during the crisis, described a historic and wrenching day for the clergy.

''This is a tragedy, what has happened to this man,'' the Rev. Robert W. Bullock said of Law. ''There is no other way to describe it.''

The Rev. Walter H. Cuenin, Our Lady's pastor and an outspoken critic of Law, said, ''Nobody is happy. Nobody is running around happy that he has resigned. There is a sense of sadness, deep sadness, but at the same time there is also the hope of a new beginning.'' Still, he added, ''This is not the end of this crisis.''

Cuenin, Bullock, and seven other priests signed a statement thanking Law and recognizing the good work they said he did for the community in affordable housing, civil rights, and the immigrant communities. They expressed their support to Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the new apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, and they reached out to victims. ''Our hearts go out to you as we continue to work for healing and justice,'' they said.

Their hope is that their voices - and the voice of the laity - will be heard during the process of renewal and the discovery of how past priest culture contributed to the scandal's origins.

''The culture has to change,'' Bullock said. ''We need to establish a plan for pastoral renewal.''

The priests disagreed with media accounts suggesting that the letter from 58 priests this week calling for Law's resignation was in some way responsible for the pope's acceptance of the cardinal's second offer to quit.

Asked what tipped the scales, Bullock said, ''The whole crisis itself. It finally came to be that there was no possible way he could continue as our leader and rebuild trust and confidence.''

Maybe Law's resignation, Bullock said, ''will help arrest the erosion'' in attendance at Mass and donations.

Other priests around the diocese looked with pain at lessons learned over the past year.

''One of the greatest powers of the church is the power of confidentiality,'' said the Rev. John A. Dooher of St. Mary's in Dedham. ''But when confidentiality becomes secrecy, and it's secret because of the fear of scandal, then it becomes destructive. It becomes a sickness.''

Dooher said he and other pastors have tremendous support individually from parishioners. ''But there is corporate guilt for what others have done. We have to live with that, and the breakdown in trust, and have to rebuild that trust,'' he said.

Many said the resignation would allow the start of a long-delayed healing. Rev. William P. Joy, pastor at St. Angela's in Mattapan, said he hoped that Law's resignation begins a healing process that focuses on more than the sexual abuse problem. ''We are in uncharted waters here and we should truly reflect on where we are and where we want to go as a church,'' said Joy.

When he heard of the resignation, the Rev. Kevin M. Sepe of St. Francis of Assisi in Braintree said, ''As time goes on, we will be able to acknowledge the very good ministry Cardinal Law did, but right now people are so numb and hurt, they need time to move through the shock and pain of what we have experienced.''

The Rev. Scott A. Euvrard, parocial vicar at St. Joseph's in Needham, said the scandal had created a gap between parishes and the church hierarchy.

He hoped those who had left the church would return soon, but realized a trust had been broken.

Walter V. Robinson and Stephen Kurkjian contributed to this story. Matt Carroll can be reached at

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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