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Spotlight Report

Stung by sex-abuse cases, Catholics call for reform

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 2/4/2002

Boston-area Catholics, reeling from the ouster of two more priests accused of sexual abuse of children, yesterday returned to church expressing a mixture of pain, anger, and disbelief.

Some local Catholics have begun to talk about withholding money from the archdiocese, or trying to demand the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law. Others are renewing the push for broad changes by calling for an end to the celibate male priesthood, or at least for a more candid discussion of sexuality in the church.

Throughout the local church, Catholics say they are struggling to understand what is happening.

''There's no question about it - I have never been in so much pain, or so ill at ease, as with these revelations,'' said Raymond L. Flynn, the former mayor of Boston and US ambassador to the Vatican. ''I was at a wedding this weekend with 400 people, firefighters and police officers and people who aren't naive to problems in society, and we were all talking about this. The extent of the problem with pedophile priests is not something that we ever experienced or we ever imagined.''

Flynn, like other Catholics interviewed in recent days, said he is increasingly making a distinction between his faith in God, which he said remains intact, and his attitude toward the church hierarchy.

''I don't go to church because I pray to the priest or the bishop or the cardinal - I go to church because I pray to God to make me a better person,'' he said.''

The latest shock to local Catholics came Saturday, when the archdiocese announced that Law had removed the Rev. Daniel M. Graham, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Quincy, and the Rev. Paul J. Finegan, pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Randolph, after uncovering past allegations of sexual misconduct toward minors by the two priests. The ousters came just days after the archdiocese turned over to area prosecutors the names of 38 priests accused of molesting children over the last 40 years, after the criminal conviction of former priest John J. Geoghan for indecent assault, and after the arrest of the Rev. Kelvin E. Iguabita on rape charges.

In Quincy and Randolph yesterday, bishops attended Mass to offer explanations and counseling to parishioners, some of whom said they are having difficulty believing the charges.

''I can't see how anybody could say anything about this priest,'' said Jeannette Burns, a Dorchester resident who travels to Quincy to hear Graham's homilies. She accused the archdiocese of going on a ''witch hunt'' as it tries to uphold Law's promise that no priest accused of sexual abuse of a minor is holding a job in the archdiocese.

''This reminds me of the McCarthy hearings,'' Burns said.

And in Randolph, parishioner Luders Georges, 64, said, ''I don't think it's true. To me, he's a good guy, and there are just people trying to get some money. This situation makes me feel sick.''

Others reacted differently.

''I was shocked,'' said Mary Galvan, in Quincy. ''Priests are human beings, but the sad part is that so much pain has been caused to so many families.''

Tallulah LesBordes, a 20-year-old Canton resident attending church in Randolph, said she was ''astonished'' by the allegations.

''I didn't think it would happen here,'' she said. ''He was a good priest. I never would have suspected anything. But my faith is still strong - I believe in God, and I don't think we should let this one incident affect our faith.''

The archdiocese was unable to provide details yesterday of the allegations against Graham and Finegan, including when the alleged abuse took place.

''Our hearts go out to the victims,'' said spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey. ''This is a very tough time, and we're trying to do the best we can to provide support to the communities, and to make sure there's no one in ministry who has an allegation of misconduct against them.''

In Randolph, Bishop Walter J. Edyvean told parishioners that ''these accusations are from the past, but necessitated the decisions that had to be taken.''

''I know how stunned and saddened you are,'' Edyvean said. ''The archdiocese will see to it that pastoral support and counseling will be available to St. Bernadette's. Please trust you will not be left alone to face this moment in the parish's life.''

In Quincy, Bishop Richard J. Malone said, ''I know the pain I feel is nothing, nothing compared to what you're feeling... I am confident you will continue to stay unified. You can be sure a wonderful new pastor will come in here.''

A lawyer who represents many of Geoghan's victims said further steps are needed.

''Given the number of people who have been sexually molested by Father Geoghan, and the related coverup, I'm not surprised that more individuals were named, and given my experience in representing victims, I would not be surprised if there were others named,'' said attorney Mitchell Garabedian. ''The archdiocese has taken the first step in admitting that there is a problem, but they'll need a lot of help in correcting it. You have to question how sincere and thorough they'll be.''

Garabedian expressed some wariness of the panel of medical experts appointed by Law to critique the archdiocese's sexual abuse policies, saying: ''It has to be a panel made up of individuals who sincerely and thoroughly want to address the situation. It can't be hand-picked individuals who are too busy to address the problem or who have too great an allegiance to the Archdiocese of Boston.''

Others hope the crisis, which was spurred by reporting on clergy sexual abuse by the Globe Spotlight Team, will be a positive turning point for the church.

''When the cardinal apologized, he opened the door for us to say we've done wrong, and now in faith to bring change and healing,'' said the Rev. Robert J. Carr, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.

Some groups and individuals say the sexual abuse crisis is cause for broader church reform. Several theologians, including the Rev. David Hollenbach and Stephen J. Pope of Boston College, have called for a rethinking of the way the church talks about sexuality. And members of Massachusetts Women-Church, a group pushing for the ordination of women, plan to meet today to discuss their response to the revelations.

''We don't want to be capitalizing on this horrific situation, but then I think of these priests who have been coddled for 30 years or more, when a woman who gives 70 years of her life to the church is told to pack her bags because she helped to baptize an infant,'' said Marie Sheehan, a member of Massachusetts Women-Church, referring to the ouster last year of Sister Jeannette Normandin from the Jesuit Urban Center.

Sheehan said her organization is drafting an open letter that says, in part, ''women would neither allow nor hide such outrageous actions as those perpetrated by church-employed pedophiles. When Catholic women are ordained to the diaconate and priesthood - and they will be - travesties such as these will never be hidden.''

One Catholic activist, Harvard University professor Mary Jo Bane, yesterday called for Catholics to stop giving to archdiocesan fund-raising campaigns, and to restrict their giving to their local parishes, in an op-ed piece published in the Globe. Some local Catholics say they've reached a similar conclusion.

''I'm not going to give to the Cardinal's Appeal anymore,'' said Joseph Sliwkowski, 62, of Sudbury, referring to Law's annual fund-raising drive. Sliwkowski is one of numerous Catholic laypeople who say in interviews that they think the cardinal should resign. ''I'm a lifelong Catholic - I can show you the scars from Sister Gertrude's ruler in second grade - and I'm very much committed to the church. But to see the shortcomings of the leadership under this microscope is just very saddening. I'll be a Roman Catholic until the day I die, but I'm angry.''

Globe Reporter Corey Dade contributed to this report. Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 2/4/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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