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Spotlight Report

Bishop asks parents to look for abuse

Cardinal says scandal has hurt him deeply

By Michele Kurtz, Globe Correspondent, 2/25/2002

BINGTON -- As the scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church continued to draw national attention, a bishop from the Archdiocese of Boston urged parents in Abington yesterday to talk candidly with their children about allegations involving their former pastor.

Last week, the archdiocese announced it was removing the Rev. Joseph L. Welsh from duty at St. Nicholas Parish amid allegations he had sexually abused children. Welsh's ouster prompted St. Nicholas and the neighboring parish of St. Edward in Brockton to step up plans to merge some of their administrative responsibilities.

"If you feel shocked, sad, and upset, confused and angered, you should," Bishop Richard Malone, who oversees the archdiocese's south area churches, told parishioners at the 11 a.m. Mass. "If you are a parent with children, it's very important now that you engage your son or daughter in conversation. Ask if they have anything they want to relate to you that they're carrying inside."

Welsh is among 10 Boston-area priests recently removed from their posts because of allegations of sexual misconduct. Another priest ousted last week, the Rev. D. George Spagnolia of St. Patrick parish in Lowell, has called a news conference for today to defend himself against the allegations.

At St. Mary's in Dedham last night, Cardinal Bernard F. Law told several hundred congregants, most of them teens, that the crisis has had a profound effect on him personally.

"I personally have these past weeks experienced closeness to Jesus on the cross in a way I never have before in my life," he said.

Earlier in the evening, Law again promised "zero tolerance" for priests who abuse minors, and said no priest "against whom there has been substantial allegations" will be assigned to a parish. And he vowed to use "all of the resources at my command to ensure that, above all else, we protect children."

The controversy over the archdiocese's failure for decades to remove priests accused of child abuse has battered the church administration. Some critics have called for the resignation of Law, who in the 1980s reassigned John J. Geoghan, then a priest, despite knowing that he was a pedophile. Last week, Geoghan was sentenced to nine to 10 years for fondling a boy at a swimming pool.

In the past few weeks, the Boston Archdiocese has supplied prosecutors in various jurisdictions with the names of more than 80 current and former priests accused of sexual abuse over several decades. Bishops in Portland, Maine, and Manchester, N.H., also plan to turn over names of priests accused of sexual abuse.

There was no indication yesterday that the scandal was receding. In fact, national media coverage of the controversy has picked up in recent days. Law's picture appears on the cover of Newsweek's March 4 edition, which hits the stands today with the headline, "Sex, shame and the Catholic church."

At the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, where Law led Mass yesterday, a half dozen protesters stood outside demanding that he step down.

"I hope the experience of the archdiocese will someday be a benefit to the world," Law said as he entreated parishioners to pray for the victims of priestly abuse and hoped the church would "learn from the errors of the past."

A handful of teenage parishioners expressed support for Law after the service in Dedham.

"Certainly the Cardinal has made mistakes, but it's in our Catholic faith to forgive," said Pete McNulty, 17. "Our faith hasn't really been shaken by this."

Kara Caulfield, 17, described the disclosures as "shocking,"

but said they don't have anything to do with what we do here. "We're a place of love."

The Rev. Christopher J. Hickey, one of the priests at St. Mary's, said many young parishioners believe now that Law has admitted he erred in handling past sex abuse allegations, the church can put the episode behind it. But Hickey said that will be impossible until the almost daily disclosures cease.

"It's hard. It's been a devastating way to wake up," Hickey said. "It's beyond words for me -- and I think for most priests."

At St. Nicholas in Abington, Malone tried to console worshipers.

"It is a painful thing that is with us today," he said. "We will come out from under this whole mess, and we'll be stronger."

After Mass, parishioners said they were stunned and saddened by the allegations against Welsh, their pastor of five years. Combined with the change in church leadership -- a move that had been scheduled for next February but is now a practical necessity -- the news has left many congregants feeling overwhelmed.

"It's very upsetting," said Nancy Barrett, 44, of Brockton, as she helped her three children get settled into the family van following Mass. "It's just a lot to cope with. There are a lot of questions."

Barrett, who has attended St. Nicholas for about 15 years, said she plans to attend a special meeting at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the church, where Welsh's removal and the church's future will be discussed. The pastor at St. Edward, the Rev. James Flavin, began leading services in Abington this week. Some at yesterday's Mass took comfort in knowing that Flavin could immediately take the parish's reins, in addition to overseeing his own church.

"I respect him very, very much," said Roberta Fulginiti, 54, of Brockton.

Corey Dade and Scott Greenberger of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 2/25/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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