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Spotlight Report

Worshipers separate church and faith

Many say abuse scandal doesn't touch their beliefs

By Michael Rosenwald, Globe Staff and Shari Rudavsky, Globe Correspondent, 4/15/2002

Some parishioners came to church early. They skirted past pickets, past TV cameras, past difficult questions. And they prayed.

A handful of worshipers knelt in the aged wooden pews at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End a half hour before Mass. Some studied worn Bibles and missals. Others just stared at the altar, their gazes unwavering.

Although Cardinal Bernard F. Law didn't celebrate Mass yesterday at the Cathedral (he canceled public appearances after saying last week that he would not resign as archbishop) the controversy in the archdiocese still weighed heavily on Catholics across the region.

But devotion endured.

''My faith is the same,'' said Jack Smith after Mass at the Cathedral. ''My faith as a Catholic is strong. I'm disappointed at the people who committed these acts, but those are individuals, not the church.''

At St. Bernard Parish in West Newton, Vivian Rivera said: ''I'm not looking at my faith as an institutional thing. I don't have any problem about being Catholic.''

At St. John the Evangelist, Teresa Cahill of Wellesley said: ''People who I know who aren't Catholic don't understand why I still go to church. I have a strong belief in Jesus even if I don't believe in much of the church's dogma.''

Monsignor Frederick J. Murphy, the rector at the cathedral, led Mass instead of Law and asked the smaller-than-usual assembly of about 200 to pray for the embattled archbishop. Another priest asked for prayers for all clergy abuse victims.

Murphy's homily touched on the scandal through an interpretation of the Gospel of St. Luke about Jesus' disciples on the way to Emmaus. There were hazards on the way, ''confusion, discouragement,'' Murphy said.

''Things turned out not as expected,'' Murphy said. ''People had been disappointed, great expectations were dashed.''

But the disciples recognized that the trip could be made easier by inviting the Lord into their lives. ''Let faith be played up in those who are angry, disillusioned, confused, and disappointed,'' Murphy said.

For many Catholics yesterday, that was just what they needed to hear. Marylee Piper, 39, of Waltham took her pastor's homily to heart.

''The key word he used was hope,'' Piper said. ''Even though things look bad we still have to have hope. I still believe in everything. Always have.''

''Our challenge is to hold on to this hope,'' said the Rev. Raymond Benoit, who delivered the homily at the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Margaret's in Dorchester. ''However discouraging the moment may be, however gloomy the future may be, it is too soon for any one of us to quit.''

Theresa Bennett, who attends the Church of St. Brendan in Dorchester, said, ''The way I feel is that there's 10 times as many good priests as there are one or two bad ones. Your faith is what you make it.''

About 11 years ago, when she was 16, Jessica Cooke converted from Episcopalian to Catholicism. As she headed into St. Margaret's yesterday, the Jamaica Plain resident said she was confused about where she stands on the issue of Law retaining his position.

''In an ideal world, I would think he should resign,'' she said. But, she said, she is afraid that his resignation would hurt many older Catholics who revere him.

Some older Catholics, however, said they have had enough with the leader of the Boston church. Noting that Law resides on a lavish estate, John Doyle said he has no sympathy for the cardinal.

''I look a little bit askance at this. He wants to protect his job,'' said the 79-year-old, who regularly attends St. Margaret's. ''I don't think he's handling the job very well and he's put everybody in a precarious position, especially the current priests now.''

Regardless of the cardinal's future, the time is right, say Catholics and their parish leaders, for the church to change.

''Our hearts are broken,'' said the Rev. Walter Cuenin of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Newton. ''We have to reform the church. We can't just sit back. We have to make it a better church.''

Michael Rosenwald can be reached at mrosenwald@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/15/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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