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Spotlight Report

  Eileen McNamara  

Troubles on the doorstep

4/28/2002

The last of the nuns had moved out only the night before the first of the addicts moved into St. Patrick's Convent in Brockton.

The parish school had closed, the sisters had been reassigned, and the residence had a new role in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

It was Bastille Day when Recovery House opened its doors to drug- and alcohol-abusing men in search of no less a personal revolution than the political one coincidentally commemorated that day.

That David Mulligan remembers the date so well 28 years later hints at how much youthful idealism he carried into the life that followed. Mulligan was five years out of the priesthood in 1974, a former missionary in Bolivia and a future commissioner of the Department of Public Health, when he and Catholic Charities opened the 20-bed residential detox facility, one of the first community-based treatment centers in the state.

While the Rev. Paul Shanley was teaching teenagers how to shoot up as part of his Boston street ministry, Dave Mulligan was helping their counterparts 15 miles to the south stay clean.

Last week, Catholic Charities announced that the rehab center, relocated to North Main Street and renamed Resurrection House, is dead and won't be rising. The largest private nonprofit social service agency in Massachusetts blamed state budget cuts.

Indeed, it has been the state, not the church, that has funded the halfway house operated by Catholic Charities for more than a quarter of a century. If a 5 percent reduction in state aid sounded its death knell, why are none of the 74 other halfway houses in the state closing their doors? If a shortfall in the $460,000 annual budget is the issue, why not demand that the church step in to fill the gap, instead of locking up the place?

There is no question that Catholic Charities has suffered a decline in donations following the child molestation scandal engulfing the church. But blaming the laity for punishing the poor is a distortion of the truth. It is people's trust, not their generosity, that is the real casualty of this scandal. Catholics want to give to those in need; they just demand assurances that their dollars will not be used to defend those in power who were complicit in the rape of their children.

Before Catholics reopen their checkbooks, they'll want answers to questions they would not have asked a year ago. Did Catholic Charities give up on Resurrection House so quickly because the agency wants to get out of the residential treatment business? Or did the program fold because the archdiocese might need to sell the property to settle some of the claims against it by victims of its abusive priests? Is Catholic Charities, which did not hesitate to exploit Cardinal Bernard Law's popularity with the monied set before this scandal, unwilling to break with him now to stand with the poor?

For a religion as steeped in symbolism as Roman Catholicism, it has been mind-numbing to witness the blind eyes and tin ears of a hierarchy whose meetings and pronouncements become more irrelevant each day. Pick your irony this past week:

A cardinal who suggests that the rape of a teenage girl after cocktails is less egregious than the rape of an altar boy after Mass.

Church lawyers under court order to produce personnel records who overlook 800 pages about a single priest accused of the serial rape of children.

A cardinal-archbishop who interrupts deafening calls for his resignation to remind members of the laity that they are to be seen but not heard.

American cardinals responsible for the mismanagement, at best, or the criminal cover-up, at worst, of child abuse who order pastors ''publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent.''

It is time for Catholic Charities to choose. It can blame the people or the state budget for its financial instability or it can place the blame squarely where it belongs, at the well-shod feet we all saw resting comfortably last week on those oriental carpets in Rome. Close Resurrection House and it will not just be a detox center in Brockton that fails to rise from the dead. It will be Catholic Charities.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/28/2002.
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