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Spotlight Report

Young Catholics hopeful for future

By Jessica Van Sack, Globe Correspondent, 11/10/2002

As Catholic bishops began to gather in Washington, D.C., yesterday to grapple with the clergy sexual abuse crisis, another generation of Catholics expressed optimism about the future of their church during the Archdiocese of Boston's 12th annual Young Adult Conference.

Only a few of those attending the 16 hours of educational workshops and forums at the John Hancock Convention Center said their faith had been shaken by the ongoing crisis.

Jessica Orf, 22, said having to defend her faith to critics only strengthened her religious resolve. "I was personally embarrassed in the beginning, and felt tainted by it as well," said Orf, a senior at Plymouth State College in New Hampshire. "There were atmospheres where sometimes you felt that you had to defend your faith. It helped me to talk about it more openly."

Katy Dutille, 23, of Somerville, agreed. "The whole crisis makes me very sad, and I lost a little faith at first."

"Yes, but after all the turmoil goes away, [the church] will be strengthened with positive growth," Orf said.

With more than 250 attendees in their 20s and 30s, the conference kicked off with prayers and a keynote address by Mary Beth Bonacci, an author and lecturer who spoke about chastity before marriage. The workshops addressed topics such as finding the right mate, making marriage work, opposition to abortion, and the "current sex abuse crisis," from which media were barred.

In one workshop, entitled "Seven Habits of Highly Successful Relationships," Meyer and Beth Chambers talked about what makes their marriage successful, from setting aside a few minutes for themselves every morning to praying together when their preteen son grates on their nerves.

At one point, Meyer Chambers, director of the Office for Black Catholics of the Archdiocese of Boston, mentioned Cardinal Bernard F. Law. "Is it all right if I say his name?" Chambers said in jest. The room fell silent.

John Donohue, a law student at Boston College, said: "What you look up to is the teachings, not necessarily the person who is teaching it. My faith is not in Law or these priests who have done the abuse; it is in God."

A small percentage of conference-goers, like Raquel Lima, of Rehoboth, expressed serious doubts about the Catholic Church. "My parents forced me to come, and I just find the whole thing hypocritical," in light of abuse allegations, she said.

Young members of the laity said their attendance was not motivated by conflicts in the church, but rather by a zest for religion.

Megan Johnson, a preschool teacher who worships regularly at the Newman Center in Amherst, said she knows a priest who has been accused of sexual abuse. "I think that it has made me question the authority of the church as well as make me want to work toward healing," she said.

"Of course, I felt angry; of course I felt betrayed; of course I felt hurt," she said. "And yes, I've questioned the authority of the church, but I think my faith will deepen in the end."

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 11/10/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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