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Law's words frame new play

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Wary Catholics return to church

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Spotlight Report

On a day of pain, Catholics cling to hope of rebirth

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002

 About Cardinal Law
Career timeline: Priest to cardinal
Changing statements on abuse
Coverage of his career in Boston

 Photo gallery
Photo gallery: Cardinal Law through the years
Cardinal Law through the years

 Official statements
Cardinal Law on his resignation
Groups, officials, clergy react

 Related stories
The resignation
Law steps down, pope accepts
Scandal eclipses a long record
In cardinal's final days, a firestorm
Admission of awareness damning
Rare speed displayed by Rome
Focus moves to Law's deputies
The successor
Pope's choice to receive scrutiny
Lennon called a skilled manager
Memo cited in '90s abuse case
Reaction
Abuse victims react with relief
Catholics cling to hope of rebirth
Priests see sadness and hope
Many Latinos find foregiveness
Only Ch. 4 cut back coverage
Investigations
Law deposition may be on hold
Archdiocese faces 'mess' in court
Scandal's impact
Abuse patterns found nationwide
Around world, scandal takes toll
Opinion
Editorial: The cardinal's departure
Op-ed: Law captain of his own fall

 Timeline
A tumultuous year for archdiocese

 Message board
Boston.com readers react to Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation.
Read messages

On the icy steps of small city chapels, in the warm pews of suburban churches, and at the rectories where Cardinal Bernard F. Law's portrait still hangs, there was relief, resolve, and whispered prayer yesterday that his removal means rebirth for a wounded church.

After months of crisis, Catholics said, they are eager to move beyond a scandal that Law could not escape.

As he departs, they said, new hope arrives.

''The very important bridge of trust between people and the archbishop had been broken,'' said the Rev. Paul T. Keyes, pastor of St. Michael Church in North Andover. ''But even for people like me, who wanted the cardinal to resign, once it's happened, it's like a death.''

At dawn yesterday, as the Vatican's historic announcement ricocheted around the world, some Catholics began the post-Law era in quiet prayer, kneeling before candlelit altars, practicing a faith that teaches forgiveness and redemption.

The Rev. Daniel Hennessey, a newly ordained priest dressed in the bright vestments of the church's Advent season, celebrated Mass in the low-ceiling basement chapel of St. Brigid Church in South Boston.

Outside, Hennessey's friend and next-door neighbor, 29-year-old Timothy Nee, said Law's departure means that Pope John Paul II has acknowledged that the principal protagonist of the scandal cannot be the repairer of the breach.

''We need to get somebody who's new and who is not tied to the decisions over the last 20 years,'' said Nee. ''Then we can create confidence that when the next group of priests comes through the diocese, they're not going to be child molesters. And if they are, they're not going to continue to be child molesters.''

As lawyers, sexual abuse victims, and lay leaders stood before television cameras yesterday to analyze and review the Vatican's decision to let Law go, Catholics from Salisbury to Scituate said they found no joy in it. But they said Law's moral betrayal and his complicity in the concealment of sexually abusive priests more than justified his ouster.

''It feels like someone in my family died,'' said Peter G. Meade, vice chairman of Catholic Charities of Boston. ''[But] the worst day for him is nowhere as bad as the worst day for the victims of abuse by priests.''

Peggy Anne Canty, 70, a parishioner at St. Gregory Church in Dorchester, said Law's misconduct did not rock her faith.

''The seas might be stormy, but the ship is now steering straight,'' said Canty, waiting for a bus and holding a floral arrangement she was bringing to an elderly retired priest. ''It clears the way for my church to move on. We will now move on. And there are lots of things to be tended to.''

Even during the scandal's stormiest chapters, Law's strongest supporters often came from the region's minority communities. And in those communities yesterday, there were some mixed feelings.

''I have always had a lot of respect for him,'' said Maria Sanchez, a 36-year-old from Mexico who goes nearly every Sunday morning to Most Holy Redeemer Church in East Boston. ''This is all so sad and so hard to understand. I really wish he stayed. I think he was trying to do the right thing.''

Just hours after Law's fateful meeting with the pope, the mother church of the archdiocese in Boston's South End was empty, dark, and cold. Stained-glass filtered sunlight fell on a large Advent wreath. Outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where Law drew the scorn of protesters for months, there was a silence in which Sister Esther Cockburn of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart found solace.

''I feel sorry for the priests, for the victims, and for the cardinal, but now we can heal,'' she said.

Across the Charles River in Cambridge, as a cold wind blew into the ornate basement chapel at St. John the Evangelist Church, the Rev. Mick Madigan celebrated the feast of St. Lucy, the patron saint of the blind. ''Let us pray for the church that, amid the pain and the bewilderment, our father leads us to a greater truth,'' he said, noting that the cardinal's resignation came on a symbolic day. ''It raises questions to how we could be so blind to so much blatant injustice in the world around us.''

The Rev. Paul B. O'Brien, pastor of St. Patrick Church in Lawrence, who served in the cardinal's cabinet for six years, said the departure of a man he admires should not be mistaken for a prescription for the church's ills.

''I can't imagine that there is any single action of any individual that could nearly resolve the complexity of issues with which we're dealing,'' said O'Brien. ''I hope, as obviously the cardinal does, that his resignation is part of the healing and reconciliation and new life for the church.''

Part of that new life must be, some Catholics said, a new leadership in which secrecy gives way to sunlight - and inclusion.

''The faithful not only expect to be involved, but they are demanding it,'' said advertising executive Jack Connors Jr., one of the city's most influential Catholics and who turned from one of Law's closest confidants to one of his strongest critics.

''If you want our money, you will have to embrace our participation and our judgment in a meaningful way,'' said Connors, chairman and chief executive officer of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. ''We are not looking to change the teachings of our church, but we expect accountability. The days of blind faith are behind us.''

Monsignor Francis H. Kelley, pastor of Roslindale's Sacred Heart Church, agreed.

''I'm hoping we can move in a different direction,'' Kelley said. ''If we had some laity on the priest personnel board in the early 1980s, I'm not sure we would have been in this mess. We would have dealt differently with this abuse. I was an admirer of Cardinal Law, but I told him this a number of times: `You work in a vacuum.' I'm not sure he understood that.''

Some Catholics said they considered Law a tragic but not malevolent figure. But as the chief executive of the diocese, he bore ultimate responsbility, they said.

''Would we accept our mayor having child molesters on his staff and keeping them on his staff?'' Nee asked. ''Would we accept that from our president? Would we accept that from our bosses? The buck stops with him and particularly with an organization that is responsible for the moral leadership of its community, which in Boston is a large portion of the community.''

Jennifer Briggs, a 25-year-old parishioner of St. Brigid's, said Law's actions rightfully made him the personification of a crisis. His removal, she said, was the pontiff's only real option.

''I think his priorities as a church leader were off track,'' Briggs said, scraping early-morning ice from her car windows. ''He cared more about covering things up and preventing scandal and making sure that everything was hush-hush. And that's a major problem, because so much of what being a Catholic is means being open in your faith, and above all, caring about people and their well-being.''

A new leader, she said, will mean a reordering of the church's priorities.

''This offers the church and the people of the church a fresh start,'' Briggs said. ''We can begin to move on. The scandal broke so long ago that as a Catholic I felt like it was never going to get better. But today I feel like it might.''

David Abel, John Ellement, Walter V. Robinson, and Mac Daniel of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

Thomas Farragher can be reached at farragher@globe.com.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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