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Spotlight Report

  Adrian Walker  

Skepticism and prayer

12/16/2002

Robert Hatch arrived at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross yesterday as an angry man, and he left an angry man. That is some measure of the task before Bishop Richard Lennon.

For much of the past year, Hatch has been a familiar figure at the Sunday protests in the South End. He says he was abused by a priest when he was 16, and he clearly has not been satisfied by the response of the archdiocese to his suffering and that of so many others. So he holds signs, grants interviews, provides support to victims.

Yesterday was to have been the start of redemption for the Boston Archdiocese. Lennon, the new apostolic administrator, made his first appearance as the replacement for Cardinal Bernard F. Law, and a rapt congregation awaited his words. Their standing ovation at the end was partly a reaction to those words, and partly an expression of a fervent hope that the scandal may, at last, have begun to wind down.

Lennon's sermon was addressed to the faithful inside, as opposed to the faithful outside, those who have loyally stood by their church despite the damage being done to it. He spoke in humble terms, at one point invoking St. Augustine: ''What I am for you terrifies me; what I am with you consoles me.'' As Lennon explained, ''For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The former is a title of duty, but the latter is a state of grace.''

The note was a fitting expression of unity, coming in the wake of a scandal that has left many feeling that the church hierarchy is hopelessly disconnected from its laity.

But outside the cathedral, skepticism reigned, which should surprise no one.

''He didn't deliver the message I wanted to hear,'' said Hatch. ''It was all about the archdiocese. There was no reconciling with the victims. They don't get it.''

Hatch, who is not currently among the hundreds of victims who have filed suit against the archdiocese, said he now intends to join their number.

Hatch said he had hoped Lennon would call for a Mass of reconciliation with victims, and address their concerns more explicitly in his homily.

Father Christopher Coyne, an archdiocese official, said that such a Mass, perhaps centering on parishes most directly affected by the abuse scandals, had been contemplated before Law's resignation, but is on hold for the time being.

In truth, the protesters were outnumbered by reporters and photographers. After the service, Lennon attempted to speak to victims and protesters assembled on Washington Street. He quickly gave up, realizing that the media horde would make any meaningful conversation practically impossible.

In a press conference after the service, which Lennon did not attend, Coyne attempted to assuage concerns that Law's resignation might mean the abuse scandal is on the verge of being forgotten.

''There's no way that this could be forgotten,'' Coyne said. ''Every single Catholic in the archdiocese has been touched in some way by what's happened. It's the faithful, it's all of us who have said we need as a church to deal with this. That single united voice is the most powerful reason for us to keep moving forward, aside from the fact that it's the right thing to do. Our people and our priests and all of us know that this is what we have to do.''

Coyne said Lennon will be holding meetings this week that might include victims or disgruntled priests. He added that Law also plans to hold a press conference at some point this week.

During Lennon's thwarted attempt to reach out to victims, Hatch was among those he approached. Hatch later recounted the short exchange. He said he attempted to tell Lennon about his abuse.

''He said, `God bless' and `I'm sorry,''' Hatch said. ''I said, `Thank you.' I hope it means something. We'll see.''

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 12/16/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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