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Spotlight Report

Near cathedral portals, voices of protest and support

Street becomes arena for debate on archdiocese

By Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff, 7/31/2003

Some leaned over the barricades, fingers pointing, eyes blazing with an anger that has yet to fade. Some filed into the Cathedral of the Holy Cross with smiles, cameras strapped around their shoulders to record a new beginning.

There were shouts and sighs and murmurs of disapproval. And for the most part, neither group locked eyes with the other.

On one block-long stretch of Washington Street yesterday, as Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley officially took his post, those most connected to the church stood next to those most angered by it. Under a blue sky and the watchful gaze of police, an unruly and unfinished conversation took place.

On the corner to the right of the cathedral doors, about a dozen children and teenagers from East Boston stood beneath a banner that said "Welcome Archbishop O'Malley." They played guitars and sang psalms. On the opposite corner, 100 protesters reached out from behind police barricades, holding blown-up pictures of children who were victims of clergy sexual abuse, vowing to remind the world that the church scandal hadn't died.

"I'm coming here to make sure that the world knows it's not over here in Boston," said Steve Lewis, 46, of Lynn, who said that he was abused by a priest when he was 11 and that he wrote to the church this month renouncing his faith.

Hundreds of people passed him on the way to the cathedral: nuns in blue and white and gray, Capuchin friars in simple brown robes, parishioners in their Sunday best. But while the protesters shouted taunts and jeers, few churchgoers stopped to talk. Some said they believed the time for protesting had passed.

"It's time to let go. It's time to move on," said Maureen Yalenezian, 55, of Hanson, walking into the cathedral with her mother. And she questioned whether the church should face all of the blame. "I really feel that people should have reported it themselves," she said. "They didn't protect any other kids. There's a lot of fault everywhere."

Jim Taffeiren, 51, a four-year South End resident, stood a few yards from the protesters with a cluster of locals who wanted a glimpse of a neighborhood event.

"I think Boston feels a little tainted by this. It's drawing negative attention to our city," Taffeiren said. "And this is sort of part of the urban renewal, I guess, to get rid of the old and maybe bring in some of the new, and pious, and hopefully less arrogant."

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, too, seemed certain that O'Malley was the answer Boston needs. "He's the messiah who has come to bring this church together again," Menino told reporters, before he stepped into the church.

Some protesters were more doubtful; one held a sign that said, "O'Malley -- Oh' Really."

Divisions this deep can be hard to bridge, but a few protesters and supporters tried to engage in quiet conversation. As Brandon Belinsky, 18, an assistant to the priests at his Westford parish, waited outside the cathedral with friends, Mary Ryan went up and introduced herself. A middle-aged woman from Rhode Island, she told him she had been raped by a priest. He told her he was sorry. They talked about where the blame should lie and what would make things better.

"I don't concern myself with the past," Belinsky said. "I concern myself with healing."

"Don't you think justice is a part of healing?" Ryan replied.

"I do," Belinsky said. "But I don't think vengeance is a part of healing."

Their conversation was calm. Ryan called Belinsky "sweetie." But at 10:30 a.m., when the procession of church leaders started filing into the cathedral, she returned to the protest area, angry again. She thrust a finger forward and shouted, "Shame, father! Shame!"

"O'Malley's a puppet!" other protesters yelled, as the archbishop-to-be neared the cathedral doors. O'Malley, his hands clasped, his face expressionless, walked silently into the church.

When the ceremony ended and people left the church, the protesters who remained seemed angrier than before. "What's wrong with you people?" yelled Lewis, the Lynn resident who said he had renounced the church, as churchgoers walked through a narrow passageway between the protesters and the fence. At times, when a priest walked by, he pretended to spit on the ground before them.

Gail Williams, 55, of Revere, tried to send a different message. She stood in front of the protesters, her 6- and 7-year-old grandchildren at her side, and greeted the passing priests and nuns with "God bless you." "I feel that I want to buffer the innocent people from the anger," Williams said. "I understand their pain, but I don't think this is the answer."

But throughout the day, even people who were thrilled with O'Malley's appointment said they were also pleased to see the protesters there. "This is America," said Peter Heidkamp, 43, of East Boston, who accompanied the group of children who sang psalms. "Everything goes. And that's important, as well."

And at the barricades, some protesters were grappling with how to react, when to bubble up with anger and when to reserve judgment. Robert Costello, 41, who said he had been an abuse victim, said he hoped O'Malley would speak to the protesters, instead of heading straight to St. John's Seminary for a reception.

But he also was willing to wait.

"He's got a long, long road ahead of him," Costello said. "I guess we could give him today, and tomorrow he can go to work."

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 7/31/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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