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Spotlight Report

Priest who stepped in is welcomed as pastor

Predecessor left after abuse denial

By Connie Paige, Globe Correspondent, 12/28/2003

Police Chief Richard Braga and his wife, Zelia, considered several choices for first grade before deciding two years ago to send their daughter to St. Michael Elementary School, which was known for its strong curriculum and teaching staff.

It made no difference to the Bragas that the Rev. Thomas Curran, the priest in charge of the school and the parish associated with it, had been among those accused in the Catholic church's sexual abuse scandal -- charges that Curran has denied.

"I had a comfort level with the parish and the school," Braga said.

When the church put Curran on administrative leave in August 2002, the Rev. Walter Carreiro was appointed as administrator. This month the Boston Archdiocese tapped him to take the helm.

Braga was one of many parishioners who spoke highly of Carreiro last Sunday, as he celebrated his first Masses after being officially named pastor.

"I think he's a good guy," said Braga, as he left the 10:30 a.m. Portuguese Mass with his 7-year-old daughter. "He's come in here and kept the church going when times were tough, and he seems to be well-received by the people of the parish."

Carreiro said he is excited about taking over at St. Michael, a century-old church that has witnessed the christenings, marriages, and funerals of many of the town's most illustrious and most humble residents.

"It's my first parish as a pastor," he said. "I look forward to being part of the healing process."

Carreiro faces the challenge of shoring up the church's finances and of succeeding a widely admired priest.

Carreiro, 49, comes from a background well-suited for Hudson and its large Portuguese-speaking population. His family was originally from the Azorean island of St. Michael, and he speaks fluent Portuguese.

"We are very happy we have a Portuguese pastor in the community," Noemia Braga said after Mass last Sunday. "We are very proud."

Braga, no relation to the police chief, said she first met Carreiro about three years ago in the Azores, when he was leading 50 to 60 pilgrims on a retreat to Portugal's Fatima shrine. She was so impressed that she joined the pilgrimage.

Carreiro, who was ordained in 1995, had worked as assistant vicar at St. Anthony Parish in Cambridge and St. Thomas Villanova in Wilmington.

Carreiro said that until now he had authority to do little more than keep St. Michael running. For example, he continued the process of selling church property, which had begun under Curran. Among the parcels is a large Main Street lot on which a developer proposes to build a housing complex for people older than 55.

Carreiro said he was not aware of any plunge in attendance at St. Michael as a result of the sexual abuse scandal. He did note, though, that donations to the annual $1 million budget dropped off, but not by as much as at other parishes. He said he was not certain of the figures.

Carreiro said his first priority is sacramental matters, such as consolidating Masses with Christ the King, a parish across town that has merged with St. Michael. After that, he said, he wants to relocate a preschool near Christ the King closer to St. Michael's elementary school.

On his first Sunday as the official pastor, Carreiro said he steered clear of the scandal in his sermon.

"We continue to pray for him," Carreiro said of Curran. "He left a good foundation on which to continue with the schools and the parish. I appreciate that."

Curran was accused of sexually abusing a boy and then introducing him to the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who allegedly offered the boy to other men. The abuse was alleged to have occurred in the 1970s, when Curran was at St. Mary's Parish in Cambridge.

Curran has denied the allegations and said that he knew Shanley only by name.

The anger with the church and the priesthood that flared at other parishes was not evident at St. Michael, where Curran had served since 1996.

Father Tom, as he was called by parishioners, remains popular today.

"I just found him very friendly, and I liked him a lot," David McKenna said after Mass last Sunday. "There was an allegation and there wasn't a whole lot of evidence."

McKenna said he suspected that Curran's accuser was angling to benefit from the church's financial settlement -- an opinion echoed by fellow parishioner Domingos Cardoso.

"Some people, they're looking for handouts," Cardoso said.

Braga, the police chief, praised Curran for revitalizing the church.

"He was able to bring new parishioners in," Braga said. "He brought new monies in. He was a very good businessman."

Curran had planned to construct a sports center, including a football field, for use by St. Michael Elementary School and Hudson Catholic High School, both affiliated with the parish. The plans were shelved after the sexual abuse scandal strained the archdiocese's finances.

Curran, who has repeatedly been hospitalized over the past year because of heart trouble, remains on administrative leave, with pay and benefits, according to the Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston. Health reasons were cited as the official reason for his resignation from St. Michael.

Connie Paige can be reached at cpaige@globe.com.


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