Reports of child abuse by priests test faith for local Catholics
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, 1/27/02
BOSTON -- Lori Sciurca regularly attends Mass each Sunday but said her faith is being tested by reports that church leaders repeatedly reassigned a priest accused of sexually molesting children.
Highlights from a letter delivered to local parishes from Cardinal Bernard Law regarding the Geoghan case:
"As archbishop, it was and is my responsibility to ensure that our parishes be safe havens for our children ... I acknowledge that, albeit unintentionally, I have failed in that responsibility. The judgments I have made, while made in good faith, were tragically wrong."
"The terrible tragedy of sexual abuse of children by priests has caused deep pain and profound suffering. Most traumatically and severely impacted have been the victims and their families. The failure of the Archdiocese to protect one of God's greatest gifts to us, our children, has been devastating."
"Although it pales in comparison to what has been endured by victims and their families, all of the faithful have suffered. Faith has been shaken and relationships of affection and trust between the faithful and clergy have been frayed."
"Considerable damage has also been done to the hundreds of priests of this Archdiocese who, on a daily basis, offer humble, generous, faithful and loving service to their people. These good priests have been deeply wounded by the reprehensible actions of some of their number."
"With humble sorrow and hopeful faith, I turn to our loving God and to you, the faithful of this Archdiocese, and seek your forgiveness and support."
"I think the apologies have gotten awfully old. There's a lot of singing and dancing and sidestepping," the 41-year-old social worker said as she waited for a morning Mass at the Arch Street Chapel in Boston.
"But I also think there are many good priests in the archdiocese," Sciurca said, echoing the torn feelings many Catholics expressed Sunday as Cardinal Bernard Law issued a letter apologizing for assigning the former Rev. John J. Geoghan to a new parish even after allegations he sexually abused children.
Some Catholics, like Sciurca's husband Peter Sciurca, 40, called on Law to resign.
"He's done a lot of good, but who's to say he's not going to make the same mistake again? I think he should step down," he said.
Others said Law should stay put.
"It is inconceivable to think that someone like Cardinal Law would intentionally jeopardize the safety and well being of anyone, the least of all children," said retired air traffic controller Tony Serino, 67, of Lynn. "I stand behind him a thousand percent."
Law, speaking at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, apologized to parishioners for not banning Geoghan from parish work sooner. The archdiocese also distributed a letter of apology to parishes today.
Geoghan was convicted Jan. 18 of indecent assault on a 10-year-old boy and faces two more criminal trials. He's named in 84 civil lawsuits alleging abuse.
On Saturday, Law visited St. Julia's Church in Weston, where Geoghan was priest, to personally apologize for his handling of the allegations.
Law repeated pledges he made earlier in the week, telling parishioners he would require priests and other church workers to inform him of any allegations of sexual abuse by priests learned outside the confessional.
The archdiocese will turn the information over to state officials as well as provide a list of every former priest known to have abused minors.
Law, who has refused to step down, also said he would improve the screening of men who want to become priests.
"As Archbishop, it was and is my responsibility to ensure that our parishes be safe havens for our children," he said. "I acknowledge that, albeit unintentionally, I have failed in that responsibility."
Law said the church is working to settle lawsuits with Geoghan's victims and said no money from regular church collections would be used to resolve those cases, unless specifically requested.
Churchgoers welcomed Law's apology.
Mary Henrich said she's struggling with her church's handling of the Geoghan case, but her faith remains strong.
"I'm mad with the cover-up. I'm mad that it took this media attention for him to acknowledge this and apologize," the 34-year-old Boston sales representative said.
Some Catholics said Law's apology is an opportunity for forgiveness.
"I thought he was very humble. It was like he was making a confession to the entire church," said Ann Martin, 66, of Boston, a former Catholic nun. "I think he should stay."
Not everyone was as forgiving.
Asa Gallagher, 24, of Wellesley was one of about a dozen protesters outside the cathedral. Gallagher said he knew Geoghan when he was the priest at St. Julia's.
Gallagher said Law's decision to assign Geoghan to St. Julia's in 1984 even though he had been removed from two other parishes after being accused of molesting children, is one reason why he no longer attends Mass.
Gallagher said he didn't know any of Geoghan's victims personally, but said Geoghan was well-liked at the time and "one of our favorite friends at the church."
"When this came out later I couldn't believe it," Gallagher said. "It's shaken my faith. This is a big reason why I don't trust the church anymore."