SPRINGFIELD -- Roman Catholics in Springfield greeted their new bishop as he celebrated his first Mass as head of the diocese without mention of the tumult that followed allegations of abuse against his predecessor.
Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, 66, carried palm fronds as he presided over a low-key Palm Sunday Mass at St. Michael's Cathedral marking the start of Holy Week. His homily about Christ's sacrifice carried shades of meaning for congregants, whose previous bishop could become the highest-ranking church leader charged with sexual abuse.
"It is a week of sadness, and a week of hope," McDonnell said in his homily.
McDonnell took over as the eighth bishop of the diocese on Thursday. The Springfield church has been stung by sexual abuse accusations against his predecessor, Thomas Dupre. Dupre is also facing lawsuits by alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse.
At Thursday's ceremony, McDonnell and others who spoke to the 1,400 people assembled made repeated references to the abuse crisis. McDonnell apologized personally to abuse victims, while Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, papal nuncio of the United States, said Pope John Paul II "wanted to send you a pastor and a father to heal your suffering, to restore faith."
Dupre stepped down as bishop in February, citing health reasons. The day before his retirement, The Republican newspaper of Springfield confronted him with allegations that he had molested two boys when he was a parish priest in the 1970s.
Prosecutors have assigned a grand jury to investigate the charges, and the two alleged victims are suing Dupre, who immediately after his resignation checked into a Maryland facility known to treat pedophile priests. Dupre has not publicly discussed the allegations. His lawyer also has not commented.
McDonnell already has begun to address issues of sex abuse. He met last week with a mediator trying to help settle 15 of the 21 lawsuits filed against the church by people who say they were molested by priests.
After yesterday's service, congregants lingered to speak with McDonnell, some posing for photographs at his side on the altar.
Parishioner Brian Wallace, 49, of Springfield, said the change has left members of the diocese with "a feeling of renewed hope."
"We're all looking forward to a new beginning, and I think he's just the man to offer it to us," he said.