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Church reaches out to inactive local Catholics

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By Lisa Wangsness
Globe Staff / March 10, 2011

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BRAINTREE — Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley yesterday called the news that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to remain in ministry “very disturbing,’’ and said he considers this latest chapter in the abuse crisis worrisome as he launches a new local initiative to persuade inactive Catholics to return to church.

O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, said that whenever the Catholic Church mishandles abuse cases or “tries to cover up . . . it is just so disappointing to all of us, to the whole church.’’

The cardinal spoke at a news conference at the archdiocesan headquarters, where he announced the launch of a new $600,000 television and radio evangelization effort, called “Catholics Come Home.’’

The campaign will run throughout Lent, which began yesterday with Ash Wednesday.

The ads, variations of which have run in several other dioceses throughout the country, highlight the positive aspects of the church’s history and the importance of living a Christian life. They will run some 2,500 times before Easter.

Radio ads will be broadcast in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Portuguese. One of the television commercials includes local scenes, including Fenway Park and a fishing boat.

Church officials said the ads are aimed at people the church might not otherwise be able to reach. Parishes are also undertaking efforts to bring inactive Catholics back to church.

O’Malley said he was “blown away’’ by the generosity this winter of parishioners whose contributions made the campaign possible.

The cardinal has spent most of his nearly eight-year tenure in Boston helping stabilize the archdiocese in the aftermath of the abuse crisis that exploded here in 2002. Yesterday, he grew emotional when pressed about whether he thought the Philadelphia news might reopen wounds here at an inopportune time.

On Tuesday the archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali, placed 21 allegedly abusive priests on administrative leave and apologized after a grand jury reported that the archdiocese had allowed as many as 37 priests accused of sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior with minors to continue in active ministry.

“Of course it is worrisome,’’ O’Malley said. “On the other hand, I believe that Jesus Christ’’ — he paused a long moment to collect himself — “has the answers for the problems of our life. And we are a church to be able to communicate that message.’’

The cardinal has overseen three dioceses reeling from sexual abuse scandals. He is also in the final stages of a Vatican-commissioned review of the response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

He said yesterday that the church in Boston had made enormous strides in protecting children and dealing with abuse allegations and that it had not wavered in its commitment to the standards for handling abuse cases promulgated by US bishops in Dallas in 2002.

Those standards established, among other things, a zero-tolerance policy mandating that priests be permanently removed from ministry if a single act of abuse of a minor is admitted or established.

“Many people thought it was too Draconian, but we’re really committed to it,’’ O’Malley said of the standards.

At yesterday’s news conference, a reporter asked O’Malley about Catholics who feel alienated from the church because of disagreements over social issues, such as gay marriage.

O’Malley replied that if the church can “lead people to Christ’’ it makes it easier to discuss “the challenges and hard words of the Gospel,’’ but he said that “the Ten Commandments are not up for grabs.’’

He added: “We need to do a better job to explain what the church’s teachings are and how they are connected in the very consistent life ethic. But obviously we can’t have that opportunity if those people aren’t talking to us.’’

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lwangsness@globe.com.