Law's temporary replacement calls for healing

Monday, December 16, 2002

BOSTON -- The man put in charge of the scandal-wracked Boston Archdiocese after Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation called for healing and reconciliation Sunday, drawing applause as he celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

"How many are brokenhearted, how many are captives of the crimes and the sins of sexual abuse against minors? How many have had their freedom curtailed because of injustice?" Bishop Richard Lennon asked.

It was Lennon's first appearance since the Vatican appointed him Friday to the post of apostolic administrator for an archdiocese that has been embroiled for the past year in a clergy sex abuse scandal. He will have the full authority of the archbishop until a permanent successor to Law is named.

"I pledge to do all that I can to be a shepherd of this great archdiocese, relying on the prayers, the support, the assistance of all of God's people," Lennon, 55, told the parishioners.

After Mass, Lennon clasped hands of parishioners and embraced others, then walked outside to speak to victims.

"I told him my story and he said, 'God bless and I'm sorry.' I hope he really meant it," said Robert Hatch, 45, who described himself as a victim of clergy sexual misconduct and a frequent protester at the cathedral. "It seems like he's trying, but I need to see more healing."

Hatch said he would like to see a reconciliation Mass for victims. A church spokesman said one will be held but has not yet been scheduled.

Heavy burden

Lennon, the rector and president of St. John's Seminary, has been handed a heavy load. In addition to settlement talks with victims of sex abuse by priests, the fourth-largest Roman Catholic archdiocese faces possible bankruptcy and a grand jury investigation.

Church records released in a series of lawsuits have horrified parishioners with descriptions of accused priests being moved from parish to parish and allegations that included one priest accused of having sexual relations with nuns in training whom he encouraged to "be brides of Christ" and another of fathering at least two children and abandoning his lover as she overdosed.

Law, who became a target of protests for not taking tougher steps to remove abusive priests, was back in Boston Sunday but had no public appearances scheduled, archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey said.

The cardinal told a Boston Globe reporter during his flight home from Rome that he didn't know what his new role in the church would be.

"I really think that what I have done is best for the church and I have to leave it at that," Law said.

News conference planned

An archdiocese spokesman, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, told reporters after Sunday's Mass that Law decided to submit his resignation to the Vatican on Dec. 5, the same day victims' attorneys released a second release of damaging church documents and shortly after consulting with "some friends and some diocesan officials."

Coyne said Law would probably speak about his reasons at a news conference later in the week.

Outside the cathedral Sunday, about 40 protesters who have dogged Law for months gathered to remind church officials and parishioners that Law's resignation doesn't mean the crisis has ended.

Terry McKiernan, who said he was a member of the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful, carried a sign reading: "Law gone, the fight goes on."

People aren't sure what to expect from Lennon, he said.

"I hope he's a good guy, but we have very low expectations of him. I think we're all very suspicious and we should continue to be. It's the naivete and docility of Catholics that led to this in the first place," McKiernan, 48, said.

Brian Flaherty, a one-time seminarian who took a class taught by Lennon, described the bishop as a "down-to-earth, average Joe" who is positioned to heal the scars of the archdiocese.

"He hasn't been tainted by the scandal. He's free from criticism, free from the scandal," said Flaherty, 26. "We're looking for a new beginning."

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