Resurrection: The Archdiocese of Boston Rebuilds

The clergy sex abuse scandal exploded onto front pages across the country in 2002. A painful decade later, the Archdiocese of Boston has begun to rebuild. But a stubborn question remains: What kind of man wants to become a priest?
boston archdiocese catholic church rebuild after sex abuse scandal

After graduating from Harvard, Eric Cadin moved to Hawaii, where he lived in a tent, prayed, and surfed—a last hurrah before dedicating his life to the church. / Photo by Matt Kalinowski

Clearly, then, a number of institutions have had problems with sexual abuse, but the Catholic Church’s failure was compounded by decades of cover-ups and the practice of moving priests with a confirmed history of abuse from one parish to the next, thereby exposing new victims to them. “Repeat offending was more common in the Catholic Church,” McKiernan says, “because the managers were letting it happen.”

As mainstream America became more aware of the existence of pedophilia in the 1980s, incidences of the sexual abuse of children began to decrease. Laws were passed that mandated the reporting of sexual abuse to the authorities, and in 2002, during the height of the Church’s scandal, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops passed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which required church leaders to report allegations to police. Since then, the Church has instituted mandatory training for all children—and for all adults working with children—related to the dangers of sexual abuse.

Seminaries, meanwhile, strengthened their psychological screenings and ­application process for prospective students. Today, there are multiple interviews, as well as a daylong psychological test. Applicants are required to tell psychologists their life story, to explain their understanding of celibacy—a check on sexual identity, history, and maturity—and to take a version of the Rorschach inkblot test. Those who make it through that screening process are trained differently today than were priests in the past. In addition to the traditional academic, pastoral, and spiritual teachings, seminaries now provide instruction in something called “human formation,” which according to the Church requires discipline, emotional balance, self knowledge, a fully evolved sexual identity, and an understanding of celibacy.

Allegations have dropped dramatically. According to the Archdiocese of Boston, 96 percent of the allegations that were made between 2005 and 2011 were for incidents alleged to have taken place prior to 1990. And the archdiocese now takes great effort to react immediately to any accusation. When Father Andrzej J. Urbaniak, a priest from Poland working in South Boston, was arrested on charges of possession of child pornography this past August, the archdiocese immediately suspended him in advance of the case making its way through the legal system.


In March 2007, Eric Cadin was taking pre-med classes at Harvard, part of his goal to attend medical school and become an oncologist. He’d begun dating—the first time he’d done so since his sophomore year of college—and was working as an ER services assistant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Then, on St. Patrick’s Day, his mother suffered a heart attack while watching the parade. At the hospital, Cadin called up two priests from St. John’s. Soon, the on-duty chaplain was performing the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, the Catholic ceremony at the end of a life. She died shortly after.

Overwhelmed at the hospital by his mother’s sudden death, Cadin found solace in the presence of the priests. There was something about seeing the uniform that was comforting. Even in this moment of crisis, God seemed to be telling him, I am here.

Over the next few months, Cadin began to reexamine his faith and life, wondering whether he truly wanted to be a doctor. His girlfriend pointed out that he seemed to enjoy praying with his patients more than providing medical care. Shortly after, Cadin broke off the relationship and reapplied to St. John’s.

Upon his return in 2008, Cadin found a seminary in transition. The students who’d lived through the abuse scandal were gone, having graduated or departed. Their replacements, meanwhile, were people who, like him, had chosen to enroll despite the scandal. Where Cadin had once been one of just 30 students at St. John’s, the seminary now had 87 pupils. The new arrivals had come from all over, as O’Malley and Father Arthur Kennedy—the rector he’d recently recruited from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota—had been reaching out to dioceses across the world to send students to Boston.

Cadin was credited for the two years he’d already spent at St. John’s. In his final four years, he took courses on the books of the New Testament, church history, and counseling; worked on his Spanish and ancient Greek; assisted the pastor at St. Columbkille Parish in Brighton; and practiced saying Mass in the basement of the seminary.

This past May, in a plain classroom decorated with a cross and a portrait of a bishop on the wall, Cadin completed one of his last classes at the seminary, the Sacraments of Healing. He and his fellow students practiced going through the rite—the blessing, the laying on of hands, the anointing with holy oil—and then reviewed PowerPoint slides related to the history of the sacrament.

After class, Cadin walked through the halls with the confidence of a graduating senior. He’d earned a Master of Divinity from St. John’s, as well as a license in sacred theology from BC’s School of Theology and Ministry. He found himself overjoyed by the continued growth of St. John’s, where the enrollment had reached 108. The seminary felt alive.