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

Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley ordaining Cadin as a new priest of the Archdiocese of Boston. / Photo by Gregory L. Tracy

The following month, hundreds of people filed into the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, brushing raindrops from the shoulders of their dark suits and dresses. The service wasn’t due to start for another half an hour, but the cathedral’s best pews had already been claimed. Some of the seats in the front were reserved for the priests of the Archdiocese of Boston, while others were set aside for the dozens of students from St. John’s, outfitted in black jackets and white collars. The middle pews, the ones right in front of the altar, were reserved for the family members of the six men who were about to be ordained priests and marry God.

Cadin stopped by the front pews to make sure his father and siblings were well situated for the ceremony, then moved to the back of the church, where he joined Cardinal O’Malley, a handful of bishops, and several hundred other Boston priests.

The ordination ceremony, which includes an exchange of “I do”s and a swearing of obedience to the bishop and archdiocese, began much like many Catholic weddings: with a full Mass. At its conclusion, O’Malley ambled up to the pulpit to deliver the cere mony’s homily.

“Being a bishop in today’s world is full of challenges,” he said. “Difficult decisions, skirmishes with the press, dealing with financial disasters, and many trainwrecks—those that are waiting to happen, and those that have happened over and over again. But there are also great joys—like celebrating an ordination.” After a few stories, he got to his point. “Your task as priests is going to be to wake people up,” he said to his new charges. “That’s what the new evangelization is about. Many people’s faith has grown dormant….We must help to awaken people’s faith.”

 

Ten weeks after being ordained, Father Eric Cadin takes the altar at St. Michael Parish in North Andover. It’s the first cool morning of autumn, and several hundred parishioners have come for the bright and airy church’s 9 a.m. Mass. Wearing his green vestments, Cadin moves through the service easily.

He smiles as he begins telling the audience, full of young families and the elderly, about a time when he hurt himself as a boy. He had cracked his head on a tree branch while biking and, blood streaming down his face, run home to his mother. “She helped me,” he says, “she comforted me. And she brought me to the hospital, where I got stitches.”

Pacing the altar, he continues. “When you’re with your parent, you are loved,” he tells the nodding congregation. He relates this love to what God feels for all of us. “God, the creator of the world, takes this single man and heals him. God says he’s important. It’s like when you run to your parents, and they say, ‘You’re going to be okay.’”

Thirty miles away, fall classes have just started at St. John’s. Eighty-one students are living in the dormitory, and a total of 120 are taking courses there, the most in 20 years. Next year the seminary may need to use space at nearby vacant parishes to house everyone. The number of students being ordained is still far below the replacement level necessary, but it’s moving in the right direction. “The revival at St. John’s is surprising,” says Philip Jenkins, a history and religious studies professor at Baylor University. “It’s so counterintuitive. St. John’s looks like an anomaly.”

Archbishop O’Malley is continuing to deal with a clergy shortage and cash-strapped parishes, but instead of closing them, he’s struck upon a new idea: Small parishes will pool resources and be run by pastoral teams of two or three priests. In March the archdiocese started a $600,000 television and radio campaign, Catholics Come Home, that encourages people to give the Church a try again.

After the Mass in North Andover is over, Cadin stands outside the doors and greets his new parishioners. He’s been trying to memorize names.

As the crowd slows, a middle-aged woman and her son walk up and introduce themselves. “When did you get here?” the woman asks.

“Around Fourth of July weekend,” he says.

“And what’s your name?”

“Eric.”

She looks at him quizzically. “Father Eric?”

“Yes,” he says, smiling. “Father Eric.”