Resurrection

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?

By Patrick Doyle | Boston Magazine |
boston archdiocese catholic church rebuild after sex abuse scandal

Catholic seminary students celebrating a Mass at St. John’s in Brighton. (Photos by Matt Kalinowski)

On a beautiful August day in 2004, Eric Cadin pulled his battered Ford Taurus up to the soaring stone towers of St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. After spending the morning surfing in Rhode Island, Cadin arrived to find that he’d barely made it in time for move-in. Fortunately, he didn’t have much in the way of possessions. Having spent the past year living in a tent in Hawaii, he had only a few bags of clothes, some books, and a bed-in-a-sack he’d recently purchased. Cadin was wearing a necklace made of shells and his short brown hair was still crunchy with ocean salt, but he had managed to change out of his surfing gear and into a pair of khaki shorts and a polo shirt. He was about to begin the years-long journey to become a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Boston.

The 23-year-old Harvard graduate brought his things up to his room, a standard college dorm with a twin bed, a dresser, and a desk. As he unpacked, an older student, a former member of the military who seemed like a good guy, dropped by to say hello. Still, Cadin was struck by the silence in the seminary. There were only eight students in his class of future priests, and just 30 total students living in the entire building, a third of capacity. The clergy sex abuse scandal had broken two years earlier, and its fallout was continuing to plague the church. The line to become a priest in Boston had become very, very short.

After Cadin finished unpacking, he sat down on his bed, a little in shock. He’d been thinking about becoming a priest for more than three years, but now it was suddenly real. What, he wondered, have I gotten myself into?

 

On January 6, 2002, the Globe delivered the kind of blow the Catholic Church hadn’t felt since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The newspaper’s front page revealed, in graphic detail, the decades-long abuse of more than 130 children by former Catholic priest John Geoghan, and—even more devastating—the fact that the Archdiocese of Boston had known about it for years and allowed it to happen.

Three days and several follow-up stories later, Cardinal Bernard Law held a press conference in which he apologized to the victims and announced the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy. It was already too late. The Globe was publishing new articles daily, exposing hundreds of cases of abuse and church cover-ups. Victims poured forth. Protests erupted. Priests everywhere were viewed with outright disdain.

Mass attendance fell 14 percent in the Archdiocese of Boston in a single year. More than 800 people eventually accused 248 Boston-area priests of abusing them as children. There was widespread speculation that the archdiocese, unable to pay the tens of millions in expected settlements, would be forced to declare bankruptcy. Donna Morrissey, the archdiocese’s spokeswoman, was receiving 300 calls a day. It was, she said, a “public relations nightmare.”

The archdiocese entered a tailspin as victims in other dioceses began to come forward and identify suspect priests. The crisis quickly threatened to engulf the entire Catholic Church, and in April 2002 Pope John Paul II himself issued an apology and ordered the American cardinals to Rome for an emergency summit. In June the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, realizing the scale of the scandal, established a National Review Board to examine the church’s policies regarding children. In December, an embattled Cardinal Law finally resigned and boarded a plane for Rome. There was a conspiracy theory that he’d fled just before Massachusetts state troopers were going to arrest him. Those rumors weren’t true, but the point was clear. People by then were willing to believe anything about the Catholic clergy.

 

Seven months after Cardinal Law resigned, the Pope appointed Archbishop Seán Patrick O’Malley to take over the archdiocese. O’Malley was the closest thing the church had to a turnaround artist, having previously cleaned up abuse scandals in the Fall River and Palm Beach dioceses. Those, however, were relatively small communities, and the scandals had been narrow in scope. The Archdiocese of Boston, however, was perceived by much of the public as rotten to the core for its decades of allowing, even facilitating, abuse. A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll conducted at the time showed that 64 percent of people believed that Catholic priests “frequently” abused children. Brian McGrory, capturing the mood across the country, wrote in the Globe that “there’s a taint, a suspicion cast over anyone of the cloth, fueled by daily headlines of a pedophilic priest and a collection of church leaders that did nothing of consequence to stop him.

The scandal couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Archdiocese of Boston. The Church, already facing a clergy shortage, was struggling to find enough priests to deliver weekly Mass at all of its local parishes, and the priests it did have were rapidly aging. An average of 18 were retiring each year, yet in 2002 the archdiocese managed to ordain just five replacements—and soon after, St. John’s Seminary, which for decades had been training undergraduate students to become priests, was forced to close its college program because of low enrollment.

O’Malley’s task as he took control of the archdiocese was to prove to the world that the evil had been excised, that the Church was still pure and good. That meant rebuilding the archdiocese’s reputation from the ground up, finding and training a new generation of dedicated, intelligent, and trustworthy young men to minister to a traumatized flock. To do that, though, O’Malley was going to have to find the answer to a difficult question: Who on earth, to say nothing of Boston, would want to become a priest right now?

 

  • John McCormack

    Every Catholic priest is a bizarre, odd guy who didn’t fit in to normal society to begin with. No normal 17 year old male decides never to have sex with a woman, and then spends the rest of his life fighting gays.

    That part would be fine, but the Catholic church protects their pedophile priests like Christ would protect the children, and the Catholic church tries to teach you that this practice is ok.

    The psychological damage that happens to a 10 year old boy when he is raped by a Catholic priest is unfathomable. The boy thinks he is being stabbed to death, in a disgusting way, by “Christ on earth”, and that God is there watching it happen. Until 2002, every one of those boys thought he was the only one, making it worse. Those boys spend every day of their lives thinking constantly about that moment.

    The Catholic church KNEW about every rape the day that it happened, since every pedophile priest went to confession to admit that he did it. Jesus said in John 20:23 that some sins weren’t forgiven, but the Catholic church forgave every child rapist and fought every child victim, or lied about it, and bullied the victims.

    The Catholic church, in unison, did the exact opposite of What Jesus Would Do. God has made it so clear – the Catholic church isn’t God’s church.

    • Alan Crone

      John McCormack — you are quite omniscient.

  • John Geoghan

    Catholic priests certainly don’t represent God, or Christ, or Christianity, and God has proven that to everyone, despite the fact that the Catholic church tried to hide it. God gave us the Internet and the journalists that exposed this organized crime, so every Christian could decide to support or to fight a church that raped children in God’s name, hid the child rapists, and bullied the victims.

    The Catholic church hid AT LEAST 4,392 child rapists in the US alone (that they admitted in their own John Jay report of 2004), moving child rapists to new locations where they could rape more vulnerable children, lying about it, and bullying the victims that came forward. All in the name of God.

    One thing is for sure – God was there when every child was raped, and He doesn’t have to show any mercy to anyone who didn’t stand up for those children. Catholic priests are the worst of all. None of them spoke up and did What Jesus Would Do. Catholic priests have convinced a billion followers that it is ok to hide rampant child rape in God’s name, because God would rather have the Pope wear $100,000 hats and have Catholics spend an hour a week in the world’s richest buildings than spend money to get therapy for children that were raped by Catholic priests.

    God is just, but He does not have to forgive Catholic priests or those that follow them.

    • Truth Detector

      A section of this comment has been removed for violating our commenting policy.

      True, a few priests have acted reprehensibly and will face the judgment of God. However, for you to spew hatred and lump all priests and religious with pedophiles is factually wrong. You are entitled to believe what you want, but your hate filled and ignorant comments should be countered. Read the Scriptures and learn your history.

      The Church is made up of sinful men, as is EVERY church. But God works through human instruments and the Church is greater than the flawed humans in it. Last I checked the bible, the self righteous were condemned by the Lord.

      • John Geoghan

        You missed the point because you listen to the false idols in the Catholic church. The fact that the Catholic church had more pedophiles per person than any institution in history is bad.

        However, the fact that they then hid the pedophiles, lied for them, moved them, and bullied the victims, all in God’s name, is unforgivable. So is the fact that you support them in doing so. In God’s name.

        Read the second half of John 20:23. Some since aren’t forgiven. Organized child rape, in God’s name, is one of them.

  • Jackson

    Congratulations to Eric and to all those recently ordained. You are doing God’s work, and the world needs it more than ever.

  • http://is.gd/zsR3BF Warren

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  • http://www.themediareport.com DPierre

    I am sure I am not the only one who has grown weary of seeing the Globe pat itself on the back with every mention of the clergy scandals in Boston.

    • http://www.themediareport.com DPierre

      Oops. My bad. Boston Magazine. I was thinking this was the Globe magazine published on Sunday.

      Still … The narrative of clergy abuse in Boston did *not* start with the Globe on Jan. 6, 2002.

    • Neil Allen

      No, but you are one of the few that gets PAID to defend known pedophiles for the Catholic church.

      BOMBSHELL – THE TRUTH ABOUT THEMEDIAREPORT & DAVE PIERRE:

      Some facts about Dave Pierre and TheMediaReport everyone should know:

      TheMediaReport, and its owner, Dave Pierre should have mentioned that he is trying to sell books at THEMEDIAREPORT website about how innocent these pedophile priests are, even after they plead guilty, multiple times, to child rape.

      On example is Fr Gordon Macrae, a convicted pedophile priest who Dave supports (and who recommends Dave’s books). Macrae PLEADED GUILTY to sex with 3 children, and was also accused by at least another 7. Macrae is serving 30-60 years for raping another, but Dave will tell you how those 3 GUILTY pleas aren’t an admission that he’s a child rapist.

      Dave is literally a paid pedophile protector, and worst of all, he claims to do so in God’s name. There will be no forgiveness for that.

  • DRX

    The Church is only concerned with money,power and protecting the “brand”. As in fact are most religions. But as an ex Catholic I find it hard to believe that the Church is going to survive much longer.

  • John

    I’m happy to read an article that shows the real situation in the Church–difficulty due to sin, but also life due to God’s grace.

    Congrats to Fr. Eric for persevering and thriving now as a priest!

  • Edgar

    Father Eric sounds like a credit to the priesthood, the devout, righteous type of man it sorely needs.

    Unfortunately he’s serving an institution that struggles with basic transparency and honesty, an institution that has made essentially no changes in the structure that allowed rampant abusers like John Geoghan to sate their reprehensible lust for years.

    Where is the lay oversight of archdiocesan finances and personnel records? Where are the panels of lay Catholics empowered to independently review priest transfers, church closings, and financial practices? Where are the checks and balances in the structure of the church to ensure another church official can’t keep documents and other evidence of abuse secret?

    Not only abuse. Read here about how for almost 20 years the archdiocese mismanaged its priest retirement fund: http://www.economist.com/node/4085878

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    “about to be ordained priests and marry God.”

    Priests, in imitation of Christ, marry the Church- not God.

  • Robert Carney

    Great article covering what is going on in the Boston Archdiocese! I had the honor of hearing Father Cadin celebrate Mass for my first time today. He has a true and deep love for The Lord and his parishioners.

  • Wally Saunders

    I love this article. To me the sex abuse scandal ia one of the best things that could have happened to the Roman Catholic Church. Jesus said that the seed must die to bring forth fruit. He spoke of Himself as the Vine and his followers as the branches. His Father is the Vinedresser who prunes away the dead wood so that the vine bears more fruit. And what a painful but fruitful pruning this whole scandal has proven to be.

    Jesus told us that the truth would set us free. We had to learn that it would make us angry first.

    Dorothy Day was well aware of the corruption and hypocrisy that exists in the Church. She also pointed out that, despite these goings on–at least since Constantine bestowed the trappings of empire on her–the Roman Church has continued to produce saints like Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, John Henry Newman, Mother Teresa and Dorothy herself.

    I have been most fortunate to have known a lot of good and holy and dedicated priests. It is easy, therefore, for me to understand why a young man might want to become a priest today and have the guts to follow that through. It truly is a Resurrection. Such an apt title for this piece. Thanks for putting it out there.