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

A classroom at St. John’s Seminary. / Photo by Matt Kalinowski

The sun was setting by the time Eric Cadin turned into Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. It was May 2000, and the 19-year-old had just finished his freshman year as an economics major at Harvard. After driving in silence all the way from Massachusetts, he was desperate for conversation. Matt Bagnell, his best friend from high school, was slumped in the back seat of the car, recovering from a bad case of food poisoning. Their plan was to spend the summer in California, living on the beach and surfing, but Bagnell had barely said a word during the four-day drive, spending most of the time just moaning. Arriving at the park, they hiked to the top of a mesa, and Bagnell immediately rolled into his sleeping bag. When Cadin tried to talk to Bagnell, who’d spent a year teaching English in the very religious country of Mali, his friend simply pointed to the edge of the cliff and said, “Go out there and pray.”

Cadin, anxious for any sort of conversation, marched off and found a seat on a low rock, overlooking a canyon. Cadin had been raised Catholic, but most of his praying had been of the Lord, please help me on this test variety. So his words came awkwardly. After several minutes of talking aloud, he was overwhelmed by a feeling: Someone was listening to him. “I suddenly realized that I wasn’t just talking to myself,” he recalls. “I knew that there was someone, a real person—God—listening to me. I had this profound sense of peace.”

The moment was brief, but it stayed with him. A few days later, Cadin and Bagnell arrived in San Diego, where they spent their last $600 on surfboards. When he wasn’t surfing in the morning or working the overnight shift at Sea World, Cadin was checking out library books about theology and prayer, and going to church. He also liked to hold long conversations about spirituality with the beach-bum community.

This turn to religion wasn’t a total surprise. The second of four kids, Cadin had been raised in Weymouth by Catholic parents. His mother, a nurse, worked nights, so his father would round up all the children in the car and take them to Sunday-morning Mass. In second grade, Cadin watched a priest saying Mass and thought to himself, That would be a good thing to do. But the idea passed. A talented student, Cadin cruised through Roxbury Latin and on into Harvard, where he became an economics major and joined the rugby team.

Now here he was in between his first and second years at college, and the experience in Utah seemed to be putting him back on the path he’d first contemplated as a child. By the time he got back to Harvard, he was thinking of becoming a priest. He switched his major to comparative religion and, by his junior year, stopped dating women as an experiment with celibacy. He began meeting regularly with a Cambridge priest and a group of five other men who were also thinking about joining a seminary after graduation.

Catholic seminaries everywhere were in desperate need of men like Cadin. In 1967, more than 37,000 prospective priests were enrolled at several hundred seminaries around the country. (There are three types of seminaries: high school, college, and theologate, which is for students who already have a college degree.) But as interest in organized religion, including Catholicism, began to wane, seminary attendance plummeted, and institutions started closing. Today there are 5,500 students enrolled at 76 Catholic seminaries in the U.S., including just seven in all of New England.

According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, about three-quarters of the students who start at a seminary are eventually ordained as priests, but there are frequent distractions along the way: a desire for a wife and a family, curiosity about other lines of work, rebellion against the Church’s authority or rules. Then there’s the social pressure, with more than 40 percent of priests reporting that, at one time or another, they were discouraged from the calling by friends, family, or coworkers.

For all of these reasons, smart, principled, stable, and devout young men were already in high demand by the Church when Eric Cadin started thinking about becoming a priest. And then, in the middle of Cadin’s junior year at Harvard, came the sex abuse scandal. The ugly revelations—and the uglier fallout from them—sent St. John’s Seminary into a spiral. “We were in survival mode,” recalls Father Chris O’Connor, the vice rector. “How do we keep the ship afloat?” The dire situation might have driven some prospective priests away. For Cadin, it had the opposite effect. The scandal was a challenge to be overcome, an opportunity to prove his faith. He could be part of a new wave of priests that would help lead the Church back to glory. Still, given how high emotions were running, the priest in Cambridge whom he’d been studying with urged him to be discreet in sharing his plans. “When you go and tell people,” he said to Cadin, “you might be very prudent and cautious of who you are telling.”

Cadin found his family and friends to be mostly encouraging, though his mother took convincing. Still, at 22 years old, he wasn’t quite ready to commit. Once he became a priest, he kept thinking, his life would be set. The archdiocese would feed him, clothe him, house him, and tell him where to work until his death. So the year after he graduated from Harvard, he moved to Hawaii, where he lived in a tent, prayed, surfed, and worked. It would be a last hurrah before he dedicated his life to the Church.

In the spring of 2004, while still living in Hawaii, Cadin began the process of applying to St. John’s, filling out an application and interviewing over the phone. That summer, he flew back to Boston for a full-day psychological test and an interview with the five-member admissions board. A few weeks later, he found out he’d been accepted. Classes would start in August.



  • 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.

  • Warren

    Composed charge knowledge: It is a collaboration this pieces out what expert services areLack connected with earnings establishing means that quite a lot of organizations get it wrong.Most function which includes a push button for you to thrust as a way to turn the home to the carousel about.

  • 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.

    • 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.


      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:

  • 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.