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

Archbishop Seán Patrick O’Malley arrived in Boston in July 2003 to find an archdiocese in turmoil. Even before the sex abuse scandal, the church had been dealing with a severe money crunch, owing to declining membership and the cost of operating its 357 parishes. The archdiocese was running a $15 million annual deficit and faced a separate bill of $104 million to repair church buildings. Collections, meanwhile, had dropped precipitously, partly because parish attendance had plunged from 76 percent of Catholics in 1960 to just 16 percent—and partly because the faithful who were still attending, and who hadn’t fled after the scandal broke, were reluctant to donate money that might wind up being used to pay for lawyers and million-dollar settlements. The 2002 main fundraising drive had brought in about half as much as the one in 2001.

That same year, writing in the Catholic magazine America, Frederick Gluck, a former managing director of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, laid out the strategic approach that a business professional might use to turn around the Church. He outlined the problems with management (“resisting change”), membership (“no longer committed”), finances (“revenues drying up”), and personnel (“the church is no longer the first choice of the best and brightest”). He advised a new direction for the Church, including changes in leadership, cuts in staffing and expenses, the closing of unprofitable operations, and better recruiting. “Turnaround situations,” Gluck wrote, “always require radical action.”

The 59-year-old O’Malley was ­officially installed as the head of the Archdiocese of Boston at a ceremonial Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End. Wearing the beard, simple brown robe, and sandals of the Capuchins—a Catholic religious order that requires a life of austerity and simplicity—O’Malley acknowledged the pain and damage inflicted upon innocent victims, and the Church’s failure to report the crimes. “How ultimately we deal with this present crisis in our Church will do much to define us as Catholics of the future,” he said. “We must not flee from the cross of pain and humiliation.”

On his second day as archbishop, O’Malley began his overhaul. He fired the lawyers he’d inherited and replaced them with a team led by Thomas Hannigan, who’d overseen negotiations with the Fall River victims in the early 1990s. In contrast with the adversarial approach taken by Law and his lawyers, O’Malley and Hannigan dropped all challenges to the allegations, met personally with representatives of the more than 800 victims, and within a week offered a $55 million settlement. Negotiations accelerated, and five weeks later, in early September 2003, O’Malley and Hannigan participated in a six-and-a-half-hour mediation session with the victims’ lawyers. O’Malley successfully made a personal appeal, saying that a settlement costing more than $85 million would bankrupt the archdiocese. “That same message coming from Cardinal Law would have been dead on ­arrival,” Robert Sherman, a victims’ lawyer, later told the Globe. “When Archbishop O’Malley said he couldn’t give any more, we accepted it. We tested what he said, but we have come to accept the archbishop as a man of honesty and integrity.”

Having arrived at a settlement agreement, O’Malley next had to figure out how to pay for it. Selling off some of the archdiocese’s vast holdings in land and property emerged as the obvious answer, and O’Malley started with the bishop’s mansion in Brighton, a 77-year-old Renaissance Revival residence at the heart of what was known as “Little Rome,” and the place he’d been calling home. When Boston College agreed to buy the mansion, along with 43 acres of surrounding land, for $99.4 million in April 2004, O’Malley announced that he’d be moving into the modest rectory at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

From there, O’Malley turned his attention to the archdiocese’s long-standing financial problems. There simply weren’t enough active Catholics, let alone priests, to keep all the parishes in operation. In May 2004, he announced that 65 of the archdiocese’s parishes, nearly 20 percent, would be closed. At eight churches, furious parishioners held sit-ins to prevent the archdiocese from changing the locks, but all in all the restructuring was a success, as was the settlement with the sex abuse victims. But none of that changed the fact that as O’Malley continued his drive to save the archdiocese, he was saddled with one seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Where the archdiocese had nearly 1,400 priests in the 1970s, it was now down to just 856. He would need to find more, and soon.


One morning early in the fall of 2004, just a few weeks into his first year as a student at St. John’s, Eric Cadin walked into the refectory, the building’s ornate wood-paneled dining hall—where he was stopped by Darin Colarusso, a fifth-year student and former Air Force fighter pilot. Cadin was wearing flip-flops.

“Dude, no shower shoes in the refectory,” Colarusso said.

“What’s wrong?” Cadin asked.

“The first floor, we wear shoes. You wear those walking to the shower.”

At St. John’s, Cadin soon found, the rules were enforced by everyone. And that wasn’t the only way discipline and focus were instilled. The day began with prayer at 7 a.m. and ended with curfew at 11 p.m. The hours in between consisted of lots of instruction, lots of prayer, and a little free time. Guests were allowed only with permission, and alcohol, women, and children were all banned from the rooms. For men who’d worked and lived in the real world—the typical student enrolls in his late twenties—or had just spent a year surfing, it could be an adjustment.


  • 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.