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

Scene from St. John’s Seminary: the sacristy, where the clergy prepares for Mass. / Photo by Matt Kalinowski

The first two years at the seminary focused on philosophy and a foreign language (the Church was becoming increasingly multicultural), while years three through six involved theology and developing the skills needed to serve as a priest, including how to put together a homily and the history behind the sacraments.

Cadin liked his philosophy studies and his classmates, but morale at the seminary was low. It had been just two years since the explosion of the sex abuse scandal had forced seminary students, trying to make their way to the library, to endure the chaos of protestors and news cameras. During the ordeal, the rector, Father John Farren, sometimes had the feeling that the seminary was under attack. Some students were left traumatized, and others, who’d been sent to St. John’s by other dioceses, were removed from the school by their bishops. By the time Cadin started in 2004, enrollment at a seminary that had once taught hundreds of students had dropped to just 30, the fewest in more than a century.

A malaise had set in among the older students and faculty, establishing the tone for the entire building. Classrooms, dorms, and the chapel were quiet. In his second year, Cadin began to question why he was there—something wasn’t quite right. Feeling God’s call, but uncertain he was worthy of it, Cadin started saying a daily prayer: Give me the grace to stay or give me the permission to leave.

In the fall of 2006, Cadin returned for a third year of classes, but a week in, he found himself spending a night in the chapel. He said his prayer over and over again. After 45 minutes, he was overwhelmed with an incredible peace. He was free to go. God would honor his decision to leave, so Cadin dropped out. A few months later, he enrolled in pre-med classes at Harvard.

That same year, O’Malley became one of just 120 active cardinals in the world, one rung below the Pope. In 2007 he made the controversial decision to sell the rest of the archdiocese’s land in Brighton to Boston College for $65 million. The sale included the property surrounding the seminary, the library, the gym, all of it. The only building the archdiocese retained was the actual seminary, St. John’s Hall, which contained the classrooms, the dorms, and a chapel. Father John Farren, the rector who’d withstood the protests at the seminary during the worst of the abuse scandal, sent two scathing letters to the archdiocese. The sale, he wrote, was galling not only because of what it represented for the future of St. John’s, but also because it had been made to BC’s liberal Jesuits. Farren predicted that the seminary would close within five years.


O’Malley wasn’t the first person to take over the Archdiocese of Boston and find himself in dire need of priests. When Bishop John Joseph Williams arrived in 1866, he was suddenly in charge of 300,000 Catholics, the second-largest diocese in the country, but had only 116 priests and no school to train more. Williams understood that he needed a larger clergy, so in 1880, the archdiocese bought 26 acres of farmland in Brighton and set out to build a seminary. Four years later, the archdiocese opened the Boston Ecclesiastical Seminary, which was officially renamed St. John’s in 1941.

As Williams had hoped, the seminary helped make the priesthood a popular career path for the sons of the area’s growing number of Irish and Italian Catholic families. The number of Boston seminarians went from 10 in 1884 to 86 in 1907 to 241 in 1942. By 1960 the archdiocese had 418 Boston seminarians, and St. John’s had expanded several times on the Brighton property to accommodate the surge in attendance.

The early 1960s were the zenith of Catholic life in Boston and the rest of the country. John F. Kennedy was elected president in the fall of 1960, when more than half the residents of the Boston metropolitan area identified themselves as Catholic. Nationally, around 70 percent of the country’s 49 million Catholics were attending Mass weekly, and more than 5.2 million children were enrolled in 13,000 Catholic schools. In 1965, there were nearly 59,000 priests across the country, and tens of thousands of young men were interested in joining them. Seminaries throughout the U.S. gladly expanded to meet the demand.

It was during this period of frenzied growth that the seeds of the sex abuse epidemic appear to have been planted. A 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and conducted by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that between 1950 and 2002, there were approximately 110,000 priests in America, and around 4 percent of them wound up being accused of abuse. (The majority of the assaults occurred between 1960 and 1985.) That works out to nearly 4,400 accused priests. Of those, a small number—3.5 percent—were found to be responsible for more than a quarter of all the allegations. The report’s findings have been contested, however, notably by Terence McKiernan, the president of the Waltham-based website ­BishopAccountability. McKiernan believes the real numbers are far worse, saying that when it comes to abuse data, “Any place that you have a lot of information, you seem to be up around 10 percent of priests.” In Boston, for instance, he points out that the Church has acknowledged that 248 of 2,324 archdiocesan priests faced allegations. Projected nationally, McKiernan’s 10 percent calculation would amount to about 11,000 Catholic priests assaulting children during the past half-century.

It’s difficult to determine whether priests abused children at a higher rate than did other groups of trusted adults. Pedophiles like Jerry Sandusky have used coaching positions to assault children, and in October, the Los Angeles Times revealed that nearly 1,900 Boy Scout troop leaders were dismissed from the organization for sexual abuse ­between 1970 and 1991. A study released by the American Association of University Women in 2000 showed that nearly 7 percent of teenage students had experienced inappropriate sexual contact at school, while other surveys have shown that number to be around 4 percent.


  • 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.