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?

 

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.

 

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.

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.

Clearly, then, a number of institutions have had problems with sexual abuse, but the Catholic Church’s failure was compounded by decades of cover-ups and the practice of moving priests with a confirmed history of abuse from one parish to the next, thereby exposing new victims to them. “Repeat offending was more common in the Catholic Church,” McKiernan says, “because the managers were letting it happen.”

As mainstream America became more aware of the existence of pedophilia in the 1980s, incidences of the sexual abuse of children began to decrease. Laws were passed that mandated the reporting of sexual abuse to the authorities, and in 2002, during the height of the Church’s scandal, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops passed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which required church leaders to report allegations to police. Since then, the Church has instituted mandatory training for all children—and for all adults working with children—related to the dangers of sexual abuse.

Seminaries, meanwhile, strengthened their psychological screenings and ­application process for prospective students. Today, there are multiple interviews, as well as a daylong psychological test. Applicants are required to tell psychologists their life story, to explain their understanding of celibacy—a check on sexual identity, history, and maturity—and to take a version of the Rorschach inkblot test. Those who make it through that screening process are trained differently today than were priests in the past. In addition to the traditional academic, pastoral, and spiritual teachings, seminaries now provide instruction in something called “human formation,” which according to the Church requires discipline, emotional balance, self knowledge, a fully evolved sexual identity, and an understanding of celibacy.

Allegations have dropped dramatically. According to the Archdiocese of Boston, 96 percent of the allegations that were made between 2005 and 2011 were for incidents alleged to have taken place prior to 1990. And the archdiocese now takes great effort to react immediately to any accusation. When Father Andrzej J. Urbaniak, a priest from Poland working in South Boston, was arrested on charges of possession of child pornography this past August, the archdiocese immediately suspended him in advance of the case making its way through the legal system.

 

In March 2007, Eric Cadin was taking pre-med classes at Harvard, part of his goal to attend medical school and become an oncologist. He’d begun dating—the first time he’d done so since his sophomore year of college—and was working as an ER services assistant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Then, on St. Patrick’s Day, his mother suffered a heart attack while watching the parade. At the hospital, Cadin called up two priests from St. John’s. Soon, the on-duty chaplain was performing the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, the Catholic ceremony at the end of a life. She died shortly after.

Overwhelmed at the hospital by his mother’s sudden death, Cadin found solace in the presence of the priests. There was something about seeing the uniform that was comforting. Even in this moment of crisis, God seemed to be telling him, I am here.

Over the next few months, Cadin began to reexamine his faith and life, wondering whether he truly wanted to be a doctor. His girlfriend pointed out that he seemed to enjoy praying with his patients more than providing medical care. Shortly after, Cadin broke off the relationship and reapplied to St. John’s.

Upon his return in 2008, Cadin found a seminary in transition. The students who’d lived through the abuse scandal were gone, having graduated or departed. Their replacements, meanwhile, were people who, like him, had chosen to enroll despite the scandal. Where Cadin had once been one of just 30 students at St. John’s, the seminary now had 87 pupils. The new arrivals had come from all over, as O’Malley and Father Arthur Kennedy—the rector he’d recently recruited from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota—had been reaching out to dioceses across the world to send students to Boston.

Cadin was credited for the two years he’d already spent at St. John’s. In his final four years, he took courses on the books of the New Testament, church history, and counseling; worked on his Spanish and ancient Greek; assisted the pastor at St. Columbkille Parish in Brighton; and practiced saying Mass in the basement of the seminary.

This past May, in a plain classroom decorated with a cross and a portrait of a bishop on the wall, Cadin completed one of his last classes at the seminary, the Sacraments of Healing. He and his fellow students practiced going through the rite—the blessing, the laying on of hands, the anointing with holy oil—and then reviewed PowerPoint slides related to the history of the sacrament.

After class, Cadin walked through the halls with the confidence of a graduating senior. He’d earned a Master of Divinity from St. John’s, as well as a license in sacred theology from BC’s School of Theology and Ministry. He found himself overjoyed by the continued growth of St. John’s, where the enrollment had reached 108. The seminary felt alive.

 

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.”

boston archdiocese catholic church rebuild after sex abuse scandal

A classroom at St. John’s Seminary.

boston archdiocese catholic church rebuild after sex abuse scandal

A hallway at St. John’s Seminary.

boston archdiocese catholic church rebuild after sex abuse scandal

Scene from St. John’s Seminary: the sacristy, where the clergy prepares for Mass.

boston archdiocese catholic church rebuild after sex abuse scandal

After graduating from Harvard, Eric Cadin moved to Hawaii, where he lived in a tent, prayed, and surfed—a last hurrah before dedicating his life to the church.

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)

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2012/10/archdiocese-catholic-church-rebuild-after-scandal/