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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

A humbler church

12/6/2003

THE SPOKESMAN for the Archdiocese of Boston warned this week not to read any particular symbolism into the announcement that church officials plan to sell the lavish cardinal's residence and 28 surrounding acres in Brighton to help pay the $85 million settlement with victims of clergy sexual abuse. But the move certainly seems emblematic of a new and promising direction for the church.

On a personal level, the newly arrived archbishop, Sean O'Malley, revealed much about himself last summer when he shunned the fancy quarters in Brighton in favor of more modest surroundings in the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End. That move signaled that O'Malley wished not to fall victim to the poor judgment common in leaders who isolate themselves from their followers.

But no one was sure at the time if the archdiocese's finance council and other advisory boards shared O'Malley's vision. The fact that those boards responded enthusiastically to O'Malley's plan to sell the cardinal's residence seems to answer that question in the affirmative.

The Voice of the Faithful, a group of lay critics of the church's prior handling of the sex abuse crisis, praised O'Malley for proposing to sell what many consider the jewel in the property assets of the Archdiocese of Boston. It is well-placed support. Moral authority, not a parcel of real estate, is the church's greatest possession.

On a practical level, the sale should help O'Malley keep his pledge that parishioners' donations will not be used to settle the abuse suits. The timing is especially important because O'Malley is scheduled to meet with parish priests on Dec. 16 to discuss the need to close and consolidate churches because of demographic shifts and a decline in the priesthood ranks.

Such discussions are sure to create anxiety in both the parishes and the city at large. Yesterday Mayor Menino said he is concerned that church closings could destabilize the city's neighborhoods, especially those with large numbers of new immigrants, such as Haitian and Vietnamese Catholics.

"I'd like to see sensitivity to the neighborhoods," said Menino.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the church takes great care to "sustain the Catholic immigrant community" during periods of consolidation. He also stressed that laity, parish priests, and parish finance councils will be informed and consulted along the way.

"It's not something that will be announced from on high," said Coyne.

That attitude will be new and welcome in the Boston Archdiocese, where the arrogance of prior leadership and the coverup of the sexual abuse of children devalued the church's moral standing. That attitude will be new and welcome in the Boston Archdiocese, where the arrogance of prior leadership and the coverup of the sexual abuse of children devalued the church's moral standing.


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