Bishop Makes Lenten Visit
Lennon in Malden Today

By Kathy McCabe
Boston Globe
April 3, 2003

MALDEN - In his Lenten journey to help lay Catholics and clergy heal from the priest sex abuse crisis, Bishop Richard G. Lennon tonight will bring his message of hope to Malden.

Lennon, interim head of the Archdiocese of Boston, will speak at a prayer service scheduled for 7 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Church on Pleasant Street. Earlier, Lennon will meet privately with about 100 priests from the archdiocese's North Region, which includes 77 parishes from Woburn to Gloucester.

"Bishop Lennon has made it a priority to meet with the laity and priests," said Auxiliary Bishop Francis X. Irwin of Peabody, spiritual leader of the North Region.

"His focus will be on forgiveness." Lennon's visit comes at a painful time for the archdiocese. Church finances are in peril due to high legal costs from the sex abuse scandal and a severe drop in donations. Locally, parishes in Malden, Salem, Gloucester, and Haverhill were among those rocked by allegations of priests molesting children. Several area victims have filed lawsuits against the church.

Voice of the Faithful, a national organization of lay Catholics that was formed by Catholics upset by the church's failure to remove sexually abusive priests from ministry, continues to push for an expanded role of the laity in church affairs. But, earlier this week, Lennon banned Catholic Charities, the church's social service arm, and all other entities of the archdiocese from accepting financial contributions from the group. He cited concern about the archdiocese's own effort to raise money, and Voice of the Faithful's stipulation that the money not be used for the archdiocese's administrative expenses.

One local Voice of the Faithful member was disappointed by Lennon's decision.

"His decision just indicates the archdiocese's hierarchy will not give in," said Vincent Guerra, a spokesman for Voice of the Faithful North Shore, which meets monthly at St. Rose of Lima in Topsfield. "They do not want to lose control of the hearts and minds of [parishioners] in the archdiocese." Guerra, who said the group attracts about 50 members at its monthly meetings and has a mailing list of 185, does not plan to attend tonight's meeting, and the Topsfield group is not planning to protest Lennon's decision.

Guerra said he hoped Lennon would lift the archdiocese's ban on the group meeting at church properties. The ban, imposed by Cardinal Bernard F. Law, prohibits chapters of Voice of the Faithful formed after Oct. 12, 2002, from meeting on church property. "Not only did he not lift the ban, now he refuses to accept our contributions," Guerra said. Lennon's visit to Malden is his only Lenten appearance scheduled for the North Region. Lennon, raised in Arlington, replaced Law, who resigned last December amid growing scandal over sexual abuse of children by priests in the archdiocese. Immaculate Conception, which can seat about 1,200 people, was chosen for its size and accessibility by public transportation, Irwin said.

Irwin said he does not expect Lennon to discuss Voice of the Faithful tonight. Like all Catholics, group members are welcome to attend the prayer service. Lennon's goal is to speak directly to Catholics during Lent, a holy season of reflection and repentence, Irwin said.

"He's a reconciler," said Irwin, who has known Lennon for 20 years. "I think that if anyone is unbiased, they will come away with the sense that good things are happening. . . that he [Lennon] is a man of God and he should be followed." Mary Ann Erkkila, an active parishioner at Immaculate Conception in Malden, is willing to listen tonight. "He's new at the job," Erkkila, 48, said of Lennon. "We have to give him a chance. Certainly, we have to give him credit for proposing the plan for Lent [to visit parishes] that he did."

Erkkila also hopes tonight's visit won't be Lennon's last. The important part of all of this will be follow-through, said Erkkila, a member of the finance council at Immaculate Conception. "I certainly understand the constraints of his position. He can't visit every parish repeatedly. But I think he has some staff who could visit more often. I think that's what people are looking for, not just having someone show up when there is a crisis."

Lennon today also will minister to his own flock. About 100 parish priests, are expected at a 3 p.m. prayer service for priests to be held at Immaculate Conception. From 3:30 p.m. to 5:20 p.m., Lennon will meet with priests to talk about finances, school closings, and other proposed consolidations within the archdiocese, according to Irwin.

"He has not spoken to priests individually, unless it was at some sort of [meeting]. This will be a chance for him to speak to them in a group. He's going to make a presentation, which changes from place to place. He will talk about church finances, I presume. But he'll also talk to them about healing, strength, and support for the priests," Irwin said.

Monsignor Paul Garrity, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Lynn, welcomes the support. "In our theology, priests function as an extension of the bishop," said Garrity, who also served at Immaculate Conception in Malden. "But, I think, historically, priests have not felt awfully close, in an administrative or collegial way, to the bishop. That's not a knock against either [the late] Cardinal [Humberto] Medeiros or Cardinal Law. That's just the way the diocese has functioned. . . I see this meeting with Bishop Lennon as a good thing, a chance for us to ask questions and express ourselves."

Kathy McCabe's e-mail address is This story ran on page 1 of the Globe North section on 4/3/2003.

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