Crisis presents opportunity for change, columnist tells parish

FRAMINGHAM — Several dozen parishioners of St. Bridget Parish in Framingham fought off the first symptoms of pennant fever Oct. 6 — the night of the final game between the Red Sox and Oakland Athletics — to attend the last in a year-long series of lectures commemorating the parish’s 125th anniversary.

The talk, entitled “Opportunity Out of Adversity,” was delivered by Frank Mazzaglia, weekly columnist for the MetroWest Daily News and senior lecturer at Curry College in Milton.

Addressing the audience at the St. Bridget Elementary School hall, Msgr. Francis Strahan, the pastor, admitted he expected a much smaller crowd.

“I didn’t expect such a turnout given the competition we have going tonight,” he said. “But I am very glad you could make it, because we have saved the best for last.”

The evening began with Jack O’Brien, chairperson of the 125th anniversary committee, reminiscing about the year’s events.

"We began with Father Stephen Doyle, OFM, who put the 125 years of this parish in its historical context. Since then, we have held prayer services, have examined the role of the Holy Spirit [and] have looked at the need for religious education -- both for children and adults," recounted O'Brien.

Referring to the clergy abuse crisis that has dominated the past 22 months, O’Brien told the audience that “as we conclude our speaker series tonight, we look at this very issue.”

Mazzaglia began his talk, which was full of optimism and hope for the Church’s future, by describing how most of the traditions of the Catholic Church are derived from Judaism.

In particular, he focused on how the Jewish day begins at sundown.

"This is the next day. It is the night that begins the day," he declared, "which is appropriate because we have been through one heck of a night."

"The good thing about night is that day is not far behind it. The good thing about adversity is that there is opportunity for opportunity," Mazzaglia said.

"Before we can see the opportunity" which the aftermath of the clergy abuse scandal can bring about however, "we first need to look at all the cracks and what went wrong," he continued.

Mazzaglia briefly recounted the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. Beginning with the colonial years, in which “it was a crime for Catholics to participate in the educating of children” and continuing until the late 1950s, the Catholic Church always lived under persecution, he said.

According to Mazzaglia, the persecution subsided in the years between 1958 and 1960. “It was the story of the two Johns,” he said.

The first was Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council which brought reforms in every area of the Church.

The second was John F. Kennedy, who, in becoming the first Catholic president, symbolized Catholics gaining political power in this country.

"There was a new era of good will. Catholics had arrived, as it were," but instead of creating a Renaissance in Catholicism, just the opposite occurred, he said.

According to Mazzaglia, the 1960s were “marked by massive, massive numbers of clergy leaving.” Catholic institutions of higher learning opened their doors to non-Catholics; these same institutions began employing non-Catholics to head their theology departments.

"We were moving in a new direction, but no one knew what that direction was," Mazzaglia stated.

During that same time, Catholics began to disagree openly with the Church. For the first time, “people began to say in public what before they could only say among themselves,” he explained.

The result was a Catholic population which “lacked serious understanding of their own faith.” Similarly, this same cultural environment allowed Catholics to feel “completely comfortable to join the ranks of Catholic adversaries,” he explained.

Mazzaglia went on to describe the details of the clergy abuse crisis, particularly the media coverage of the crisis, which occurred “during that long night.”

"Catholics, like me, who always argued with the cynics, became depressed," he said.

However, Mazzaglia said that once the initial shock of the scandal subsided, he began to realize that there was a perspective missing from the media reports. He pointed to the fact that the abusers only constituted “5 percent of the diocesan and religious priests” within the Archdiocese of Boston, and “that there was a very sizable flip-side — [the other] 95 percent”

This media distortion prompted him to write columns throughout the scandal in which he sought to offer a different point of view. According to Mazzaglia, his columns were initially met with “nasty phone calls, emails, threats and name-calling,” but “over time those letters and such have declined” and have been replaced with “a tidal wave of support.”

After placing the clergy abuse scandal in its historical perspective, Mazzaglia spoke of the opportunities he feels the Church is now presented with.

First, “Archbishop Seán — as he likes to be called — needs to renew a lost sense of spirituality in the archdiocese,” he said. “If there’s going to be a change, there needs to be a renewal of spirituality,”

He stressed that the archbishop should “promote — really promote — lay movements,” stating that in recent years, the emphasis has waned and “there has been more of a push to parish councils.”

Similarly, Mazzaglia also feels that “the archbishop needs to emphasize the Creed,” particularly the importance of there being “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”

"We need to respect and uphold the moral authority of the pope and the bishops," he insisted.

Mazzaglia also pointed to the need to create “a Catholic daily newspaper,” which would report a full range of news from a Catholic perspective.

According to Mazzaglia, whereas many years ago each Boston daily newspaper offered its own perspective, “now they all say pretty much the same thing.”

"We need an alternative," he declared. "If the Christian Science Church can do it, why can't we?"

"This is a time for change," he concluded. "What is fascinating about time is that you can be a part of that history."