‘Pilgrimage of Repentance and Hope’ concludes

BRIGHTON — The novena to the Holy Spirit, a “Pilgrimage of Repentance and Hope” organized by the archdiocese to atone for the sin of sexual abuse of minors by clergy came to a close June 3.

On each of the nine days from Ascension Thursday to the eve of Pentecost, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley held a Mass or prayer vigil at different parishes throughout the archdiocese that have been affected by clergy sexual abuse.

Though originally scheduled to begin outside the main doors of the archdiocese’s Brighton chancery building, persistent rain forced the evening’s opening liturgy indoors to Peterson Chapel at St. John’s Seminary. The liturgy was followed by a procession and vigil Mass at nearby St. Columbkille Parish.

Speaking to those gathered at Peterson Chapel, Father John Connolly, special assistant to the archbishop and rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, said he deplored the actions of some of his brother priests, “whose actions, whose sins, whose crimes hurt our children and our young people.”

After describing the Christ-given mission for priests to shepherd their flocks, Father Connolly recognized that “sadly and shamefully” some of those priests turned their back to their call to serve.

“Instead of being good shepherds they became wolves among innocent sheep, he said.

“We must recognize and acknowledge that the body of Christ has been sexually abused by some of the shepherds.”

Father Connolly called those survivors of clergy abuse who have come forward “authentic heroes of the faith,” even if they have turned away from that faith as a consequence of abuse.

Taking the lectern, abuse survivor Bernie McDaid explained that, like most other Irish children in his Salem neighborhood, he grew up with close ties to his parish and parochial school.

McDaid described himself as an “A” student and class president — until the day Father Joseph Birmingham called him into the sacristy of St. James in Salem and unbuttoned his shirt.

“And then he proceeded further, but I will spare you of all the grim details,” he said.

According to McDaid, whenever he recounts his story, listeners usually have a dual reaction.

“They look at me as a leper, and they will get mad at the priests and say ‘How could they?’”

He said the survivor community needs not sorrow, but understanding.

Even after all the media coverage, the profound consequences of abuse are not understood by the larger community, McDaid said.

He went on to explain how the abuse he suffered between the ages of 11 and 13 set his life on a downward spiral.

“I lost the faith in this institution you are all in,” he said, looking toward Cardinal O’Malley.

Later, McDaid said, he was expelled from high school for taking drugs — the drugs he became addicted to at age 15.

He has been in therapy for the last 15 years.

Yet, he said, it was those closest to him — particularly his mother, sister and wife — who suffered most.

“I put my family through literal hell.”

Immediately after his testimony, Cardinal O’Malley and the other clergy present lay prostrate on the stone chapel floor for 10 minutes as a cantor led the assembly in singing a litany of repentance.

Following the litany, Father Connolly explained the significance of the novena and some of the changes that had been made to the evening’s program because of the weather.

He said the procession to St. Columbkille’s had been scheduled to begin at the steps of the chancery because it was, “in that place where people were abused, in that place where decisions were made or not made, where abuse was allowed to continue or go unchecked.”

The procession was also to have proceeded through the seminary grounds, making a stop at the courtyard, the place were many of the priests who sexually abused minors received their formation.

Instead, the crowd of about 200 processed through the rain directly to St. Columbkille to celebrate the vigil Mass of Pentecost.

During his homily, Cardinal O’Malley said he had informed Pope Benedict of the novena and the Holy Father sent his prayers and had asked the cardinal to impart his special apostolic blessing on those participating.

In his closing remarks, Cardinal O’Malley thanked those survivors of sexual abuse who shared their experiences throughout the novena celebrations.

“You have helped us to understand in some small way the evil of sexual abuse of children, to galvanize us in our commitment to make ours a safe Church and to make ours a safe world.”

Debbie Vitulli came all the way from Methuen to be part of the novena.

“I grew up in St. Monica’s when Father [Ronald H.] Paquin and some others were stationed there. I have several friends who were personally affected by this.”

She said that forgiveness was necessary.

“There is no other way we can move forward,” she said.

“We are all sinners and if we accept to be forgiven for things we have done wrong, we need to do the same for those who have.”

Father James Flavin, pastor of St. Edith Stein Parish in Brockton, told The Pilot that he feels it was important to show solidarity with survivors.

“I am ashamed of the actions of some of my brother priests,” he said.

He said there is still much to do for people to understand the gravity of the problem of sexual abuse in society.

The number of child abuse cases he sees in Brockton on a monthly basis is staggering, he said.

“We do not like to talk about it. We just sweep it under the rug and hope it doesn’t show its ugly head.”