Catholics Debate Boston Leadership

President Bush, shakes hands with Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, also known as the Anbar Awakening, during a meeting in Anbar province, Iraq, in this Sept. 3, 2007 file photo. Abu Risha was killed in a bomb attack Sept. 13, 2007.
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Lori Sciurca regularly attends Sunday Mass but her faith is being tested by reports that church leaders repeatedly reassigned a priest accused of sexually molesting children.

"I think the apologies have gotten awfully old. There's a lot of singing and dancing and sidestepping," the 41-year-old social worker said before morning Mass at the Arch Street Chapel. "But I also think there are many good priests in the archdiocese."

Similar conflicting sentiments were expressed by many Catholics on Sunday as Cardinal Bernard Law issued a letter apologizing for reassigning the former Rev. John J. Geoghan to a new parish in 1984, although he knew Geoghan had been removed from two parishes for molesting children.

Geoghan, 66, was convicted Jan. 18 of indecent assault on a 10-year-old boy and faces two more criminal trials. He was defrocked in 1998 and named in 84 civil lawsuits alleging abuse.

Some Catholics, like Sciurca's husband Peter Sciurca, 40, now want Law to resign.

"He's done a lot of good, but who's to say he's not going to make the same mistake again? I think he should step down," he said.

Others said Law should stay put.

"It is inconceivable to think that someone like Cardinal Law would intentionally jeopardize the safety and well being of anyone, the least of all children," said retired air traffic controller Tony Serino, 67.

Law, speaking at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, apologized to parishioners for not banning Geoghan from parish work sooner. The archdiocese also distributed a letter of apology.

On Saturday, Law visited St. Julia's Church in Weston, where Geoghan was a priest, to personally apologize for his handling of the allegations.

Law repeated pledges he made earlier in the week, telling parishioners he would require priests and other church workers to inform him of any allegations of sexual abuse by priests learned outside the confessional.

The archdiocese will turn the information over to state officials as well as provide a list of every former priest known to have abused minors.

Law, who has refused to step down, also said he would improve the screening of men who want to become priests.

"As Archbishop, it was and is my responsibility to ensure that our parishes be safe havens for our children," he said. "I acknowledge that, albeit unintentionally, I have failed in that responsibility."

Churchgoers welcomed Law's apology.

Mary Henrich said she's struggling with her church's handling of the Geoghan case, but her faith remains strong.

"I'm mad with the cover-up. I'm mad that it took this media attention for him to acknowledge this and apologize," the 34-year-old Boston sales representative said.

Some Catholics said Law's apology is an opportunity for forgiveness.

"I thought he was very humble. It was like he was making a confession to the entire church," said Ann Martin, 66, of Boston, a former Catholic nun. "I think he should stay."

Not everyone was as forgiving.

Asa Gallagher, 24, was one of about a dozen protesters outside the cathedral. Gallagher said he knew Geoghan when he was the priest at St. Julia's.

Gallagher said Law's decision to assign Geoghan to St. Julia's in 1984 even though he had been removed from two other parishes after being accused of molesting children, is one reason why he no longer attends Mass.

"When this came out later I couldn't believe it," Gallagher said. "It's shaken my faith."

By Steve Leblanc © MMII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed