Crisis of conscience: Former Lynn priest pushes American bishops to resign

(From left) Monsignor Paul V. Garrity, Father Brian L. Flynn, Father James T. Kelly, and Father Michael L. Steele.

Sexual abuse revelations are buffeting the Catholic Church again and Lynn area priests are raising their voices in response, with a long-time former Lynn pastor calling for the mass resignation of the Catholic American bishops.

Monsignor Paul V. Garrity said he signed a letter last week calling for “Catholic bishops of the United States to prayerfully and genuinely consider submitting to Pope Francis their collective resignation as a public act of repentance and lamentation before God and God’s People.”

Posted on the website Daily Theology, the letter as of Friday had more than 5,000 signatures, according to the site. Its lead author is Dr. Susan Reynolds, an associate professor of Catholic studies at Emory University.

“It is very important to send a signal,” Monsignor Garrity said.

The pastor of St. Mary’s Church for 18 years until 2010, Garrity was among 300 priests who met with Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley Tuesday to discuss renewed sexual abuse accusations swirling around the church locally, nationally, and globally.

The allegations started mid-month and have since come fast and furious: A top Vatican diplomat claimed Pope Francis covered up abuse reports against the former archbishop of Washington; a Pennsylvania grand jury found that more than 1,000 children over 70 years had been molested by 300 priests, and finally, allegations of sexual misconduct at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton prompted Cardinal O’Malley to order an investigation.

“Today we live in a very polarized nation and a very polarized church. My heart goes out to the victims. It fills me with anger and sadness bound up together,” Monsignor Garrity said.

Monsignor Garrity, pastor of Sacred Heart and St. Brigid parishes in Lexington, was among 300 priests who met with Cardinal O’Malley on Tuesday to discuss the abuse revelations as were other pastors. Father Brian Flynn, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Lynn, and Father Michael L. Steele, pastor of Our Lady, Star of the Sea Parish in Marblehead, were among North Shore priests in attendance.

Father Steele said Cardinal O’Malley called priests “heroes” engaged in faith work who need to help parishioners through a very difficult time.

Like Father Flynn and Father James T. Kelly, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Swampscott, Father Steele is already engaged in conversation with Star of the Sea’s 2,500 parishioners about abuse accusations.

“As priests we need to be agents of hope. People want to hear from His Eminence (O’Malley). They really want to speak to leadership, to the hierarchy,” Father Steele said.

Father Flynn said Lynn parishioners have told him, “‘My faith is rattled.'” He does not intend to sign the resignation letter, preferring instead to act on his opinion that “people now more than ever need to say, ‘This is wrong: How can I bring about change?'”

Father Steele said he has not read the mass resignation letter and Father Kelly questioned its effectiveness as an instrument of change for the church. He said certain top church officials should resign but declined to name whom he had in mind.

Monsignor Garrity and Fathers Flynn, Steele and Kelly all praised Cardinal O’Malley’s response to the accusations and said they recognize the immense pressure bearing down on the cardinal.

“When he first came in, Cardinal Sean (O’Malley) promised transparency. I think he has done his best,” Father Kelly said.

Monsignor Garrity said he has written about priest abuse during his four years in Lexington in Sacred Heart’s and St. Brigid’s weekly bulletins informing parishioners about church activities and news.

He said relatively few abuse allegations have surfaced since 2002 but said American bishops should follow the example set by the Chilean Catholic church hierarchy and resign.

“It would be a great sign. It would send a very important signal that they get it,” Monsignor Garrity said.

Father Steele said he will continue conversing with his parishioners about the abuse crisis and bring speakers to Star of the Sea to provide perspective on discussions.

“This is a very sad and wrenching time but I see the goodness in my parishioners and that gives me hope,” Father Steele said.

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