On Sept. 14, celebrating his first Mass in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross since his July installation, Archbishop Seán O’Malley received a mixed reaction — applause from parishioners inside the cathedral; questions, concerns and tears from the protestors outside.
Marking the feast of the Holy Cross, Archbishop O’Malley and a half dozen priests, wearing red vestments, processed down the center aisle of the cathedral lined with several hundred Mass-goers.
The archbishop welcomed the congregation in both English and Spanish, and alternated between the two languages throughout the Mass. Readings and prayers were proclaimed in both languages.
The “great monotheistic religions” are all associated with symbols, Archbishop O’Malley said in his homily. For Jewish people it is the Star of David; for Muslims, it is the crescent; and for Christians it is the cross, he explained.
Early Christians did not embrace this symbol immediately. “The cross was still very much seen as an instrument of capital punishment,” but in later years, “people began to realize the centrality of the cross in our spiritual journey,” stated the archbishop.
Quoting Scripture and theology, Archbishop O’Malley explained how the cross became a symbol of “triumph” over sin, rather than death and defeat. The cross becomes “the key” of our salvation, he said.
“The cross is a great sign of God’s love for us,” he continued. “The tree of the cross plunged into the bitterness of our lives can make that bitterness turn to sweetness.”
Archbishop O’Malley also prayed that the Cross of Christ might “heal us, shape us and unite us,” as an archdiocese.
The congregation erupted in applause as Archbishop O’Malley exited the cathedral at the close of Mass. He then paused on the steps of the cathedral, where he greeted the departing congregants
Sister Amarilis Flores, MHSH, whose first language is Spanish, was pleased that the archbishop spoke in her native language for a substantial portion of the Mass.
"We [the Spanish community] are very grateful to have him," said Sister Amarilis, who helped to bring the gifts to the altar during Mass. "We are also grateful that he can speak our own language."
The Mass was equally enjoyed by English-speaking participants.
"It was a beautiful Mass and a really special day," noted Maria Hey, who attended with her husband and daughter. "We thought that his homily was beautiful and we didn't know that today was the feast of the Holy Cross so we are very happy to be here."
After greeting those exiting the cathedral, Archbishop O’Malley then turned to the two dozen protestors gathered outside the cathedral holding signs, many of which were adorned with photographs of children who had allegedly been abused by priests.
Maryetta Dussourd, mother of three children allegedly abused by John Geoghan, wept as she told the archbishop how the clergy sexual abuse has “destroyed” her family and Catholics at large. She encouraged Archbishop O’Malley to come out and greet the protestors after Mass every Sunday.
She asked the archbishop for a “hug as well as a handshake” and said “thank you so much, thank you so much” as they embraced.
Dale Walsh, an alleged survivor of abuse by Father Paul Shanley, was more skeptical of the steps Archbishop O’Malley has taken to confront the issues uncovered by the scandal. She pressed the archbishop to provide specific details of the archdiocese’s plan to prevent future abuse.
"All I hear from the Catholic Church is words," she said. "I want action."
The archbishop responded saying an audit outlining steps that have been taken will be made public before the next calendar year, but, at the same time, he said that the road ahead will be a long one.
"I can't resolve all of the problems overnight," he explained.
Paul Kellen chose to protest outside the cathedral because he, too, wants the archdiocese to take more active steps in preventing future abuse.
"It's difficult for people to face the problem [of abuse]. It's painful," he said. "But if it goes away and things aren't fixed, there will be another generation of abused children."
However, he did recognize the work that the new archbishop has accomplished thus far, after only seven weeks as head of the archdiocese.
"The archbishop deserves a lot of credit, but the journey ahead will be painful," Kellen stated. "The settlement is an attempt for justice for the abused. To try to do that is wonderful. The Church needs to work for justice for those people and I'm happy to see that happening."
On Sept. 9, victims’ lawyers accepted an $85 million settlement from the Archdiocese of Boston. Victims are currently signing on to participate in the settlement, with 80 percent of the 552 required to become effective.