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When the Archdiocese of Boston announced Dec. 3 that the former Cardinal’s Residence would be sold to help pay for the $85 million settlement, some saw it as the end of an era in archdiocesan history. Although the sale of the residence, which housed the leaders of the archdiocese for over 75 years, may be regrettable because of its historic value and symbolism, many feel that it is a necessary step towards healing and reconciliation.
At the time it was built in 1926, the residence came “to symbolize the importance of the Catholic Church in the Boston community,” said Thomas O’Connor, professor emeritus at Boston College.
Cardinal William H. O’Connell, archbishop from 1907 to 1944, decided that the Archbishop of Boston deserved more stately quarters than a simple room in the cathedral rectory. He did so with the “idea of dramatizing the success and the growth and the elegance of the Catholic Church at the time,” explained O’Connor, author of “Boston Catholics: A History of the Church and its People.”
"Here was a Church that had come out of nothing," O'Connor continued. "It was an immigrant Church and it was a Church that had been oppressed. It suffered segregation and it had only slowly grown. Yet here it is in the middle of the 20th century, and he could claim that it was a success, and I think he incorporated those ideas in the building."
Over time the residence, which reflects the Roman tastes of Cardinal O’Connell, “lost some of its glamour,” stated O’Connor. Successive bishops, he said, saw the residence as more of a “utilitarian building,” using it for offices as well as living quarters.
While O’Connor expects some people to be disappointed that the Brighton building will no longer serve as the residence of the archbishop, he said that many will realize the necessity of the sale.
"Most people will be reconciled to the fact that it was something that had to be done in order to rectify some of the problems," caused by clergy abuse said O'Connor. "In some ways it might provide some closure in the sense that people will see it as one more step in the resolution of the problem that we all face."
Father James Ronan, VF, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Lawrence, agrees. He feels that the sale of the residence will help the archdiocese move forward.
"The sale of the property is sort of like the closing of a chapter in the book of the archdiocese. In that regard there is a certain amount of sadness that something is ending," he said. "On the other hand something is also beginning, another chapter is being written."
This new chapter is “one that everyone believes firmly and hopes completely will be a chapter of much more transparency in Church policies and accountability for finances and policies of all forms and shapes,” said Father Ronan. “The lack of which has caused many of the problems that we’ve had today.”
Ray Flynn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and Boston mayor, was saddened by news of the sale because of the building’s historic significance, but he too supports the archbishop’s decision.
"I have a long memory of the struggles of the working class Catholics, many of whom were immigrants, who helped build and make the Catholic Church in Boston the great institution that it is," he said. "Many of these immigrants sacrificed and made contributions to help build these great churches, cathedrals, chanceries and residences. It was really a symbol of Catholics making it in Boston in an era where there was widespread Catholic discrimination, so it's sad to see the Church selling off these properties."
Flynn said that Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley was “left with no other alternative” but to sell the property and the residence in order to fund the $85 million settlement.
"He had two choices: to cut back on the essential mission of the Church or to close down and sell some of these valuable Church properties," Flynn continued. "He placed the interest of the needy and the mission of the Church and of Jesus Christ ahead of buildings and real-estate, so I applaud and support the decision that had to be made reluctantly by the archbishop."
Attorney Roderick MacLeish, Jr., whose firm represents almost half of the victims involved in the abuse settlement, also feels that the sale of the residence has “symbolic significance.”
"There were a lot of bad decisions that were made in that residence and a lot of them affected the lives of the people that we represent," said MacLeish. "It's somewhat ironic now that it will be sold and the proceeds used to help those people."
Some of the victims involved in the settlement have pushed for the sale of the residence since the scandal began, he said. They could not reconcile how “Cardinal Law could live in a beautiful mansion” while they were homeless or dealing with other problems stemming from the abuse they suffered, said MacLeish.
Although the residence is “not as ornate and beautiful as people think it is inside, it has that appearance of almost a palace to some people,” he continued. “I think it’s now a time for the Church to regain, and I think it will regain, its credibility through acts of humility. I think this is very symbolic and means a great deal to the victims and I commend Archbishop O’Malley.”
Gary Bergeron, a victim of clergy sex abuse, said that the sale of the residence is “long overdue.” He hopes that it is an indication that Archbishop O’Malley will continue “to realize that the true mission of the Church — to heal the sick, shelter the homeless and feed the hungry — doesn’t need to be done out of a multi-million dollar property.”
The former “Cardinal’s residence became a symbol of what the Catholic Church had become which is not what the Catholic Church should be,” he continued. “The mission of the Church is to take care of people, feed the hungry, and it’s ironic when the leader of the Boston Archdiocese resides in a multi-million dollar home and there are people starving in the streets and there are homeless people.”
“I think it’s wrong and it’s the wrong symbol to have,” he said. “Symbolically healing the sick includes healing the survivors who are sick emotionally, mentally and some of them physically. I think it’s long overdue and I applaud him for doing that.”