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“Go out to meet the people” — Pope Francis, advice to priests
In years past, people in authority were given deference and treated respectfully. Teachers, politicians, religious leaders and others were assumed to be acting in our best interests. All that has changed. Now, we often assume the worst.
If a church is going to close, like Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we assume someone is lying. Fighting to keep a beloved church together is a labor of love and faith. Mt. Carmel has been my parish for decades and I cried when it closed. Those struggling to keep it open should be applauded. But questioning the integrity of the pastor, a very good man, or being disrespectful to someone who has served all of us in that community should not.
The Catholic Church lost its moral high ground years ago. But, as we consider the merits of the issue at hand, it is important to remember the selfless work that priests provide to make our community a better place to live.
Like everyone else, I was shocked and horrified when I learned about the clergy sex abuse scandal. As a practicing Catholic, I was ashamed and heartbroken. For several years after the Boston Globe Spotlight team broke the story in 2002 and uncovered the extent of the abuse and the coverup by church leaders, I stayed away from church. I just couldn’t bear the guilt that I felt. The church that I loved had let me down; had let all of us down, most especially those defenseless children.
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But then something happened to help me put this awful scandal into perspective. I was in the gym at St. Peter’s Church working with a group of grade-school boys and girls that were all a part of a church basketball program. Located in the heart of Main South, the league had young children of all faiths, all races, practicing and playing together in a wonderful basketball program that gave any child who needed a place to go a safe harbor.
During the organized chaos, Monsignor Frank Scollen walked in.
I have known Monsignor Scollen for years. He is a sort-of rumpled hippy from the 1960s and ’70s who has devoted his life to the selfless service of others. At any time of the day or night, if you visit St. Peter’s you will find a symphony of people, speaking a range of different languages, all welcomed into this marvelous faith community. Monsignor Scollen is the symphony’s brilliant conductor.
Under his leadership, St. Peter’s is an important anchor in a community buffeted by the most challenging problems.
I recall listening to one of the monsignor’s homilies. In it, he talked about a neighborhood man who rumbles around the streets and talks to himself. Even in this man, the monsignor found the face of God.
And then standing in the gym on that day, it hit me.
St. Peter’s and Monsignor Scollen represent my church. It’s not those twisted evil abusers and their accomplices that we should be pointing to as representatives of the Catholic Church. It’s men and women like Scollen who go to work each day and ask nothing but to be of service to others.
There are so many other church leaders who, like Scollen, truly do God’s work. Father John Madden of St. John’s Church on Temple Street is another selfless leader whose hard work and dedicated service makes our community better, stronger.
Father Madden is one of those guys who never stops smiling and laughing. He’s got that special Irish charm that makes you want to talk to him. And after he tells you what he’s doing, he makes you want to help him.
Father Madden runs Harrington House, which is a sober living home for up to 18 men. Located in the cavernous rectory of the church, it’s where Father Madden also sleeps, right among the men who are homeless and struggling. These men are all battling substance abuse and they come from all walks of life. They are supposed to stay for a short while. But, some stay longer.
Father Madden also supervises the meals program at the St. Francis Xavier Center that Bill Riley pours his heart and soul into. Feeding 200-300 meals a day for the homeless and working poor, for some, this may well be their only real meal of the day.
And then there is the after-school program he helps run along with Sister Pat Murphy at the Ascension Campus.
The only bad thing that you could ever say about Father Madden is that he’s a Steelers fan. But I’m sure God will forgive him for that, even if Bill Belichick won’t.
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Of course, these men of the cloth have religious matters to deal with. They celebrate Mass daily, they minister to those who are sick or dying. They celebrate baptisms, first communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals. They work 60-70 hours a week. And then they find time to do more for those with less.
These are just two of the priests that I have come to know who serve our community selflessly. There are countless other men and women who do the same. And, of course, there are many wonderful leaders of other faiths who also are role models of unselfish service to the community. Together, they make Worcester far better than it would be without them.
I think that it is appropriate that we question the decisions made by people in authority. And fighting to keep a beloved church like Our Lady of Mount Carmel open is reason enough to question church leaders. But, given the incredible work that men and women of the church do for our community, they at least deserve our respect – if not our thanks.
Raymond V. Mariano is the former mayor of Worcester and former executive director of the Worcester Housing Authority. He grew up in Great Brook Valley and holds degrees from two city universities. He will comment on his hometown every Sunday in the Worcester Sun.