Monsignor Seeks to Heal Wounds

By Mary Ellen Lowney
The Republican
December 29, 2006

Springfield - Newly appointed Monsignor George A. Farland issued a personal apology to victims of clergy abuse in a Christmas Day sermon that included an appeal to gays and lesbians.

Farland, who is pastor at Sacred Heart Church on Chestnut Street, won a standing ovation at one Mass for his words, which he said are aimed at healing wounds and welcoming those who may feel disenfran- chised within the Roman Catholic Church.

"If we're going to be a strong church and a healthy church again, I think we have to say, 'I'm sorry,' and, 'You are welcome here.' That's what I'm trying to do," he said.

Farland said he is not the only priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield - which spans all four counties of Western Massachusetts - to reach out to victims of clergy sexual or physical abuse. Nor was his Christmas message his first, as far as abuse victims go.

But his appeal to gays and lesbians is new and is connected to a parent support group that has been meeting at the church twice a month since September.

A dozen mothers and fathers attend regularly, and it was through working with them that he felt a call to reach out. He asked them how to welcome gays and lesbians to his church, and they advised him to make a public statement at Mass.

"I told them fine, but I am welcoming people who are not here. I challenged them to go out there and be my voice," Farland said.

Among his greatest Christmas Day rewards was greeting the entire family of a support group member, including the gay adult child, at the Mass, he said.

"I looked up on Christmas morning and the whole family was there. It brings tears to your eyes when you think about it," Farland said.

Farland was among nine diocesan priests who were named monsignors by Pope Benedict XVI. Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell made the announcement last week. As monsignors, the priests receive the honorary rank as "chaplains to his holiness," although their duties will remain the same at present.

Farland's sermon was not part of a diocesan message for the holy day that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Spokesman Mark E. Dupont said Farland is a popular pastor who speaks from the heart.

"Father Farland is pastorally sensitive. He realizes that at Christmas we have a unique opportunity to reach out to people who might not always be at Mass. He's known for being welcoming," Dupont said.

The Roman Catholic Church's official position on gays and lesbians is now one of welcome, Dupont said, even if the lifestyle is not sanctioned.

The Springfield diocese has been especially hit in recent years with clergy abuse scandals, with court cases and settlements bringing many details to light.

Former Bishop Thomas L. Dupre resigned in 2004 amidst accusations by two men that he had sexually abused them as children. Criminal charges were brought against him, but the case later was dropped because the time limit for prosecutions had passed.

Farland said he and other priests have been personally hurt by the ordeal. "When you're in a position of respect and a position where you can affect people's lives and to have some misusing that respect, it hurts all of us," Farland said.

"For awhile there, it seemed we were branded as being different people and very odd," he said. Farland said he believes that healing has begun, aided by apologies such as the one he delivered on Monday.

"I feel it's getting better. People are seeing that it's not all priests, and right now, I'm not afraid to keep my head up high."


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