New Pastor Will Leave Embattled Newton Parish

By Matt Viser and Michael Paulson
Boston Globe
February 1, 2006

NEWTON -- The former spokesman for Cardinal Bernard F. Law said last night that he is quitting as pastor of a Newton parish after four months during which numerous parishioners, angry over the ouster of their previous pastor, withheld contributions or stopped attending Mass.

"There's a lot of good people at Our Lady's, and I will miss them very much," the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne said in an interview at Our Lady Help of Christians last night, after he had informed members of the parish council of his decision. "Unfortunately, there was a small minority that made it difficult for me to continue here, so I asked the archbishop for a transfer, and he accepted."

Coyne declined to elaborate, saying the development was too raw for him to discuss details.

Parish council members, following a policy of not publicly commenting on their meetings, declined to comment last night on Coyne's transfer.

Other parishioners said they understand that Coyne was in a trying situation and had difficulty gaining the respect of the entire congregation.

"We had recognized from the very beginning that he's been in a very difficult position," said Dan Foley, a spokesman for Our Lady's Friends, a group formed initially to seek the reinstatement of the Rev. Walter H. Cuenin. Some of the group's members had called for Coyne's resignation.

"There are a lot of really good things we see in Father Coyne, and we hope he'll be transferred to a parish in line with his skills," Foley said. "The other side of that is we hope that the next person assigned to Our Lady's is in line with the direction the parish has been heading for 10 or 12 years."

Archdiocesan spokesman Terrence C. Donilon said Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley had accepted Coyne's request to be transferred to another parish. No timeline has been set, so Coyne will probably stay at Our Lady's until a replacement is found, Donilon said.

O'Malley "has immense respect for Father Coyne and will work with him on determining his next assignment," Donilon added.

O'Malley had hand-picked Coyne to oversee what had been a vibrant Newton parish, even before he oversaw the removal of Cuenin, the parish's pastor for 12 years.

Cuenin, a leader of a group of priests who had called for Law's resignation in 2002, was extraordinarily popular in the parish but was viewed warily by some at the chancery because of his criticism of archdiocesan leadership and his liberal views on issues such as gay rights.

In September, O'Malley sought and received Cuenin's resignation after alleging that the priest had mishandled parish finances by accepting the use of a leased Honda Accord and excessive stipends for saying Mass. Parish lay leaders had approved the payments, and those leaders have alleged that Cuenin was unfairly targeted because of his outspokenness. The archdiocese has denied that allegation.

Cuenin said this week that O'Malley has appointed him Catholic chaplain at Brandeis University in Waltham.

Coyne has been a professor at St. John's Seminary in Brighton.


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