Priest Sex Abuse Scandal Accelerated Declining Catholic Church Attendance in Boston

News of Cardinal Bernard Law's death has reopened the wounds for countless victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. According to experts, the crisis accelerated the decline in attendance that had already begun in the Archdiocese of Boston.

The church has undergone significant change in the region since the sex abuse scandal came to light, a revelation triggered dual crises of faith and finances.

Author Philip Lawler has followed and written about the Boston Archdiocese for decades. He says said explosive abuse revelations sped up a decline in the Catholic Church's attendance and influence in the city.

"I think probably, for a lot of people, it was sort of a reason to leave the church, but they were going to leave anyway," Lawler said.

It also blew up finances in the Archdiocese, with legal fees, payouts to victims and fewer parishioners giving less money.

"It was a perfect storm," Lawler said.

Within a year of the Boston Globe report, the Boston archdiocese paid out $85 million in settlements. By 2007, that number was $615 million.

As a result, 66 parishes closed; 22 others merged.

Bob Bowers was a priest when the Archdiocese closed his parish, St. Catherine of Siena in Charlestown. He left the priesthood, though he's still ordained. The closing of his parish stung.

"In reality, no creative solutions were applied to liquidate the assets to pay these debts and meet this need," he said. "This didn't seem like the correct way to go to me."

The scope of the scandal led Bowers and countless fellow Catholics to lose faith in the church leadership.

"It began with the loss of trust in the leadership of the church under Cardinal Law, the transition into new leadership and the decision to close the parishes," he said. "That just really wounded my soul."

Bowers said his faith in God wasn't shaken. But the scandal, and the cover up, rocked Catholics all over the world.

"It just hurt," Bowers said. "So it was time for me to step back, reevaluate and think about this."

The Archdiocese of Boston sold more than a billion dollars' worth of assets after the scandal was exposed.

In the wake of the scandal, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law making church officials mandatory reporters of sexual abuse.

The Archdiocese adopted a "zero tolerance" policy and trained church officials to spot and report abuse.

Contact Us