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More than 1,000 sign letter asking US Catholic bishops to resign

At St. Christopher Church in Dorchester, the Rev. Paul Helfrich became emotional as he addressed the Pennsylvania grand jury report from the pulpit during Mass on Saturday.
At St. Christopher Church in Dorchester, the Rev. Paul Helfrich became emotional as he addressed the Pennsylvania grand jury report from the pulpit during Mass on Saturday.(Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

As Catholics throughout Greater Boston heard Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s message at weekend Masses assailing the church for “clerical sins and clerical failures” that caused the clergy sex abuse crisis, a letter asking all US Catholic bishops to resign over the scandal topped 1,000 signatures.

The letter, published Friday on the website Daily Theology, says the crimes documented in a recently released Pennsylvania grand jury report about child sex abuse by more than 300 priests “evince a horror beyond expression.” The letter requests the bishops resign collectively as a “public act of repentance and lamentation.”

The signatories include a monsignor who serves as pastor at two Catholic parishes in Lexington, staff at Catholic colleges and schools, lay leaders, and parishioners.

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Laura Atwood Duran, a parishioner at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Chatham who signed the letter, said the bishops need to go — even if they had no role in protecting abusive priests — because they are products of a system that seeks to “protect Mother Church against all scandal, no matter what the cost.”

RELATED: Sex abuse report lists beloved priests, and Pennsylvania churches reel

“This is not OK, and we are not supposed to be silent about it. And if we are, then we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing as Christians,” she said. “We need fresh people.”

The letter implores US bishops to follow the example of their counterparts in Chile, who offered their resignations in May for failing to protect children from pedophile priests.

Bill Mitchell, a Brookline resident who signed the letter, said the church’s failures call for an act of “severe humility” from its leaders.

“The clericalism and the attitudes toward celibacy and the deep and unconscionable discrimination toward women in the church so undermine the moral hierarchy . . . that something striking needs to be done,” Mitchell said. “This looks like a good step in that direction.”

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Mitchell belongs to the Pastoral Council at the Paulist Center in Boston but said he was speaking for himself.

Susan Reynolds, who drafted the letter in consultation with others, said it will eventually be delivered to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We want to be able to say never again,” said Reynolds, who teaches Catholic studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. “This is not a panacea. This is a first, deeply symbolic gesture that would bespeak a deep shame, repentance, and sorrow on behalf of the US bishops.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, which is led by O’Malley, declined to comment Saturday on the letter.

O’Malley, who leads a Vatican commission that advises Pope Francis on clerical sex abuse, asked all archdiocesan parishes to read the statement he issued Thursday about the grand jury findings at Masses this weekend.

Archdiocesan officials translated the message into Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Vietnamese and provided parishes with a video of O’Malley reading the statement aloud in English. O’Malley, who became archbishop of Boston in 2003, was reappointed in February as leader of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

“While many perpetrators have been held accountable in one way or another for their crimes, we have yet to establish clear and transparent systems of accountability and consequence for Church leadership whose failures have allowed these crimes to occur,” O’Malley said in the statement. “The crisis we face is the product of clerical sins and clerical failures.”

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Parishes were also asked to share information about the archdiocese’s Office of Pastoral Support and Child Protection.

At St. Christopher Church in Dorchester, the Rev. Paul Helfrich became emotional as he addressed the grand jury report from the pulpit during Mass on Saturday.

“Just for myself, I can say I’ve experienced a range of emotions as this news has come out,” he said. “Some of the emotions include just a feeling of being sick about the whole situation, shame, sorrow, anger, deep disappointment, and discouragement.”

Thanh Tien, 61, who attended the service, said she was holding onto hope.

“I believe in the church,” said Tien, who traveled from California to Boston to visit her son. “I know we made mistakes and we will come out gloriously after this. We need a lot of prayers for the priests and for the victims.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.