Outspoken chaplain assumes 'Deis post
The Rev. Walter Cuenin, an outspoken advocate for gay and women's rights in the Catholic Church and a vocal critic of Church leadership, assumed his new position Monday as the University's Catholic chaplain."It will be different," Cuenin, who resigned last September from Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton, said of his new position. "Young people help keep you young, and they have questions and challenge you to think about your own faith in different ways."
Cuenin replaces the Rev. David Michael, who was reassigned by Sean P. O'Malley the Boston Archbishop in December to serve as pastor at St. John Chrysostom Church in Boston.
Cuenin was forced by the Archdiocese of Boston to resign from Our Lady Help of Christians after he was accused by the archdiocese of mishandling church funds.
"I was not happy about the way I was treated, but I try not to harbor any anger toward anyone," Cuenin said. "I'm trying to get on with my life."
The archdiocese accused Cuenin of receiving stipends from the parish over the limit of $5 a day. However, an internal audit at the parish found that the stipends were within church policy and had been approved by the parish's finance committee, Cuenin said.
"Some people have suggested it was because I was an outspoken kind of priest," Cuenin told the Newton Tab.
Cuenin raised his profile in the church with his welcoming attitude toward gays and women and his condemnation of Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston, for the cardinal's handling of accusations of sexual abuse against area priests. Cuenin also led a group of priests in demanding Law's resignation. (Law resigned from the Boston archdiocese in December 2002 and was subsequently appointed by Pope John Paul II to several posts in the Roman Curia, the Vatican's administrative body.)
"I've been a very outspoken advocate for the rights of gay people," Cuenin, who established a gay and lesbian outreach program at his former parish and performs baptisms on children adopted by gay couples, he told the Justice. "Gays should know that they're blessed in the church," he said, adding that all religious groups should be at the forefront of being a place of welcome and safety.
Although the church does not ordain women, Cuenin said it has an obligation to make sure women have high levels of authority and leadership. "I don't think future Catholics will be satisfied with only hearing the scripture interpreted through men's visions," he said.
Jonathan Sham '06, a Catholic Students Organization executive, said he expected to be involved in the search process, until he read officially that Cuenin was coming to Brandeis in a Jan. 31 Boston Globe article.
Sham said the University was planning a search process until the archbishop appointed Cuenin to Brandeis. "They decided to take him this semester with the provision that was contingent upon how it worked out with students," Sham said.
At the end of the semester, students, the administration, the other chaplains and Cuenin will decide if Brandeis is an appropriate fit for him, Sham said.
The University hires and pays the salary of the chaplain, Sham said, but the archdiocese appoints Catholic priests to their positions.
Since Michael's departure, the traditional four recitations of Mass each weekend were cut to one on Sunday evenings. The services were led by priests from other area parishes.
Cuenin's first service is this Sunday, though he has not yet finalized his worship schedule. "I'll meet with the Catholic Student Organization on Sunday and work with them to develop a mass schedule," he said.
Cuenin said he met with leaders of the CSO last Wednesday to discuss his work at Brandeis. "I was very energized by the meeting," he said.
Sham, who attended the meeting, said Cuenin made clear that although he is a liberal priest, he is committed to following ecclesiastical teachings.
Additionally, Cuenin discussed the nature of his resignation from Our Lady Help of Christians. "He was very open about his past, which I appreciated a lot," Sham said.
Cuenin said he worked heavily with the Jewish community in his previous job and came to appreciate Jewish spirituality. He said he looks forward to facilitating and participating in interfaith discussions on campus.
-The mugshot accompanying this story was taken by Jim Walker for the Newton Tab.