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  Home :: 2006 December :: Documentary focuses on restoring trust ‘at the altar,’ in Catholic clergy

Documentary focuses on restoring trust ‘at the altar,’ in Catholic clergy

By Paul V. Palange

Catholic Online (

ATTLEBORO,Mass. (Catholic Online) – Restoring trust in the priesthood in the wakeof the sex-abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church is a dauntingtask that could take years, according to a new documentary that seeksto offer honest reflections from those involved in ministry.

“Service at The Altar,” a 24-minute documentarythat includes comments from four priests, a eucharistic minister andtwo altar servers – a boy and a girl – deals with more than thestruggles of today’s clergy.

“It’s about Christianity,” said Frank D’Agostino, who produced the filmwith Tristan Rudat. “The church has a message of love and hope. Itteaches us to be merciful and forgiving.”

One of the most effective ways for the church to instill that messageand characteristics in children is to have them become altar servers,according to Eleanor T. Purdue, a eucharistic minister at LaSaletteShrine here. By having children participate in the Mass, she saidduring the documentary, they will grow closer to God and become evenmore aware of some of the church’s teachings.

John E. Kearns Jr., director of the communications office for theDiocese of Fall River, said the filmmakers did a great job, producing ahigh quality documentary “that brings forth some real honest reflectionfrom priests on how their relationships with altar servers have beenimpacted by the scandal.”

D’Agostino and Rudat received permission from the diocese to talk tothe priests in the documentary, and Bishop George W. Coleman gave hisapproval to the finished product, Kearns said.

“The feeling at the end of this piece is a positive one,” said Kearns,who would recommend the documentary as a resource for parishes.

The 28-year-old D’Agostino said he wanted the “documentary to havelegs” so he could educate the public about the important role played bythe church in the community.

“Everybody involved in the church is an altar server,” he said. “We allwant to be loved. … Christ’s most important commandment is to love oneanother. When you’re an altar server is when you start to learn aboutlove.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, fearhas increased, D’Agostino said. “With fear, comes anger,” he said. “Butthe church’s message is one of love and hope. It teaches us to bemerciful and forgiving.”

In the documentary, Father James Fahey of St. Theresa’s Church remindsviewers that before the clergy sex-abuse scandal faithful Catholicsturned to priests for every need. “The trust we had was created 100years ago,” he said. “It took years to build up.”

To regain that respect, he said, the clergy will have to serve“generously and freely” for a period that will surpass his lifetime.

“The church has never been a stranger to sin. The most grievous sins ofthe past cried out just as the sin of pedophilia cries out today,”Father Michael Carvill of St. Joseph’s Church here said in thedocumentary.

“Christ’s answer to those sins was mercy,” he added. “The way to overcome sin is to embrace all.”

Priests live a life of service, D’Agostino said, and they deserve to be involved in the community.

A minority of priests destroyed the coveted trust men of the cloth hadwith their flocks, he said, adding that it’s time for parishioners tostart believing again in their religious leaders. “What will it take?”D’Agostino said. “I don’t know, but this is a start.”

Rudat and D’Agostino have held one public screening of the documentary.D’Agostino said he will start working on making the piece available tothe public after he enters the work in some film festivals.

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For more information, e-mail D’Agostino at



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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia