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'I Forgive Him ... But I Wish He'd Resign'


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By Pamela Ferdinand
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 23, 1998; Page A12

BOSTON, Sept. 22—With damp hair and heavy hearts, congregants prayed silently for President Clinton today at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End.

As storm clouds lashed the streets outside with rain, they offered absolution and petitioned for healing. But several of the 10 men and women attending morning Mass at New England's oldest Roman Catholic church still wanted the nation's weakened leader to resign.

"May God have mercy on us and forgive us our sins," the pastor intoned.

"I can't judge him, but I can judge his act," said 45-year-old Kelly Clark, an advertising executive who, like many of Boston's estimated 2 million Catholics, watched snippets of the president's four-hour videotaped grand jury testimony on television Monday night.

"I saw the part when he was trying to explain that oral sex is not really sex, and I thought I must be dreaming. . . . I forgive him. That goes without saying, because that's what we're supposed to do, and I pray for him. But I wish he'd resign, and I don't think he will."

"Help us to keep Your commandments and follow Your will," the priest went on.

The main cathedral is vast and dark on weekdays, and Mass was held in the Chapel of the Blessed Sanctuary to the left and rear. Regulars drifted through a side door of the towering neo-Gothic edifice, all Roxbury puddingstone trimmed with granite and sandstone -- nearly as large as Notre Dame in Paris. They were Italian, Irish, Asian and Latino. For them, the cathedral is the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Frank Garcia came before his shift at a bakery. Squares of light from stained-glass windows illuminating the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady washed color onto the back of his white T-shirt as he kneeled. He prayed this day for the safety of his family in Puerto Rico in the winds of Hurricane Georges. He prayed, too, for president and country.

"When the arrogant man is punished, the simple man is wiser," the service continued.

"He made a mistake, he knows he made a mistake, and he asked the Lord to forgive him," said Garcia, 37, who believes Clinton should remain in office. "He should just move on, and everyone should forgive him for what he has done.

"My faith is what makes me feel that," he added, "because the Lord forgives."

The pastor lifted the Eucharist and raised the chalice. He did not mention Clinton, Monica S. Lewinsky, videotapes or depositions. But copies of the Pilot, Boston's Catholic newspaper and America's oldest such publication, lay on a table near the chapel entrance. A bold black headline said: "Ethicists doubt Clinton's ability to regain trust; disagree on action."

Regaining trust is a personal issue, one ethicist said, and reconciliation takes time.

"In Your mercy, keep us free from sin," the priest kept praying.

Mary McHale, a retiree swathed in a seafoam-green raincoat, runs the parish's overnight shelter for homeless women. She said she prays for everyone who needs prayers. Like the sorrowful woman who attended Mass this morning in drenched camouflage fatigues and rubber flip-flops. Like Clinton.

But she agreed with Clark: The president has to go, to restore national dignity and to set a good example for children.

"It's a horrible situation, and I wish he had admitted the truth in the beginning," said McHale. "We have far too little good and far too much evil."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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