MARBLEHEAD — The Rev. Dennis Burns cemented his reputation at the height of the priest abuse scandal, as far as his friend Mark Brings is concerned.
As the longtime pastor of the Our Lady, Star of the Sea Church, Burns did not want his parishioners' donations taken to settle lawsuits filed by victims. It wasn't because of a lack of sympathy for those who suffered at the hands of rogue priests; rather, Burns saw the problem as a matter for the hierarchy to deal with, the people who created the situation
"He bucked the archdiocese," Brings says. "He bucked Cardinal Law." As for the offending priests, "He thought they should be prosecuted."
Burns also made room in his church for Voice of the Faithful, a group of Catholics at odds with church leaders.
For Brings, it was all a profile in courage.
In whatever he did, the 88-year-old Burns, who died on Tuesday, had the support of both his parishioners and the town that he adopted after coming here in 1990 at the age of 70.
"I never had roots before," Burns had said of his tenure. "I loved it from day one. The people are great. There's a great spirit in the town. ... And you can't go anywhere without hitting the ocean."
Selectman Judy Jacobi got to know Burns as a friend simply by attending funerals and public ceremonies together.
"His death is hitting me even though I'm not a Catholic," she said yesterday. "He was a good man. He loved people. His parishioners loved him to death. ... He set a standard for the clergy."
Parishioner Dave Cashman shared Burns's love of the sea and often invited him out on his boat.
"He looked at the individual as an individual," Cashman said. "Your religion didn't really matter."