Section: RELIGION,  Page: B8

Date: Saturday, February 28, 2004

``We have faith in our bishop,'' the small sign read. Its owner was promptly shouted from the room by the angry mob, his attempt to resist stifled by the group's bellowed recitation of the Our Father, screeched in his face -- the new ``Shut up!'' version of the prayer, I guess. Then, with what should have been a polished click of boots, Stephen Brady took the microphone. For the next two hours, the founder of Roman Catholic Faithful, a self-styled watchdog for Catholic orthodoxy, and Paul Likoudis, editor of The Wanderer, a reactionary Catholic newsletter few read until the sex abuse scandal erupted in the church two years ago, celebrated their own special ``Mass'' of judgment and bigotry.

They came to the Crowne Plaza last Sunday to do more than decry pedophile priests; they came to use the church's agony as their excuse to condemn homosexuality, ecumenism, feminism and changes in Catholic liturgy, essentially every progressive step the church has taken since the Second Vatican Council. But mostly, they came to demand the resignation of Bishop Howard Hubbard.

Brady and Likoudis prey upon the disillusioned and fearful, those who, unlike the man with the sign, have been so shaken by the church they once trusted, that they can no longer trust a bishop, no matter who that bishop is or what he has stood for his entire public life. So they seek faith's impossible counterfeit: absolute certainty. They say, in the twisted logic of the faithless, that since Bishop Hubbard cannot prove what he has not done, he must go.

Brady and Likoudis are hucksters who dangle before their audiences the false certainties of the 1950s, when out of sight literally meant out of mind, when gay meant happy and queers occupied a parallel universe from which they occasionally escaped, only to be chased back in. And it was a time when pedophile priests were so underground that the possibility of their existence was too preposterous to imagine.Having heard enough, I went to find the man with the sign. How can you be sure the bishop's telling the truth? I asked him. ``Well, you can't be sure of anything,'' he said. ``But I choose to believe in Bishop Hubbard because of what he's done over the years. I choose to trust him because of what I am sure of.''

Faith has nothing to do with certainty and everything to do with trust. But it isn't blind trust. It's based upon what we know. Bishop Hubbard has done remarkable things in the past 27 years -- things we would have never dreamed possible. While he's made serious mistakes in dealing with abusive priests -- and their victims -- under his leadership a diocese has reached out to the downtrodden and to other faith traditions, healing old wounds with the power of love.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with Bishop Hubbard four years ago. The diocese was putting on a TV series, and I had stopped by to get his thoughts on it and write about it in this very space. I'm glad I kept my notes. It's strange to look at them now. Coincidentally (or maybe not), I asked him the same question I posed to the man with the sign: ``How can you be so sure of what you believe in?'' This is what he said: ``Faith is not about being sure. It's about trust and relationships, your relationship with God and your fellow humans. It's trusting that they won't let you down. You have to believe in them. Sometimes you'll be disappointed and tested, but you can't stop trusting. If you do, you cut yourself off from God and from others.''

These days aren't easy for any of us. But often in difficult times, we have to choose in whom we will believe. Sometimes, there is no sanctuary, no Switzerland of the spirit, where we can retreat and safely wait it out, undecided. Right now, even our silence can be a dangerous choice. We risk being overtaken by the purveyors of bigotry, hatred and ignorance.

I asked Bishop Hubbard a final question in my April 2000 interview: Your job, I said, has enormous pressures. What do you tell yourself at the end of the day? He paused, then quoted John XXIII, who, after a trying day, prayed: ``God, it's your church. I'm going to bed.''

I wrote then: ``Day or night, the diocese is in good hands.'' I choose to believe it still is. Rivest lives in Averill Park and can be reached at