On the same night it announced that two clergy members had taken leaves of absence for prior misconduct, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis set about the process of healing Sunday through communal prayer at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The evening service came after a month of stinging headlines and allegations about clergy sexual misconduct and accusations that some Catholic leaders had ignored warnings of sexual misconduct. The service was billed as a Penitential Holy Hour prayer service, and Archbishop John Nienstedt made plain in his opening remarks that the 175-plus attendees would be praying for all those harmed by the failures of the church and its “shepherds.”

He hoped, he said, they’d find new trust in the church.

About an hour later, the archdiocese released statements revealing that the Rev. Paul Moudry, pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church in Golden Valley, and the Rev. David Barrett, an assistant priest at the Church of Saint Wenceslaus of New Prague, had taken voluntary leaves of absence this weekend as a result of “prior misconduct which occurred many years ago.”

Neither case involved parishioners or a violation of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” the archdiocese said. Both priests made their decisions in consultation with the archdiocese, the statements said.

Sunday night’s penitential prayer service followed weeks of scandal that toppled Nienstedt’s vicar general, the Rev. Peter Laird, and prompted abrupt resignations from the University of St. Thomas board by former Archbishop Harry Flynn and his former top deputy, the Rev. Kevin McDonough.

Twin Cities area Catholics who spoke as they entered the service said that they supported their church, and while several spoke of concerns about victims, two also worried that some priests might be facing false allegations — or being swept up in a witch hunt.

“We just need prayer now for the church,” said Bernadette Dutke of West St. Paul. “I know the media is not reporting the whole story. Some of these accused priests are not guilty of what they’re accused of. I’m supporting the clergy.”

But David Dries of Woodbury said: “I am not denying that people have been hurt. I hope that in the end our church and our justice system will bring the truth to light about all of this.”

‘I should be here’

Others spoke of healing, faith and commitment.

“I am part of the church in this area,” said Deb Bode of St. Paul. “I should be here.”

Nienstedt spoke in general terms on Sunday, his words coming after written comments in the Catholic Spirit, the official publication of the archdiocese, about “serious mistakes” having been made during the past decade.

There was cause to question, he wrote, whether sexual misconduct policies and procedures were followed, as well as “the prudence of the judgments that have been made.”

On Sunday, Jeff Anderson, an attorney who specializes in bringing suits alleging the sexual abuse of minors by priests and others, said that “survivors” need action from Nienstedt, not just prayers. That action, he said, should include disclosing the names of offenders whom Nienstedt knew to have abused children as well as “the information they have held secret that continues to pose a risk of harm to the entire community and the kids in it.” He added that the archbishop should be praying directly for “those who he himself, and those around him, have allowed to be hurt through their practices and deeds.”

The recitation of penitential prayers, as was done Sunday, is “an ancient practice of the church, utilized in moments of great need and sorrow,” according to archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso.

Seven hours earlier, during 10 a.m. mass at the cathedral, hundreds of churchgoers had joined in asking for healing and justice during petitions offered after the morning’s homily. They were invited, too, to attend the evening prayer service seeking God’s mercy at a “time of challenge for our local church.”

On Sunday night, Mary Davis of Mound had a more specific purpose: A show of support for Laird and for the Rev. Michael Keating, now on leave from his post as a Catholic studies professor amid allegations that he sexually abused a teenage girl in the late 1990s.

Davis credited the priests with deepening her commitment to Catholicism. Asked if she was concerned about the allegations against Keating, she said: “Absolutely. But I’m concerned, too, about there being a witch hunt going on.”

Said Kim Haverstock of Eden Prairie, “The church is at once a beacon of purity … made of people who are imperfect. Perfect and sinful at the same time. God’s leading the church.”

It was toward the end of the service that Nienstedt and others on the pulpit said what perhaps many longed to hear.

“We pray for our church,” the archbishop said. “For those whose faith is tested by scandal, failure and sin. We pray for all who have been wounded by the church … We pray for faithful and holy priests … We pray for … the beginning of rebirth and renewal.”