"We are born from the darkness," read the sign out front at St. Luke the Evangelist Church on Saturday, a reference to the Catholic teachings of original sin and salvation.
But a day after the Glenside parish's popular pastor, Msgr. Michael Flood, was cleared to return to his post, the message could have described the mood of his waiting congregants as well.
"It's like we've been under this dark cloud," said John Ginty, 48, a lifelong parishioner. "I can't wait to see him again and give him a big hug."
Flood, 72, was one of three priests reinstated Friday after archdiocesan officials cleared them of allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct with minors. And though the monsignor did not attend Saturday Mass in his parish - the first since his restoration to active ministry - his presence permeated the service.
Church officials "may have decided this weekend, but I knew the truth years ago," said the Rev. John F. McBride, drawing a round of applause from the congregation. The allegations against Flood "were phony, and we all knew it was phony."
In a homily about bearing false witness, forgiveness, and maintaining faith despite challenges, McBride urged congregants to glean lessons from Flood's recent difficulties.
"Imagine someone said something terrible about you and you had to walk around with that hanging over your head for years," he said. Msgr. Flood "did that, and he did it with grace and faith."
It remains unclear when, or even if, Flood will come back to St. Luke's. In announcing the monsignor's return, along with that of two other priests Friday, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said none would immediately go back to their parishes and some could opt not to return at all.
An investigative panel substantiated claims against five others who will not return to ministry, Chaput said.
Thomas N. McCarthy, a professor emeritus at La Salle University, felt confident that, given the choice, Flood would find his way back to Glenside.
"We're going to welcome him with open arms," he said. "He's a good man and a good pastor."
Since 1995, Flood had served as a signpost in the lives of many of his congregants. He baptized parishioner Kathleen Seweryn's daughters and, years later, officiated at their weddings. And he was among the first and the last by Joseph T. Simone's wife as she lay ill on her deathbed.
It was because of that dedication to his flock that many found it so difficult to accept it when Flood was suspended last year along with 26 other priests, in the wake of a damning grand jury report that accused church officials of ignoring "credible" allegations of sexual misconduct for years.
From the beginning, the archdiocese refused to outline allegations against any of the suspended priests. But Flood's congregation had long known about his case.
In 2009, a New Jersey man filed suit in Delaware, claiming that Flood had repeatedly molested him in the 1970s.
But the monsignor never shied away from discussing the allegations with parishioners, and frequently asked them to pray for him and his accuser.
At the time, the archdiocese agreed to let him remain in ministry as long as he refrained from unsupervised contact with youths.
So when church officials removed him last year - when nothing had changed in the case - it felt like a betrayal, said Seweryn.
"It was almost like a death in the family," she said.
But then, in December, Flood's accuser withdrew his lawsuit amid questions about his credibility, and the monsignor's path to reinstatement cleared.
Addressing congregants Saturday, Bishop Daniel Thomas urged them not to let Flood's story overwhelm their larger understanding of the Church's response to sexual abuse.
"This is a moment for us to choose Christ amid all this confusion," he said. "As a community of faith, we have an obligation to the victims and those who were accused."
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Staff writer Bonnie L. Cook contributed to this article.