New York priests, humiliated by the child-abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church, say they can no longer wear their collars with pride.
Priests told The Post the long-running scandal of had turned their collars into symbols of shame, making them "self-conscious" in public and the targets of derogatory remarks.
Their comments were mirrored by Pope John Paul II, who weighed in on the controversy by denouncing the "grave scandal" caused by "the sins of some of our brothers" who have betrayed their vows and succumbed to evil
The Rev. Lawrence J. Quinn, of the Church of Our Lady of Mercy in The Bronx, told The Post how he felt "funny" yesterday after attending a funeral for another priest.
"I started feeling funny because of all the stuff that was going on - it may sound paranoid, but I felt that people were looking at me," he said.
"Two or three people looked me in the face like I was involved. It didn't make me feel right, and when I got back to the church, I took my collar off."
The Rev. Walter Modrys, of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue, said priests are feeling "extremely distressed and embarrassed."
"There's no doubt people feel like they're a target - and feel self-conscious when out wearing their collar," he said.
Monsignor Phil Murnion, director of the National Pastoral Life Center in Manhattan, said he had been told of a recent case where priests had been verbally attacked while attending a restaurant.
"One of the customers made a snide remark about pedophile priests - that sort of thing is floating around," he said.
"At the same time, other people are coming up and giving hugs as a sign of support."
Father Brian Jordan, of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street, likened the priests' predicament to that of New York cops after the Amadou Diallo shooting.
"I've had cops come up with me and say, 'Now you know how we felt' - the NYPD has become our biggest supporter," he said.
The pope's remarks came in his annual pre-Easter message to priests, released yesterday by the Vatican.
"As priests, we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of ordination," John Paul said.
He said the pedophiles had succumbed "to the most grievous forms" of what he called, using the Latin phrase, the "mystery of evil."
"Grave scandal is caused, with the result that a dark shadow of suspicion is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity, and often with heroic self-sacrifice," the pope said.
John Paul said the church "shows her concern for the victims and strives to respond in truth and justice to each of these painful situations."
It was the first time he publicly addressed the issue since widespread accusations of sexual misconduct by priests surfaced in the United States in recent months. The accusations have led to the fall of one bishop, from Palm Beach, Fla., actions taken against dozens of priests around the country, and the tarnishing of the reputation of Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston for failing to take action against a child-molesting priest.
While priests such as Jordan and Modrys felt buoyed by the pope's comments, parishioners said the church must implement major reforms, such as admitting female priests and allowing clergy to marry.
Ralph Martin, 49, and Tina Eisenbeis, 43, of the West Village, said the crisis was a result of the Vatican's repression of priests.
Margaret Hearn, 32, of Gramercy Park, who was worshipping at Sacred Heart Church on West 51st Street, said that the pope's statement was long overdue, but that much work is required to break the church's "tendency toward secrecy."
Ray Flynn, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and one-time mayor of Boston, said the pope's message was a strong signal that abuse would not be tolerated.
"This historic message for reform in the way church leaders deal with allegations of sexual abuse by priests against children is not a suggestion, but an ultimatum," said Flynn, who is now president of the Catholic Alliance, a nonpartisan advocacy group.