Pope Names O'Malley to Lead Boston Archdiocese
By Victor L. Simpson
Associated Press, carried in Cape Cod Times [Vatican]
Downloaded July 1, 2003
VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II named Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley to lead the Boston Archdiocese Tuesday, sending a recognized leader in the battle against clerical sex abuse into the epicenter of the scandal in the United States.
O'Malley, 59, succeeds Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned amid public outrage in December.
The new archbishop gained national attention for cracking down on sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in his two previous assignments, establishing tough new procedures for preventing abuse in Fall River, Mass. He then took over the Palm Beach, Fla. diocese after two previous bishops were implicated in sex scandals.
The Vatican announced O'Malley's appointment in its daily bulletin. It also named his successor in Palm Beach, Bishop Gerald Barbarito, currently bishop of Ogdensburg, N.Y.
As word emerged that the Franciscan would be tapped for the Boston job, lawyers for victims praised O'Malley for his handling of the scandal, although other victims' groups urged caution.
Among his first duties as archbishop-elect was a 10:30 a.m. news conference and an afternoon meeting with victims before his expected return later in the day to Palm Beach, according to a schedule released by the archdiocese.
O'Malley was sent in to Fall River to clean up a crisis in the early 1990s when the Rev. James Porter was accused of molesting children. Porter ultimately pleaded guilty to molesting 28 children and was sentenced to 18 to 20 years in prison.
The diocese paid for treatment and medication for Porter's victims.
"There could never be a better person in the country to have this job and to try to bring about real healing in the Archdiocese of Boston," said attorney Roderick MacLeish, who represented 101 of Porter's victims and is also one of the lead lawyers for hundreds of plaintiffs with cases against the archdiocese.
The lay victims group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said it welcomed O'Malley and would work with him, but stressed that "no one person can magically undo the horrific pain so many in this archdiocese feel."
"He did lead the Fall River diocese in the aftermath of serial predator priest James Porter. But one case does not make a track record," said Ann Hagen Webb, New England coordinator of the group.
One of Porter's victims said he hadn't been satisfied with his dealings with O'Malley.
"He's slick. He's good public relations. But as far as deep inside, he's not really going to solve the problem," said Frank Fitzpatrick. "The reason is, he's just there to quiet things down."
In Palm Beach, where two prior bishops admitted they were guilty of sexual abuse, O'Malley immediately apologized to victims and took immediate steps to crack down on abuse.
In Boston, however, he will likely find his greatest challenge.
Law resigned last year following revelations he allowed priests accused of molestation to keep serving. The former archbishop was widely criticized for his handling of the scandal that ensnared dozens of priests and eventually spread to dioceses around the country.
Bishop Richard Lennon has been acting as the interim leader of the archdiocese, which counts 2.1 million Catholics.
About 500 lawsuits are pending alleging that Boston church officials were negligent when they transferred accused priests from parish to parish rather than removed them.
The Rev. Richard McBrien, a liberal theologian at the University of Notre Dame, said despite all the kudos O'Malley has won for his response to clergy sex abuse, he is still a conservative priest who would be "uncritically loyal to the Holy See and would not veer one millimeter from its policies and teachings on anything."
Some observers expressed surprise that O'Malley may be Boston-bound, since he was only recently sent to Palm Beach.
"It would be very unusual to pull out a bishop from a diocese so quickly, especially one that's had so many problems," said the Rev. Thomas Reese of the Jesuit magazine America.
But Ray Flynn, the former Boston mayor and ambassador to the Vatican, noted that the late Archbishop John O'Connor of New York served less than a year in Scranton, Pa., before being appointed to the New York post in 1984. When O'Connor died in 2000, O'Malley was mentioned as a possible successor.
Flynn described O'Malley as a "very quiet, unassuming courageous guy."
"It's almost like a gift of God for Boston if this announcement is going to be made," he said.
When he resigned in December, Law became the highest-ranking Church figure to be brought down by the scandal. He is now a resident chaplain at the Sisters of Mercy of Alma convent in Clinton, Md.
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