Time to Heal: O'Malley Asks for Catholics' Prayers, Support

By Eric Convey
Boston Herald
July 2, 2003

Boston's sandal-clad archbishop-elect asked yesterday for help from fellow Catholics and forgiveness from victims of clergy sex abuse.

"I feel acutely aware of my own deficiencies in the face of the task at hand and I ask for your prayers and your collaboration," Bishop Sean P. O'Malley said during a news conference at St. John's Seminary in Brighton.

O'Malley, who is likely to take over the archdiocese in August, said he was "not sure why the pope picked me."

But he added, "I take up the challenge of being archbishop of Boston because I love the church."

The 59-year-old Capuchin Franciscan brother, wearing customary Franciscan garb, alternated between folksy self-deprecation and confident resolve.

Noting that he had suggested to the pope's representative in Washington that a Franciscan bishop would best serve in a missionary diocese, O'Malley said, "My advice was not taken."

He said he has not decided whether to live in the stately archbishop's residence on Commonwealth Avenue or find humbler quarters.

Asked whether a Franciscan who wears typical brown robes and holds a doctorate in literature will be comfortable raising money from millionaires and circulating among power brokers, O'Malley quoted a line often used in the radio program "A Prairie Home Companion."

"I'm going to need those powder-milk biscuits - the ones for shy people," he said.

O'Malley called on Catholics and non-Catholics alike to help restore the church. It will be "an arduous task," he said. "I know that the laity has a great role to play in the process."

"At times like this, we need to pull together as a church," he said.

Clergy are suffering, too, he said. "We are a Eucharistic people, and we need our priests."

Most of O'Malley's remarks dealt with clergy sexual abuse - an issue he handled during the 1990s in the Diocese of Fall River to wide acclaim.

The church got into the problem because "there was not an awareness in the past of the profound damage done," he said. "If people had realized that, they would have taken it much more seriously."

Settlement talks with plain-tiffs' lawyers should be based on the premise that victims deserve payment and "people are more important than money," he said.

"We have made many mistakes in the past, but I think we are on the right track," he said.

"I have said it many times, and I'm going to say it again to the victims today, that as much as I can represent the church as bishop, I do ask for forgiveness for these horrendous sins and crimes that have been committed," O'Malley said. "The whole church feels ashamed and pained and I do ask for their forgiveness again and again."

Later, O'Malley met with alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse and with patients at nearby St. Elizabeth's Medical Center before returning to his post as bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla.

The Ohio native's first appearance as archbishop-elect earned high marks from prominent Boston Catholics and even a lawyer for abuse plaintiffs.

"I think it shows that this old pope of ours is not sleeping at the switch. He made a bold and imaginative choice," said Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor and member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Glendon noted that when questioned in Spanish and Portuguese, O'Malley answered in the same languages. "He's reached out to the new Boston," she said.

Having encountered O'Malley many times over the years, Glendon said, "I've always been extremely impressed by the way he models being a happy priest, a joyful priest."

Former Boston mayor and Vatican ambassador Raymond L. Flynn said O'Malley's appointment brings Boston a "summer of hope."

Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer for many alleged abuse victims, said O'Malley "set a wonderful tone today."

News of O'Malley's appointment was especially well received at the St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street, which is run by Franciscans - albeit from a branch different than O'Malley's.

"The friars have been very happy. We're very pleased," said the Rev. David Convertino, guardian and executive director.

"Most of the guys are pleased because he's a friar. But we're also pleased because of who he is. He's a very genuine person," said Convertino, who said O'Malley has visited and had dinner with the friars at St. Anthony in the past. "He's very unpretentious. He's a down-to-earth man."

Brother John Maganzini, another Franciscan friar, said he has had conversations with regular visitors to St. Anthony who are glad to hear a Franciscan has been appointed.

There have also been e-mails he's received, like the one with a simple message: "Yea, Franciscans!"

Jules Crittenden contributed to this report.


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