The Itinerant Friar in the Cathedral

New York Times [Opinion]
Downloaded July 5, 2003

In an overdue signal to the nation's bewildered Catholics, the Vatican has assigned Bishop Sean O'Malley, a berobed Franciscan friar devoid of the usual hierarchical trappings, to take over the wounded Boston Archdiocese. The contrast could not be greater between Bishop O'Malley and his discredited predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law, who tolerated the sexual abuse of dozens of children by rogue priests.

Bishop O'Malley has proved his mettle in dealing with the similar, if smaller, sex abuse scandals of dioceses in Fall River, Mass., and Palm Beach. But the very itinerancy of this good man's career underlines the sad fact that the American hierarchy's commitment to reform is still doubted by the faithful whose children have been most at risk. The core of the scandal has been driven by evasiveness and truculent resistance to legal authorities by far too many bishops. Enter a holy man in the raiment of an outsider. Would that there were many more in sight to reassure worshipers about the virtue of their priests.

The bishop's opening move was excellent. He conferred with abuse victims and stressed that "meeting with the people" and speeding damage settlements was his basic credo in attacking the scandal. There are other bishops similarly dedicated, but their task has been weighted by the American hierarchy's arrogant history of trying to bury the scandal and rebuff the voice of the laity. As early as 1985, The National Catholic Reporter warned that a "broader scandal" was brewing in the bishops' protection of abusers. That scandal arrived, and it will remain until the Vatican and the hierarchy turn even more to the church's strength in forthright people like Bishop O'Malley.


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