Editorial: Problem Priests Revolution in Boston

St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Boston MA]
July 7, 2003

WITH THE APPOINTMENT of Sean Patrick O'Malley as Archbishop of Boston, the Vatican sent a strong signal of its commitment to healing the wounds caused by sexual abuse by priests in its most troubled American see.

Bishop O'Malley, 59, a Franciscan friar, would seem to be the perfect choice for Pope John Paul II. Like the pope, Bishop O'Malley is a doctrinal conservative, likely to rein in efforts to turn more of archdiocesan affairs over to lay people. But unlike his equally conservative predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, Bishop O'Malley is a man with a warm, outgoing personality. Significantly, he also has experience in cleaning up clergy sex abuse scandals in two other dioceses. And he's Irish, to boot.

All of that will come in handy in Boston, the nation's third-largest diocese, where the ongoing national priest abuse scandal broke in January 2002. Some 500 lawsuits are pending against the archdiocese and dozens of its priests. Cardinal Law, who has admitted errors in judgment in reassigning many abusive priests, resigned in December.

Only two months earlier, Bishop O'Malley officially had been installed as head of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., replacing Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell. Bishop O'Connell had resigned in March 2002, after the Post-Dispatchreported that he had been named in a sexual abuse lawsuit brought by a man who had been a seminarian in Hannibal, Mo., 25 years earlier. Bishop O'Connell took over in Palm Beach after Bishop Keith Symons resigned in a sexual abuse scandal.

Before his assignment in Palm Beach, Bishop O'Malley headed the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., where he cleaned up the mess left behind by Father James Porter, one of the most notorious of the abusive priests. Porter is currently serving a 20-year prison term for molesting 28 children.

In Fall River and Palm Beach, Bishop O'Malley recognized the need for the church to admit publicly the failings of its priests; to pay for therapy for victims; to report cases to civil authorities; to refer victims to counselors not affiliated with the church and to initiate abuse prevention training for church employees. Among his first promises after being named archbishop in Boston was to try to settle the outstanding lawsuits.

"We must step up to the plate," he said. "People's lives are more important than money."

That may sound like basic Christian doctrine to most people. But as the past 18 months have shown, it's revolutionary by the standards of many American bishops. His words should resound throughout the church, even unto Lindell Boulevard.


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