Clergy Sex Abuse Not the Only Issue Facing O'Malley

By Curt Brown
Standard-Times [Boston MA]
Downloaded July 27, 2003

BOSTON -- Bishop Sean P. O'Malley's first task as shepherd of the Boston Archdiocese's 2.1 million Catholics will be the resolution of hundreds of financial claims brought by victims of abuse at the hands of priests.

But Archbishop-designate O'Malley also faces a host of other sticky problems he'll need to address soon after his installation Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Although many of the issues in Boston mirror those that Bishop O'Malley faced in the Fall River Diocese, the sheer size of the Boston archdiocese and the increased demands on his time will make his task much more difficult, academicians say.

But those who know Bishop O'Malley from his time in Fall River are confident in his abilities to heal all segments of the church.

Sister Joanna Fernandes, provisional superior of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation and chairman of the board of directors of St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River, said Bishop O'Malley's strength is "building relationships" within the many constituencies of the church.

"His tremendous gift is caring for people, and it's genuine," she said. "He'll act on his word, which is sincere, not authoritative."

Here's a rundown of some of the problems facing Archbishop-designate O'Malley and an assessment of how he might handle them, according to academicians and those who know him.


Thomas Groome, a professor in the theology department at Boston College and the author of "What Makes Us Catholic," said the real challenge for Bishop O'Malley, after getting past the abuse scandal, is to make institutional changes within the church.

"The real question is whether he will lead us to the reform that is necessary," he said.

Mr. Groome said Bishop O'Malley must address issues like why the abuse crisis happened and how can it be prevented in the future. "That's the real challenge over the long haul," Mr. Groome said.

He said changes have to be made in the church's governing structure "that caused and allowed this to happen."

Steve Krueger, executive director of the Voice of the Faithful, the Newton-based group that includes more than 30,000 mainstream Catholics formed after the scandal, said the abuse illustrates "dysfunctional structures and a dysfunctional culture within the hierarchy of the church" that need to be changed.

"The problems go beyond the experiences of any one person," he said. He feels the solution must involve an acknowledgment of the problem by the Archdiocese of Boston and the creation of "a four-sided table" where clergy, the laity, the church's hierarchy and the victims can address the challenges before the church.

"You need to develop new structures or else the trust will not be restored," he said.

Mr. Groome said Bishop O'Malley must reach out and welcome the participation of the Voice of the Faithful as well as other reform groups.

But Monsignor John F. Moore, of St. Elizabeth, North Falmouth, advised proceeding cautiously when responding to the Voice of the Faithful. "There are splinter groups within the group. What voice is the real voice when you have splinter groups?" he said.

restoring trust

Sister Fernandes said Bishop O'Malley must restore the trust of everyone in the church.

She predicted his actions will set the tone of the reclamation. "He has a wonderful pastoral caring presence. As he goes about his duties, he'll rebuild. People will see he'll be there for them. They're looking for a spiritual leader and that is what Bishop O'Malley is," she said.

Monsignor Thomas J. Harrington of Holy Name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, New Bedford said the new archbishop must find a way to get parishioners who feel disenfranchised because of the abuse to return to the church.

"The missionaries used to say, you don't preach the Gospel until you have had enough to eat," he said.

Rev. William A. Clark, S.J., assistant professor of religious studies at Holy Cross College, said there is "a serious divide" between the lifestyle and outlook of the leadership of the church on the one hand, especially beyond the level of the parish, and the lifestyles and outlooks of the ordinary members of the church on the other hand.

"Archbishop O'Malley has given the impression of being a man who takes seriously the need for a much more personal communication with the people of the Archdiocese in all their variety, so I am hopeful that this problem will start to be addressed effectively," he said.

Rev. Clark said the responses to the abuse scandal highlight "a growing split within the church" between segments that sometimes describe themselves as "orthodox" or "catechism" Catholics and those who sometimes describe themselves as "liberal" or "progressive."

The "orthodox" have responded to the scandal by stressing the need for a return to traditional values and by laying blame on the many changes that have taken place in church life in recent decades, he said.

The progressives have emphasized instead the need for continued reform of structures, an increased voice for the laity and re-examination of traditions such as the restriction of priesthood to celibate males, according to Rev. Clark.

"Both sides have sometimes spoken as if the others are not really Catholics at all, and some ask whether the two groups will be able to continue cooperating together in one church. This is a very serious issue and will really put to the test the sensitivity, charity and wisdom of leaders like Archbishop O'Malley," he said.


People who know Bishop O'Malley well expect him to have his biggest impact on social issues. They said issues relating to the poor are extremely important to him and he has not been shy in the past about jumping into a controversy when he feels there is a need.

"He has always been a leader," said Gerald D'Avolio, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the four dioceses of Massachusetts. "He may not please everyone, (but) he's not afraid to speak out and that's a wonderful quality," Mr. D'Avolio said.

"We're all counting on him for that," said Arlene A. McNamee, director of Catholic Social Services. "He will be a voice on housing, immigration and welfare when it comes to bad legislation."

"No assignment will change his devotion to the church," said Monsignor Stephen J. Avila of St. John Neumann, East Freetown.

Monsignor Avila said Bishop O'Malley is opposed to the death penalty, physician-assisted suicide, abortion and gambling and will speak out if there is legislation on these issues by Gov. Romney or the state Legislature.

"He's very much against gambling. He has seen what it can do to people and families. It's not a quick fix," Monsignor Avila said. "He'll be active on social issues."

Mr. D'Avolio said one of Bishop O'Malley's challenges will be the adjustment to state budget cuts as they relate to church-sponsored programs, like detoxification and elderly housing, which rely on some state funding.

"Some of it we can absorb," he said, although state assistance is needed.

There is a need and an expectation that Bishop O'Malley, who has a doctoral degree in romance languages, will reach out to new arrivals to the U.S., according to many who know him well.

Monsignor Moore said the cities are becoming less and less European and more Latin as people move to the suburbs. He said Bishop O'Malley's knowledge of Crioulu will be helpful as he reaches out to immigrants from Haiti.

"That's his talent," Monsignor Moore said of Bishop O'Malley, adding he expects him to be spending considerable time in Dorchester and Lawrence, which have large immigrant communities. "He'll go where the immigrants are," he said.

"He cares deeply about service for immigrants," said Ms. McNamee.

Sister Fernandes also believes Bishop O'Malley will devote considerable attention on bringing immigrants as well as the poor into the church.

"Because he's a linguist, he wants to bring in the whole family of God," she said.

She said he'll analyze who has fallen through the cracks and how the church can better serve them before he takes action. "He'll want to know how their needs aren't being met right now and how they can be," she said.

"He's embracing in the universal church and he'll bring that gift to the Archdiocese of Boston," she said.


Monsignor Harrington said he expects Bishop O'Malley will seek to expand Catholic education in the Boston Archdiocese.

"Catholic education occupies his attention. He'll open schools in affluent areas and shore up schools in urban areas," he said, predicting the new archbishop will use scholarship programs to pay for tuitions.

As head of the Fall River Diocese, Bishop O'Malley opened schools in South Yarmouth and Mansfield.

"Substantial people contributed significant sums so students could attend schools in Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford," Rev. Harrington said. "He'll try to keep city schools open where possible."


The Boston Archdiocese is six times the size of the Fall River Diocese that Bishop O'Malley previously led, which observers said might make it hard for him to interact with his flock.

"He's a people's bishop and he wants to be accessible to so many people, and there are so many people," said Monsignor Avila.

There are 350,000 Catholics in the Fall River Diocese. There are 2.1 million Catholics in the Boston Archdiocese.

"That will be a challenge," Monsignor Avila continued. "He used to say that 60 percent of his parishes were within a half-hour drive of his residence. He could go to a lot of places at one time and he did."

"It's six times larger with six times more problems," said Monsignor Moore. "It's the vastness of the place and everything that comes with it."

The size and numbers of parishioners will be "demanding" on Bishop O'Malley, according to Monsignor Avila, but he predicted Bishop O'Malley will find a way to be with parishioners. "He'll want to find every opportunity to share Mass with them," he said.

Ms. McNamee said it will take time, but Bishop O'Malley will be true to his nature and make the local parishes a priority.

She mentioned that he visited every parish in the Palm Beach, Fla., Diocese, an assignment he is leaving to accept Boston.

"Parishes are his priority," she said. "I don't think anyone should lose sight of that."

The new archbishop must find a way to serve parishes with diminishing numbers of parishioners and will probably look to merge some parishes whose numbers have declined significantly, according to people who know him well.

The social demands as head of such a significant archdiocese as Boston will be enormous, Monsignor Moore said. "He'll be expected to attend so many things," he said.


Bishop O'Malley will be hard-pressed to receive fair market value on some church properties as he looks to find the financial resources to settle sexual abuse claims.

When serving the Fall River Diocese, Bishop O'Malley agreed to settlements with the sexual abuse victims of former priest James R. Porter, but he wasn't forced to sell any property to finance the payments, Monsignor Harrington said.

Ms. McNamee said the archdiocese has already sold some properties and believes Bishop O'Malley will do "whatever he needs to do to get it done," including taking out loans to compensate victims.


"I wish he could make the Red Sox win the pennant, but I don't think he has any control over that," Monsignor Harrington said.


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