Boston Archdiocese Installs New Leader in Low-Key Ceremony

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Press, carried in [Boston MA]
July 30, 2003

BOSTON -- Newly installed Boston Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley begged forgiveness from the victims of clergy sexual abuse and promised a new beginning for a church devastated by a scandal that affected hundreds of children, abused by dozens of priests, and cost his predecessor his job.

During a ceremony Wednesday marked by simplicity and humor, O'Malley asked for prayers and help as he tries to rebuild the archdiocese, heal the wounds of victims and restore the confidence of ordinary Catholics.

O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar, also made it a point to thank "so many good priests struggling to make sense out of it all," a remark which drew sustained applause from the approximately 900 priests in the audience at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

"The whole Catholic community is ashamed and anguished because of the pain and damage inflicted on so many young people and because of our inability or unwillingness to deal with the crime of sexual abuse of minors," O'Malley said in his homily.

"To those victims and to their families, we beg forgiveness and assure them that the Catholic Church is working to create a safe environment for young people."

O'Malley, 59, was installed as the sixth archbishop of Boston. He succeeds Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in December among mounting evidence that church leaders shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish to keep allegations against them secret and spare the church scandal.

In keeping with O'Malley's monastic lifestyle and in deference to the victims of abuse, the installation ceremony had less pomp and circumstance than usually afforded such a high-ranking church official. O'Malley stuck to his usual, simple garb -- sandals and the brown robe of his order -- under the formal archbishop vestments.

In keeping with the tradition of his religious order, O'Malley has asked to be called by his first name, and will be known as "Archbishop Sean."

"As your archbishop, I am your shepherd. As a friar, I am your brother," O'Malley said. "I have come to serve you, to wash your feet, as Jesus says."

Gary Bergeron, 41, who said both he and his younger brother were sexually abused by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham in the 1970s, was one of dozens of alleged victims who were invited to attend the installation ceremony. Some chose to decline the invitation, but Bergeron attended with his parents.

"I think that his message was on target on all aspects," Bergeron said of O'Malley's homily. "Today is the first time I've felt a compassion from a church official in a long, long time."

O'Malley's public acknowledgment of "so many good priests" resonated with the priests in attendance.

"When he said that and the applause came, I felt ... this kind of a wave of affirmation come over us," said the Rev. Robert Bullock, president of the Boston Priests Forum.

His fellow priests hope that O'Malley -- known as a "Mr. Fix-It" among U.S. bishops -- can help heal the nation's fourth-largest diocese, home to more than 2 million Catholics.

"He's reaching out, to be personally involved, talking to the victims. I'm looking forward to the whole spiritual tone he can bring to the diocese," said the Rev. Alfred Winshman, a Jesuit from Boston. He met O'Malley while serving as a missionary on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, where O'Malley was bishop in the mid-1980s.

The ceremony had some light moments, as when O'Malley talked about the "lovely vacation spots" where he has served as bishop.

"My Provincial used to say, 'O'Malley, when will get a real job?' "Well, Brother Paul, does this count?" O'Malley said, prompting laughter from the crowd of 2,500 inside the cathedral.

Several dozen protesters were stationed outside. It's been a familiar scene outside the cathedral -- where the archbishop traditionally celebrates Mass -- and many returned to remind the church they remain skeptical of its efforts to heal those harmed by decades of abuse.

One sign read: "Different robe, same secrets," a reference to O'Malley's trademark brown robe of the Capuchin order.

John Harris, 45, of Norwood, who says he was abused by the Rev. Paul Shanley, was among those outside the cathedral.

"Inside there, nothing holy is going on," Harris said. "This is damage control. There will be no justice until we see people behind bars."

Shanley, at the center of abuse charges in two states, is free on bail in Massachusetts, where he has pleaded innocent to 10 counts of child rape.

More than 500 lawsuits are pending from people who claim they were sexually abused by priests over the past six decades. A recent report by the state attorney general said that likely more than 1,000 people were abused by hundreds of priests over the past six decades.

O'Malley was tapped by the pope in 1992 to clean up the mess left in the Fall River diocese by serial pedophile priest James Porter. Last October, he was sent to Palm Beach, Fla., where his two immediate predecessors resigned after confessing to molesting children.

In Fall River, O'Malley was praised for reaching out to victims and instituting reforms that included mandatory background checks and abuse prevention training.


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