New Boston Archbishop Gets a Mixed Reception outside Cathedral

By Jay Lindsay
Associated Press, carried in Boston Herald
July 30, 2003

BOSTON - The man at the head of the Boston archdiocese has changed, but the scene in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross was a familiar one as protesters decried the Roman Catholic church's handling of clergy sex abuse claims.

Dozens of men and women, some of whom say they were abused as children by their parish priests, lined the street outside the cathedral. Some carried signs, others yelled out their protestations.

All the while, hundreds of priests, nuns, parishioners, and dignitaries - including their new archbishop, Sean Patrick O'Malley - strode in a procession into the grand cathedral, the place where his predecessor regularly celebrated Mass.

Demonstrators lined metal barricades and some called out sarcastically: "Thanks for standing with the victims!" Others shouted "Shame!" and "Cowards!" Others held aloft a 15-foot high cross called "Crosses of Shame & Deceit" - which listed archdiocesan priests accused of sex abuse - and signs and pictures of abuse victims.

"Inside there nothing holy is going on," shouted John Harris, 45, of Norwood, an alleged victim of the Rev. Paul Shanley. "This is damage control. There will be no justice until we see people behind bars!"

About 100 yards away, it was a different scene as teens from Our Lady of Assumption in East Boston shook tambourines, played guitars and sang choruses of praise to make O'Malley feel at home.

Parishioner John Belmonte, 38, of Burlington, stood holding a banner that greeted O'Malley, and said he wanted O'Malley to hear a more-comforting voice on his first day.

"If you were archbishop ... and we weren't here, you know how bad you might feel," he said. "That would be their gauge on how everybody feels about this new beginning. We feel quite the opposite."

O'Malley takes over the archdiocese at the center of sex abuse scandal that forced out his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law. Internal church papers showed top officials, including Law, transferred pedophile priests between parishes while keeping their offenses secret.

In a recent report, state Attorney General Thomas Reilly estimated that at least 1,000 children were sexually abused by 237 priests and 13 other church workers between 1940 and 2000.

O'Malley comes to Boston from Palm Beach, Fla., where he served for less than a year. He had been sent there last October from Fall River, where he first carved out a reputation for healing dioceses troubled by sex abuse allegations.

Protester Steve Lewis said Monday he didn't buy O'Malley reputation, and called him a "puppet of the Vatican" who would never truly reach out to victims.

"You'd think Jesus Christ was coming to town," he said. "People still don't get it. ... The church the laity is just going to be bamboozled again."

Claire Croghan, 70, of Boston offered a different view as she quietly stood in the protesters area holding a sign giving O'Malley "100,000 welcomes."

"We have to go forward, even though we can never forget what happened in the past," she said. "I hope people who have been disenfranchised from the church will give him a chance."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.