Archbishop Sean O'Malley
Mending Boston's Catholic Church [Boston MA]
Downloaded December 30, 2003

A year ago, Catholics in the archdiocese of Boston were reeling under the shock of the church's sexual abuse scandal. Angry and grief-stricken, they wondered whether any church leader could be trusted to address the crisis directly and help heal the diocese's wounds.

Enter Sean O'Malley, a Franciscan monk who had served for a decade as bishop of Fall River, Mass. —another diocese troubled by abuse charges. There, "O'Malley earned a reputation for listening patiently to abuse victims, often for hours, and for negotiating out-of-court settlements that even had plaintiffs' lawyers praising him," writes David Gibson in a Beliefnet article. His reputation as a pastor of the people was longstanding. As a bishop and earlier as a priest, he had always eschewed lavish housing and focused his ministry on the poor.

In July of this year, O'Malley was appointed to the Boston archdiocese as a successor to Cardinal Bernard Law, who had resigned under strong pressure from laypeople and priests alike.

As the new pastor of Boston's Catholics, O'Malley ("Bishop Sean") immediately set a different tone, wearing sandals and his Capuchin robe to his inaugural press conference and saying he would steer clear of the opulent archbishop's mansion. Instead, he moved to a South End apartment.

In a much-praised sermon at his installation mass, he begged abuse victims for forgiveness, saying, "The healing of our Church is inexorably bound up with your own healing. Despite the understandable anger, protests and litigation, we see you as our brothers and sisters who have been wronged." Later, O'Malley vowed to reach a quick settlement for hundreds of outstanding abuse claims--and made a commitment not to use collection plate money to do it.

And O'Malley has followed through. In September, the archdiocese reached an $85 million settlement with victims. In December, O'Malley announced plans to temporarily mortgage the city's cathedral and seminary to expedite settlement payments before other church property--including the archbishop's residence--could be sold.

More than a good administrator, O'Malley has been a compassionate pastoral presence to Boston's heartsick Catholics.


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