Skeptics Pray New Bishop Has Healing Touch

By Bill Nemitz
Portland Press Herald [Portland ME]
Downloaded April 2, 2004

He was never sexually abused by a priest, but as a lawyer, Donald Fontaine has represented two such victims and counseled many others. His education was pure Jesuit, but these days he wants nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church.

No wonder that, as the faithful entered the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Wednesday to welcome Richard J. Malone as their new bishop, Fontaine stood with a small knot of demonstrators across Cumberland Avenue and impulsively stepped forward to speak through the scratchy bullhorn.

"I no longer want to belong to the church. I no longer want to attend Mass," Fontaine told his somber audience. "I wish it wasn't so, but it is."

Therein lies the ultimate challenge facing Malone, who this week became the 11th bishop of the Diocese of Portland. As he takes the crozier and tries to lead his new flock out of the controversy that has raged for the past two years, how can he persuade fallen-away Catholics like Fontaine to follow?

"I would say I understand the depth of his hurt and anger," Malone replied when asked after his installation what he would say to Fontaine. And no matter what, Malone added, "He's still a Catholic . . . there still is a chair at the table for him."

Time will tell if Malone, who replaces retired Bishop Joseph Gerry as the spiritual leader of Maine's 234,000 Roman Catholics, is the right man for these troubled times. Yet one thing is already clear: The only thing Malone, 58, appears to have in common with his predecessor is that each wears a zucchetto - or, as Malone not-so-solemnly called it during his first sermon from the cathedral's pulpit, a "pink beanie."

The contrasts abound.

While Gerry spoke in a soft, sometimes monotonic voice, Malone is a walking echo chamber.

While Gerry rarely appeared on television, Malone brings years of experience in front of the camera, as a producer and on-air host for Boston Catholic Television.

While Gerry gratefully returns to the quiet monastery at St. Anselm College from where he came, Malone's three decades in the priesthood run the gamut from suburban Boston parishes to chaplaincies at several colleges and high schools. (Including Xaverian Brothers High School, my alma mater. He arrived four years after I departed.)

Most noticeably, while Gerry blanched - scandal or no scandal - at the prospect of facing the media, Malone embraces it. After his installation, he met informally with reporters in the cathedral's small chapel - warmly shaking each hand before inviting questions.

Most of those questions, not surprisingly, focused on the "memorial service" for victims of clergy sex-abuse that drew three dozen people across from the cathedral.

Malone, who referred to "our demonstrating brothers and sisters" in his prepared text but deleted those words from his spoken address, said he's well aware that for many, the healing has yet to even begin.

"I know there are people who fell away at the beginning of it all and have found their way back," he said. "Others are still struggling."

Donald Fontaine, without question, is among the latter. He went to Cheverus High School, then to Boston College, then to the Georgetown University Law Center. He once served on a legislative advisory commission for Bishop Edward O'Leary.

But he also represented two victims of sexual abuse by priests - and watched with dismay as the church defended itself more like an insurance company than a spiritual haven.

"I'm very skeptical," Fontaine said the day after Malone's installation. "I'm skeptical of anyone who's been in the hierarchy of the church all these years with all of this going on."

And so Fontaine will stay outside the church for now, watching closely for some sign that Malone is the breath of fresh air so many want him to be. Something like what happened last year in Boston, where newly installed Archbishop Sean O'Malley moved into a South Boston rectory and put the opulent bishop's residence in Chestnut Hill up for sale to help compensate the church's victims.

The next move, at least for Fontaine, is Bishop Malone's.
"He needs to do something dramatic," Fontaine said. "He can't do it with public relations."
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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