Bishop Malooly Talks “The Francis Effect”

Delaware Today


John Baesch and Fran Malooly were typical kids growing up in a middle-class Baltimore neighborhood in the 1940s and 1950s. They lived in modest, one-family homes, went to St. Ursula Catholic grade school, played sports together, went to school dances and did what most kids did in those postwar years. But there was a difference. “Fran was normal as could be. He was just like the rest of us,’’ Baesch says. “At the same time, we all knew that he was better than the rest of us.’’

His friends sensed that W. Francis Malooly had already heard God’s voice calling to him. He was spending a lot of time at St. Ursula, his Parkville parish church—an involvement that would lead him to the priesthood and, eventually, to become the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington. “That’s really where the seed was planted,” Baesch says. “Fran became an altar boy as soon as he was old enough, and he even took a night job working the telephone in the rectory. He got to see how the parish worked in a very intimate way, and he got to see how parish priests operated on a day-to-day basis.”

Malooly remembers how impressed he was by the priests’ devotion and their enthusiasm to their calling. “They just had something special about them and the way they went about their business,’’ he says. “They related to the people of the parish really well, and they had so much energy, and they did so many positive things for people. And what really struck me was how much joy they had in everything they did.’’

After eighth grade, Malooly went into the seminary, though his family had reservations about him taking such a big step before he had a chance to experience life. They didn’t need to worry. “Every year, I would come home for the summer and be with my friends and play summer-league basketball and just do all the normal things someone my age would do,’’ Malooly says. “I would also reflect on my life and pray about my vocation, and, over the years, my commitment got stronger. And 12 years later, I was ordained.’’ The ceremony, fittingly enough, took place at St. Ursula, just a long jump shot away from the Malooly family home. …

The Past and the Future

Malooly has had to face several challenges as bishop of Wilmington, including the child-abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church like nothing else in its 2,000-year history. He realizes the victims still suffer.

“You can’t blame them for not being at peace,’’ Malooly says. “These horrible crimes committed against them came at a time in their life before they even had a realization of life. We can never forget those crimes, and we can never think for a moment that we can put this behind us or act like it never happened. Those crimes were done, and many people are not healed, and we can’t pretend it didn’t happen.’’

Judy Miller, who is the Delaware chapter president of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, has found Malooly receptive to her group. He offered to meet with any abuse survivors who wanted to see him, and he gave his parishes permission to publicize the support group. At the same time, Miller believes Malooly and other bishops are sometimes more concerned about the church’s image than the abuse survivors’ well-being.

“He certainly seems sincere, and he always says all of the right things,’’ Miller says. “But he’s also a company man, and he played it by the playbook, just like the other dioceses did.’’ Miller refers to 2009, when the Diocese of Wilmington became the seventh American diocese to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy before making settlements with abuse survivors who had sued the diocese. “They all did the same thing: They brought out the lawyers, just when the survivors thought this was going to end,’’ Miller says. “So he was no different than any other bishop faced with it. He comes across as caring, but how pastoral was he when he turned it over to his lawyers?’’

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