Bishop Accountability
  Press Conference
[July 1, 2003]
'I feel privileged to be called to serve'

Compiled by Boston Globe Staff
July 2, 2003

Excerpts from Archbishop-elect O'Malley's press conference:

Good morning, everyone. Over the last 20 years, I've had many happy associations with the Archdiocese of Boston. It's the practice here to invite missionary bishops to help with confirmations, and for almost 10 years when I was in the Caribbean I would come up every year and help with confirmations. It was an opportunity to get to know many of the wonderful parishes in the archdiocese. My own Capuchin community, for many decades, has worked with the Cape Verdean community here in the archdiocese, and I have been privileged to come and give missions and celebrate Masses in Portuguese for the Cape Verdeans, the Portuguese, and the Brazilians. And, finally, as bishop of Fall River, I used to always say to our priests there that the new immigration to Fall River were the Bostonians moving down to the Cape and into Norton and Mansfield and the rest of the diocese.

But I never thought in all these 20 years that I would ever come back as the archbishop of this wonderful diocese. I'm still kind of shell-shocked by the news, which I got about 48 hours ago. The Holy Father has seen fit to name me your archbishop in this very difficult time, and I feel acutely aware of my own deficiencies in the face of the task at hand.

I ask for everyone's prayers and collaboration as I embark on this ministry. I am very grateful for my vocation as a Capuchin Franciscan brother, a Catholic priest, and bishop. The path has never been easy, but today it seems overwhelming. Still, I feel privileged to be called to serve in the church in Boston and hope that in some way I might become an instrument of peace and reconciliation in a church in need of healing.

The devastating effects of sexual exploitation of minors by members of the clergy have wounded us all, beginning with the victims themselves and their families, who suffered the poisonous aftermath of abuse. The entire church feels the pain of this scandal and longs for relief for the families and the communities that have been so shaken by these sad events and by the mishandling of the situation on the part of the church's officials. The church throughout our country has mobilized in an attempt to redress the grave errors of the past. ... The Charter/

Norms for the Protection of Children which were adopted in Dallas and confirmed by the Vatican, the audit process designed to measure compliance with the charter, the National Review Board, the Office for Protection of Children headed up by Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent, are but some of the steps taken by the National Conference of Bishops. Our individual dioceses are implementing policies and establishing independent lay review boards and programs to reach out to victims. Much has been done, much needs to be done.

I make the same commitment to you as I did to the people of Palm Beach. Reconciliation always demands a firm purpose of amendment. It means seeking new ways to avoid the grave mistakes of the past and to make the safety of children our paramount goal. As your archbishop I commit myself to working with you to ensure the safety and the well being of our young people in the church. This is an arduous task, and I truly ask for your cooperation. Together as Catholics - clergy, consecrated religious, and laity - we must work to bring healing and comfort to the victims of abuse and to guarantee that, through vigilance and education, our churches, schools, and agencies will be safe havens for children and young people.

I know that the laity has a great role to play in this process. I am anxious to hear firsthand from the bishops, priests, parish councils, and lay leaders about what is happening and what needs to happen. I know that the Catholic community of Boston is very grateful to Bishop Richard Lennon and his staff for all that they are doing during this time of transition. I will do all in my power when I become archbishop to bring to fruition the arduous task that he has begun. We are all anxious for the financial settlements for those who have suffered from sexual abuse. We know that no amount of money can ever compensate for the damage caused by abuse.

It is most regrettable that there was not more of an awareness of the great consequences in bygone days. If there had been, we can only hope that the church and the psychiatric community would have reacted more decisively in cases of child abuse. We hope that the achievement of financial settlements will be a factor in a process of healing.

I have always told dioceses and lawyers in the past that settlements are not hush money or extortion or anything other than the rightful indemnification of persons that have suffered gravely at the hands of a priest. Even when I have been told that there is no legal obligation, I have always said, if there is a moral obligation, we must step up to the plate. People's lives are more important than money.

In Boston, the numbers of victims are great, and the dollar amounts are staggering. We want to do right by the victims and, at the same time, carry on the essential elements of our mission, especially our mission to give people the good news of the Gospel and to serve the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. I am anxious to learn more about what the archdiocese is doing in its outreach to victims and hear from the victims themselves. We have made many mistakes in the past, but I think we are on the right path. I ask people to work with us.

As archbishop, I am gravely concerned about our priests and seminarians, so many fine men who want to give their lives to God and to serve God's people. I know the toll, the embarrassment the scandal has taken on your ministry. I ask you to pull together, to support one another, to realize that a crucial part of a priest's ministry is to minister to one another. I am your brother; I, too, have experienced the joys and the sorrows of being a priest in today's world. Your role is essential in the life of the church. We are a Eucharistic people, we need our priests. The whole Catholic community wants holy priests, happy priests, hard-working priests. Draw strength from the mysteries that you celebrate from your people and from your communion with your bishops and your fellow priests.

I take up the challenge of being the Archbishop of Boston because I love the church, which is the body of Christ.

I thank all the faithful Catholics who have stood by the church in these difficult times, who faithfully come to Mass and support the church and who witness to their Catholic faith by lives of discipleship. To those Catholics who have stepped away from the church, I say, do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. At times like this, we need to pull together as a church. The Catholic faith and practice has built a culture in our people of New England, sustaining virtues of honesty, solidarity, social justice, service to the poor, the sick, the suffering, protection for the weak and for the unborn. The community of faith has instilled a spirituality and a generosity that has helped thousands upon thousands of people to be good people, faithful spouses, loving parents, heroic citizens, self-sacrificing members of the community. The Gospel and the sacraments have strengthened generations of Boston Catholics to follow Jesus Christ, loving God above all and loving their neighbors as themselves and embracing the idealism and the solidarity that are essential for a civilization of love.

And so as the church is racked by scandal and by crisis, the stakes are very high. I appeal to all Catholics to help the church, to be a wounded healer by healing the divisions in our own ranks, so that we can be a leaven for good in the society in which we live. True discipleship of Jesus Christ is discipleship in the community of the faith. I address you, my fellow Catholics of Boston, with those words that inspired St. Francis when the crucified Lord said to him, ''Francis, repair my church.'' I ask you and plead with you: Repair my church. God bless you.

On what he meant when he referred in his statement to being acutely aware of his deficiencies:

It's such a huge diocese, and to come in at a time of such a great crisis, I think almost any human being would feel inadequate. I certainly am heartened by the wonderful collaborators I am finding here and by the goodness of the clergy, the people, and the religious. But it is an overwhelming task, and I ask for everyone's prayers and for their support.

On what he will say to the victims of clergy abuse:

I will try to convey to them the sorrow of the church for what has happened to them, but, most of all, I want to listen to their words, their advice, and their concerns.

On whether he plans to live in the archbishop's residence here:

I haven't decided where I will live. As I tell people, this is my fourth reincarnation. At my first diocese, there was a very nice, large bishop's residence, but I preferred to live in the rectory of the cathedral. At Fall River, they had a bishop's residence that had been there for 100 years and that was near the chancery office, and so I stayed there. In Palm Beach, each bishop had lived in a different house, so I chose the smallest and the closest to the chancery to live. Obviously, as a Franciscan brother, I prefer to have the simplest quarters, but it will take time before I have the lay of the land and see what is the most practical thing for me to do.

On the lessons he has learned from his years of dealing with the problem of clergy sexual abuse:

Well, I'm not really that cognizant of everything taking place in Boston, so I don't feel that I'm in a position to make comparisons. In Fall River ... it was a very overwhelming situation, as well, and I was coming from a very small missionary diocese. I had no experience of this sort of thing at all, but we came up with what I thought were good policies, and we built those policies out of the recommendation of victims, victims' families, law enforcement people, psychologists, judges. And when we came up with the policies, we published them in the paper and asked people to write in with their suggestions, and many people did, and then we adjusted the policies according to people's reactions. ... They weren't perfect. I know there were many things over the years that helped them improve. I think listening to the people was the biggest help, and I hope to be able to do that here, and I know a lot of that is already taken place.

On whether he finished his work in Palm Beach, and what his feelings are about being transferred so swiftly to Boston:

I think that there has been a lot of improvement in Palm Beach. I'm not saying people are completely over the traumas they went through, but I found a lot of enthusiasm and support from the people of the parishes. ... I was very surprised to be changed so quickly. I really thought I would be there for the rest of my days, actually.

On a Capuchin bishop leading a large diocese:

I've always told the nuncio that I feel as though Capuchin bishops should be bishops only in the missions, but apparently my advice was not taken. I started off in the missions and was kind of surprised to come back to the states. ... When you're a Capuchin seminarian, being a bishop in the United States is not on the radar screen, believe me, especially Boston.

On how he will adapt to expectations that the Boston archbishop should have a strong public profile and be an active fund-raiser and media presence:

Well, I'm going to eat those powder milk biscuits. You know, the ones for shy people who eat them and get up and do what's got to be done. ...

On whether he plans to change the approach in Boston to reaching settlements in the abuse cases:

Well, it's hard for me to say what changes I would make, since I'm not sure what's transpiring here. But certainly, in Fall River, we had to take an insurance company to court to get them to pay, but we tried to settle as quickly and as equitably as possible, and we used a team of arbitrators to work with the victims in order to make the allocations. ... I know a lot of progress has been made, but obviously there have been many obstacles here. I'll try and do whatever I can to expedite the situation.

On what went wrong in the church to create the clergy sexual abuse crisis:

Well, as I mentioned in my introductory remarks, I think obviously there was not an awareness in the past of the profound damage done to victims. I think if people had realized that, they would have taken this problem much more seriously. But I think they saw it as a moral problem and not as a sickness or a compulsion on the part of the predators. And, as I say, I don't think there was even any inkling of how devastating such an experience is for a child.

On whether the church has adequately apologized for the abuse:

Well, I have said it many times, ... as much as I can represent the church as a bishop, that I do ask for forgiveness for these horrendous crimes or sins that have been committed - the whole church feels ashamed and pained - and do ask for their forgiveness again and again.

This story ran on page A28 of the Boston Globe on 7/2/2003.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.