Bishop Accountability
  A new leader reaches out
Installed as archbishop, O'Malley voices remorse and looks to renewal

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 7/31/2003

Sean Patrick O'Malley, the 59-year-old Capuchin friar who has become an expert at taking over troubled Catholic dioceses, was installed yesterday as the sixth archbishop of the scandal-racked Archdiocese of Boston in a solemn ceremony overlaid with sadness and hope.

Speaking to an overflow crowd that packed every pew in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, O'Malley introduced himself to the archdiocese with a passionate, and at times humorous, homily in which he pointedly begged forgiveness from victims of clergy sexual abuse, about 70 of whom joined about 2,000 worshipers inside.

He reached out to priests who feel ashamed by the misconduct of their colleagues, to laypeople who feel disenfranchised by the church, and to immigrants who struggle to adjust in the United States. He greeted the assemblage in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole, forcefully articulated his Franciscan devotion to the poor, and declared his loyalty to the pope and his opposition to abortion.

At the heart of his 35-minute homily, he spoke of the depth of the clergy abuse scandal, acknowledging "our mismanagement of the problem of sexual abuse," and included the church hierarchy in a list of those who have harmed young people. O'Malley's predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, resigned in disgrace in December after enduring a year of criticism for not removing abusive priests from ministry.

"The whole Catholic community is ashamed and anguished because of the pain and the damage inflicted on so many young people, and because of our inability or unwillingness to deal with the crime of sexual abuse of minors," O'Malley said, his voice deep and booming. "To those victims and their families, we beg forgiveness."

The new archbishop also said that the Catholic Church, although wounded, will survive, and he called attention to the work the church does to educate and provide health care and social services throughout the country.

"Although we live through a sad chapter in the church's history, we must recall that it is a chapter," he said. "It is not the whole book."

O'Malley appeared briefly overcome by emotion at several points during the two-hour-and-20-minute ceremony, and paused to collect himself as he was handed the crosier that is meant to resemble the staff of a shepherd. He also appeared to be suffering from the heat -- several times during the ceremony, including while distributing Holy Communion, he removed his glasses and used a handkerchief to wipe his brow.

He wore the brown habit of his Capuchin order under the white robe he wore as a bishop; the pointed hood of his habit dangled down his back, and beneath the robe his bare feet, in sandals, were clearly visible. There were regal touches, too -- O'Malley wore a gold miter on his head, and the pulpit from which he spoke was decorated with an elaborate display of flowers arranged to form the complex images of the archbishop's coat of arms.

After the Mass, O'Malley greeted invited guests at a reception at St. John's Seminary in Brighton where sandwiches and soft drinks were served, a sharp contrast to the elaborate parties at downtown hotels held in 1984 to celebrate Law's installation as archbishop.

Among the few dignitaries present yesterday were US Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, all of whom are Catholic. Invited but absent was Governor Mitt Romney, who is vacationing in New Hampshire.

"The words were just what we wanted to hear -- a time for healing, a time to bring us together, a time for renewal," Menino said. "We're all going to move forward as a church. The past is the past. It's a new day in this archdiocese."

The Mass was also attended by representatives of Orthodox Christian, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.

"I was fascinated by the fact that there was applause at the conclusion of the homily, because I don't think I've ever heard that before, and that says something remarkable about how the people assembled responded to it," said the Rev. Diane C. Kessler, the longtime executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. "He was forthright in naming the tragedy that the Roman Catholic Church has been dealing with in the archdiocese and other places, and he was appropriately straightforward about the daunting nature of the tasks that lie before him."

O'Malley, who wanted an understated celebration, sought to limit the number of prelates attending. Law declined an invitation to attend, but two cardinals did come: Cardinal James Francis Stafford, an American who serves in Rome as the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Rodriguez's appearance, which church officials said was unexpected, drew some criticism. The Honduran cardinal, who is considered a candidate to be the next pope, last year criticized The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe as "protagonists of what I do not hesitate to define as a persecution against the church" and said the media had covered the abuse scandal with "a fury which reminds me of the times of Diocletian and Nero and more recently, Stalin and Hitler."

Two attorneys representing abuse victims, Roderick MacLeish Jr. and Jeffrey Newman, and a pediatrician, Eli Newberger, issued statements criticizing the appearance of Rodriguez.

O'Malley himself referred twice to anti-Catholicism, at one point observing that "many Catholics feel that it is unfair that national concern on sexual abuse has focused so narrowly on the Catholic Church." At another point, he said that the Catholics who built Boston's cathedral "were despised for this religion, for their accents, for their rough ways," and he alluded to an incident in 1834, when a mob of brickmakers and other workers stormed and burned the Ursuline convent in what was then Charlestown.

O'Malley did not say whether he believes the sexual abuse crisis has been fueled by anti-Catholicism, saying only that "we can only hope that the bitter medicine that we have had to take to remedy our mismanagement of the problem of sexual abuse will prove beneficial to the whole country."

O'Malley's remarks were widely praised, although many said they will be watching to see how he does over the next few weeks.

One alleged victim, Gary Bergeron, said yesterday's Mass was the first he had attended in decades. "Bishop O'Malley was the first official in the Catholic Church to invite me back," he said. "I've met with Cardinal Law and Bishop [John B.] McCormack, but nobody ever extended me an invitation. If this man was big enough to extend the olive branch, I'm big enough to accept it."

There was some criticism. James E. Post, the president of the lay Catholic organization Voice of the Faithful, said he wished that O'Malley had said more about the role of lay people in the church, and Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for alleged abuse victims, said he wished O'Malley had asked for a round of applause for victims since the congregation applauded good priests. Both men offered praise for O'Malley's homily.

The new archbishop was installed in a traditional ceremony that is intended to demonstrate his roles as the new teacher, shepherd, and leader of the 2 million Catholics of metropolitan Boston.

He entered the cathedral to a great cheer at 11 a.m., preceded by hundreds of deacons and priests and about 30 bishops from New England. In a break with tradition, he chose to be greeted not at the door of the cathedral, but in the middle of the nave, so more people could witness him kneeling to kiss a crucifix.

O'Malley blessed the crowd, sprinkling the congregation with holy water, and then strode up to the sanctuary, where the pope's ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, said O'Malley would demonstrate "compassion for you all . . . and above all the ordinary Catholic, especially those who feel most vexed and dejected." Montalvo urged Boston Catholics to give O'Malley a chance. "Give him time," Montalvo said. "Be patient, for he is but a man."

In the most formal part of the ceremony, the archdiocese's vicar general, Bishop Walter J. Edyvean, read aloud an English translation of the Latin letter from the pope appointing O'Malley as archbishop. In the letter, the pope said he chose O'Malley for his "outstanding virtues, complemented by . . . human qualities." Edyvean displayed the letter for verification to the auxiliary bishops and priests who serve as the archdiocese's college of consultors and then gave it to the archdiocesan chancellor, David W. Smith, for safekeeping in church archives.

Then Montalvo invited O'Malley to sit in the cathedra, the episcopal throne that signifies O'Malley's role as archbishop. There, O'Malley greeted representatives of various constituencies of the archdiocese before delivering his homily and celebrating Mass.

"For Catholics, this third millennium has opened with one long penitential rite," he said, referring to the ordeal of the abuse crisis. "And at the beginning of this installation ceremony, I again ask forgiveness for all the harm done to young people by clergy, religious and hierarchy."

He promised to work to protect children, saying "much has been done, much needs to be done."

During the moments of silence in the liturgy, the din of the outdoor protests could be heard faintly through the cathedral windows.

"Your pain will not be in vain if our church and our nation become a safer place for children," O'Malley said to the victims who were scattered among a rapt audience that interrupted him 13 times to applaud. "Despite the understandable anger, protests, and litigation, we see in you our brothers and sisters who have been wronged, and we thank you for coming forward."

O'Malley also addressed priests, many of whom have struggled over the last year and a half as many of their fellow priests were revealed to be alleged child abusers. He drew a huge round of applause simply by saying, "we gather here with so many priests, so many good priests, struggling to make sense out of it all." He urged the priests to persevere.

"Never forget that serving Christ and his people is worth suffering for," he said.

And then he addressed disenfranchised Catholics, saying, "I invite you to return to help us to rebuild the church and carry on the mission Christ has entrusted to us."

O'Malley, who has devoted his life to reaching out to immigrants and the poor, repeatedly referred to those concerns in his homily. He asked that intercessory prayers be read in Cape Verdean Creole, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Nigerian, Vietnamese, and English, and in his own brief introductory remarks in Haitian Creole, he said he hopes to study that language so he can better celebrate Mass for Boston's Haitian community.

O'Malley drew applause when he paraphrased Mother Teresa's justification for reaching out to the downtrodden and mentally ill, saying, "the homeless, schizophrenic man off of his meds . . . is Jesus Christ in a distressing disguise."

O'Malley also referred twice to his staunch opposition to abortion. At one point, he said the unborn "have a claim on our love" and at another point, alluding to the church's opposition to abortion and euthanasia, he said, "no matter how small the unborn, no matter how debilitated or unproductive the aged or the infirm, we must take care of each other."

"No one is expendable," he said. "Each and every person counts in God's sight. The Gospel of Life will always be the centerpiece of the church's social teaching." His antiabortion remarks were greeted with applause, but Kennedy and Kerry, both of whom support abortion rights, did not appear to join in.

O'Malley also offered a critique of consumer culture.

"Too often people's quest for success in our culture is misguided -- to have lots of money, to be good-looking and thin, to be popular, it is not enough," he said.

Instead, O'Malley urged Catholics to pray, saying "in prayer we will find the strength to carry out the mission entrusted to us."

Michael Paulson can be reached at
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/31/2003.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.