The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church



Rebuilding the church


THE IMMEDIATE priority of Bishop Sean O'Malley will be to make whole the victims of clergy sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese. But much work in the area of social justice also remains undone and will demand the time and attention of the newly named archbishop.

Affordable housing is one area in need of immediate resuscitation. In 2000 the Boston Archdiocese put its moral imprint on a study that called for the construction of 36,000 new housing units to ease the burden on Greater Boston households that pay half or more of their income on rent. There was hope that the the church would confront the not-in-my-backyard attitudes that undermine multifamily and subsidized housing, especially in the suburbs. Instead, church leaders were forced to confront trouble in their own house.

O'Malley understands housing issues from the ground up, according to Randy Keesler, a field representative for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. In the mid-1970s, while working in the Spanish-speaking apostolate in Washington D.C., O'Malley fought for better housing conditions for low-income tenants in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Keesler says O'Malley took up a small apartment across from his own in a run-down 84-unit building and helped to form a housing cooperative to purchase and rehabilitate the property.

Yesterday O'Malley suggested that he would not be drawn to the trappings of the Lake Street chancery, preferring the ''simplest quarters'' of a Capuchin friar. Boston is ready for an archbishop who understands and focuses on the needs of the poor.

O'Malley's presence could also provide stability in Greater Boston's Cape Verdean neighborhoods, areas hit hard by recent youth violence. O'Malley, the former head of the Fall River Diocese, speaks Portuguese and worked closely with Cape Verdean immigrants in Southeastern Massachusetts. He should quickly see the need to expand the role of the church in after-school and teen programs along Dorchester's Bowdoin Street, the heart of Boston's Cape Verdean community.

Older Catholic communities, like those in South Boston, will be looking to O'Malley for help on parochial schools. The church's crisis has led to reductions in parish subsidies. Many parents are prepared to raise funds to keep their schools afloat. They need advice and encouragement from an archdiocese that has been too distracted to offer them.

O'Malley arrives in Boston at a time when many Catholics feel their faith in church leaders shifting beneath them. But the desire is strong for stability and for a leader who is ready to rebuild on a base of thoughtful good works.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 7/2/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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