The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church



A new bishop for Boston


BISHOP SEAN O'Malley brings the talents of a caring pastor and a decisive administrator to the leadership of the Archdiocese of Boston. Both traits should serve him well as he seeks to resolve the sexual abuse crisis and restore the archbishop's voice as a spiritual leader for the Catholics of Eastern Massachusetts.

O'Malley's leadership is exemplified by his handling of the abuse scandal in the Fall River diocese a decade ago. Installed as bishop in August 1992, just as the disclosure of the abuse by the Rev. James Porter was dominating the news, he made it a priority to meet with victims and hear their stories. ''The victims told me that their number one concern is to protect children,'' he said later. ''I told them that I am their ally in this goal.'' He promptly appointed a review panel to investigate allegations of abuse by priests.

In December 1992 the diocese reached a settlement with 68 of Porter's victims, reportedly at a cost of more than $5 million. O'Malley acted forthrightly to get the scandal behind him even though diocesan insurers refused to make the payment and the diocese could have sought the protection of the immunity cap given to Massachusetts charities.

In Boston a decade later, hundreds of abuse cases are not resolved. The price of a settlement will be far higher than it was in Fall River, but it must be paid if the archdiocese is to move from under the cloud of the scandal.

Beyond immediate legal problems, O'Malley will need to raise the morale of all Catholics, clerics and lay people alike, whose trust in the church has been shaken by the scandal. O'Malley made parish visits a priority when he was appointed to head the Palm Beach, Fla., diocese last year. He will need to do the same in the Boston Archdiocese.

Like all the prime contenders to become archbishop of Boston, O'Malley is orthodox in his theology. In Fall River he was not afraid to enter the political arena, once challenging state Senator Joan Menard, a Catholic, over her views on abortion. Menard bears no ill will and yesterday said, ''People are going to find he's a very warm and loving person.'' The ability to propound church teaching without alienating people of different views will be an important asset.

O'Malley was not without critics in Fall River. Some abuse victims opposed his promotion of a priest who allegedly witnessed incidents of abuse by Porter (the priest denies it). And the district attorney criticized O'Malley for not releasing names of priests involved in long-ago cases of abuse until the Boston scandal flared last year.

Irene Schall, who serves on the Fall River review board, had a more positive appraisal. ''He's a wonderful man, very pastoral, very kind, extremely intelligent, and, dare I say, holy,'' she said in an interview. The Boston Archdiocese, more, perhaps, than it ever has, needs a leader with these qualities.

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

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