The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Past flock has warm memories of tenure

By Steve Eder, Globe Correspondent, 7/2/2003

FALL RIVER - Wearing a long brown robe and sandals in any weather, Sean O'Malley was a familiar sight in Fall River.

Cloaked in the traditional garb of a Capuchin friar, the bishop of the Fall River Diocese walked the city's streets, warmly greeting friends and strangers, residents recalled yesterday. He answered nearly all community requests, those who know him say, and on one occasion, offered prayers at the hospital bed of a Eucharistic minister at 10 p.m., when the man's family asked for O'Malley's presence.

Less than an hour after O'Malley was named archbishop-elect of the Boston Archdiocese, Catholics in the diocese he formerly ran had nothing but praise for their former spiritual leader. They spoke of the deft way he handled a clergy sexual abuse scandal in Fall River in the early 1990s and of the bonds he forged with immigrant communities.

''He was very good,'' longtime Fall River resident Mary Gagnon said while leaving an 8 a.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Church. ''His social skills go from the elite to the immigrant.''

''I don't think they could have chosen anyone so kind with the people, so easy to talk to,'' Phyllis Stanton, 76, said as she approached Holy Name Church for 7 a.m. Mass. ''He is a wonderful man.''

O'Malley, 59, led the Fall River Diocese from 1992 until October. He was the sixth bishop to lead the diocese, appointed amid a clergy abuse scandal. O'Malley left to become bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., , succeeding two bishops who had resigned in the previous five years after being accused of molesting boys.

''We got to see the best of him when he first came here,'' Joe McGrady, said as he left Mass at Holy Name. ''He put everything to rest.''

McGrady said O'Malley has a ''heavy cross to bear,'' given the problems in the Boston Archdiocese, but that he was confident the bishop ''can take care of it.''

The praise for O'Malley was given voice at 7 a.m., an hour after Pope John Paul II made the announcement, when the Rev. James Butler, a visiting priest, began Mass at Holy Name by praying for the archbishop-elect's success and for Bishop-elect George W. Coleman of Fall River. In April, Coleman was named to replace O'Malley.

In Fall River, O'Malley led about 350,000 Catholics in 101 parishes in Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod, and the Islands, compared with the 2 million Catholics in 360 parishes around Boston, from Plymouth County to the New Hampshire border and west to the edge of Worcester County.

O'Malley's fluency in Spanish and Portuguese served him well with immigrant parishioners, said the Rev. Marc H. Bergeron of Saint Anne Parish and Shrine.

He also built relationships with Jewish and Protestant congregations in Fall River, Bergeron said during an interview at his church yesterday.

''Bishop O'Malley will have the same sensitivity and be a leader in the community,'' said Bergeron.

At the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, the Rev. Edward J. Healey also offered prayers for O'Malley during an early afternoon Mass.

After Mass, Healey described the archbishop-elect as ''kind, intellectual, and sincerely a man of faith,'' adding that ''what you see is what you get in terms of Bishop O'Malley.''

And what Boston will get, he said, is a ''breath of fresh air.''

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 7/2/2003.
© Copyright 2003 New York Times Co.

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