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Spotlight Report

O'Malley's path of quiet conviction

By Globe Staff, 7/27/2003

 Related stories
Part one:
O'Malley's path of quiet conviction
D.C.: Unity found in 'Padre Sean'
Virgin Islands: A renewed faith
Fall River: Uneasy compromise

Part two:
Taking mission beyond friary

Part three:
Parishes replenish from abroad

He was born in Ohio, raised in Pennsylvania, and began his life as a bishop in a tiny Caribbean diocese where his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, went to high school.

On Wednesday, Bishop Sean P. O'Malley, 59, becomes the sixth archbishop of Boston, where he will confront the wreckage of a clergy sexual abuse scandal that victimized hundreds, eroded church attendance, and has led the church in Boston to the brink of bankruptcy.

Today, the Globe examines defining moments along O'Malley's path to the nation's fourth largest Catholic diocese.

The Capuchin Franciscan friar fought for social justice among poor immigrants when he ran the Washington Archdiocese's Spanish center from 1973 to 1978. When the poor tenants in the building where he worked faced eviction, O'Malley moved in with them, stood up to the landlord, and eventually helped raise money to buy the building outright.

His first work as bishop was in the Virgin Islands, where he built homeless shelters, opened an AIDS hospice, and shared a neighborhood with prostitutes and drug-dealers. His life of self-denial inspired one of his parishioners, who had abandoned her faith for 20 years, to return to the church and work among the sick and the poor.

As bishop of Fall River in the 1990s, O'Malley struggled to help the diocese recover from the sexual abuse scandal wrought by the Rev. James Porter. But he also displayed his orthodox credentials, backing a local pastor who had revoked a political candidate's privilege to distribute Communion because of the candidate's pro-choice stance on abortion.

These are three key chapters in Sean O'Malley's career.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/27/2003.
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