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O’Malley to review abuse in Dublin

Vatican again turns to Boston cardinal

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley was previously sent three times to dioceses damaged by clergy sexual abuse. In Boston, he replaced Bernard F. Law, who was criticized for not removing abusers. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley was previously sent three times to dioceses damaged by clergy sexual abuse. In Boston, he replaced Bernard F. Law, who was criticized for not removing abusers. (Pat Greenhouse/ Globe Staff/ File 2009)
By Lisa Wangsness
Globe Staff / June 1, 2010

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Pope Benedict XVI named Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston yesterday to scrutinize and advise the Archdiocese of Dublin amid a crisis in Ireland’s Catholic Church over clergy sexual abuse of minors.

O’Malley will remain archbishop of Boston, but will have new responsibilities as an “apostolic visitor’’ to Dublin, which will require him to “explore more deeply questions concerning the handling of cases of abuse and the assistance owed to the victims,’’ according to a statement the Vatican issued yesterday.

O’Malley, part of a team of high-ranking prelates being dispatched to Ireland, will also be asked to “monitor the effectiveness of, and seek possible improvements to, the current procedures for preventing abuse,’’ the Vatican said.

The cardinal, who has served in a similar capacity by reviewing seminaries and religious orders for the Vatican over the past 25 years, was not available for comment yesterday. But in a statement he asked Boston Catholics to pray for him and for the Irish church, which has been roiled in recent years by several reports detailing sexual and physical abuse of minors in institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church.

“The Church must be unfailingly vigilant in protecting children and young people,’’ O’Malley said.

“Our ongoing efforts in the Archdiocese of Boston to ensure their safety will be helpful for the visitation. It will also be important to respond to the concerns of the Catholic community and the survivors in the manner that will promote the process of healing.’’

O’Malley’s role in Dublin is to begin “in autumn this year,’’ the Vatican said. The statement did not make clear how long O’Malley’s work with the Irish church might take.

The assignment marks the fourth time that O’Malley, 65, has been asked to intervene in a diocese damaged by clergy sexual abuse. In 1992, he was named bishop of Fall River, a diocese roiled by the serial pedophilia of the Rev. James R. Porter; in 2002, he was named bishop of Palm Beach, where the two previous bishops had acknowledged sexually abusing minors; and in 2003 he was named archbishop of Boston, replacing Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who stepped aside over criticism of his failure to remove sexually abusive priests from ministry.

“It really confirms Sean O’Malley’s profile as being the Mr. Fix-It of the Catholic church when it comes to the sexual abuse crisis,’’ said John L. Allen Jr., who covers the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter. The appointment, Allen said, “indicates the Vatican’s vote of confidence in the role O’Malley has played in dealing with this crisis.’’

In addition to O’Malley, the Vatican will send three other apostolic visitors to Irish dioceses: Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, retired archbishop of Westminster, England, to the Archdiocese of Armagh; Archbishop Thomas Christopher Collins of Toronto, to the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly; and Archbishop Terrence Thomas Prendergast of Ottawa, to the Archdiocese of Tuam.

The Vatican will also send New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan to oversee an apostolic visitation to Irish seminaries, including the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. Another delegation will lead a visitation of Irish religious orders.

In announcing the visitations yesterday, Benedict made good on a promise he outlined in a letter to the Church of Ireland in March, in which he apologized to victims and scolded some bishops for failing to follow canon law in handling abusive priests.

Apostolic visitations to individual dioceses are extremely rare, according to the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center. Reese said the appointment of high-ranking church officials to work with the Irish church is “an extraordinary move’’ that “shows how seriously the Vatican is taking this.’’

The Irish abuse crisis has been fueled by government investigations that described hundreds of cases of abuse and coverup by the church hierarchy. Five Irish bishops have resigned over the crisis, and, according to the Associated Press, a government-organized compensation board has paid nearly $1 billion to 13,000 Irish people abused in church-run residential institutions for children.

Michael Kelly, deputy editor of the weekly newspaper The Irish Catholic, recently told the National Catholic Reporter that he has observed “a seething anger among traditional, ordinary Catholics.’’

O’Malley is a proud Irish-American who often makes reference to his heritage, shared with many Bostonians. That heritage and sense of connection to Ireland could be helpful to O’Malley as he seeks to help the Irish church, said Thomas H. O’Connor, emeritus professor of history at Boston College and author of “The Boston Irish.’’

“This could be a very delicate task, and one way of easing it might be to appoint somebody like O’Malley, with his Irish background and now his Boston roots,’’ O’Connor said.

O’Malley’s new assignment will require some travel to Ireland but is not expected to interfere significantly with his day-to-day responsibilities in Boston.

“Our work here isn’t done,’’ said the Rev. John Connolly, a special assistant to O’Malley who oversees the archdiocese’s response to sexual abuse. “It’s very much a work in progress.’’

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said in a statement yesterday that he welcomes O’Malley’s appointment.

“Cardinal O’Malley’s experience and personal commitment render him particularly suited to bring ecclesiastical solidarity to the faithful and the clergy of the Archdiocese of Dublin at this moment, in which the Church in Dublin addresses the truth of a dark moment in its history and undertakes a period of conversion, purification, and renewal,’’ Martin said.

Some victim advocates were less sanguine about the news.

“It is hard to have any faith whatsoever that top Catholic officials can dramatically improve how the Irish church deals with child sex abuse and coverup cases,’’ said Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which criticized O’Malley’s record on abuse. “No institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy with a horrific history of protecting predators and endangering kids.’’

BishopAccountability.org, a Waltham-based organization that tracks abuse cases, was also critical, saying, “O’Malley’s career ascent has been fueled by his ability to walk into dioceses wracked by horrible revelations of child molestation and enshroud them again in silence.’’

But in Boston, some Irish immigrants were cheered by the appointment.

“I have a lot of respect for the man,’’ said Larry Reynolds, 77, a retired carpenter from Ireland who lives in Waltham. “I really think he would be good, because he’d go with an open mind, and give very sound advice.’’

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lwangsness@globe.com. Globe correspondent Sean Teehan contributed to this report.

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