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Spotlight Report

Rites, challenges await O'Malley

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 7/30/2003

Today, a humble friar becomes one of the most powerful men in Boston.

After nearly 17 months of nonstop crisis, the Archdiocese of Boston will welcome Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley with pomp and protest, optimism and impatience.

O'Malley, a 59-year-old Capuchin friar, is, for the third time in his career, taking the helm of a diocese scarred by the behavior of sexually abusive clerics.

But the tests he faced in Fall River, where a priest had abused scores of children, and in Palm Beach, Fla., where two bishops had been ousted after admitting to abusing boys, pale in comparison to the crisis here in the nation's fourth-largest archdiocese, where, according to the attorney general, 250 priests and other church employees have been accused of sexually abusing at least 789 minors over the last six decades.

The challenges facing O'Malley are manifold: a restive clergy, a rebellious laity, and a depleted treasury. Church attendance is down. The number of priests is falling. Schools and parishes are closing. And the archdiocese faces hundreds of legal claims from alleged abuse victims seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages.

In the public square, O'Malley returns to a state where public officials are increasingly willing to criticize the church and where the church is increasingly on the losing side of public policy battles. The Supreme Judicial Court is considering making same-sex marriages legal, and many of the state's Catholic politicians support abortion rights.

But today, when an estimated 2,500 people are expected to assemble at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End to witness O'Malley's installation, many are choosing to put aside their anger and anxiety and focus on possibility.

''The one constant I find, with all the people I meet, is hope,'' said the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese. ''They see in Archbishop O'Malley a man who seems to bring the gifts that we as an archdiocese need.''

O'Malley will be installed as the ninth bishop of Boston in an ancient ceremony that will be at once regal, reflecting the power and stature of bishops in the church, and simple, reflecting O'Malley's Franciscan order and the sober nature of this particular installation, at which O'Malley is replacing another archbishop, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned in disgrace.

''It's really a watershed moment for a diocese to receive a new bishop,'' said the Rev. James A. Field, pastor of the Parish of the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Melrose. ''The installation is a way of symbolizing that a new day has begun and that we have a new shepherd.''

The ceremony formally begins at 11 a.m., but will be preceded by a lengthy procession along Union Park, in which the honorary and fraternal organizations of the church will lead deacons, priests, and bishops into the church.

Inside, O'Malley will be greeted by a representative of the archdiocese, will in turn bless the assembled worshipers, and then will proceed through the nave to the sanctuary. There, he will be installed as archbishop and celebrate his first Mass in his new post. The entire ceremony is expected to last about 2 hours.

The ceremony will feature a mix of grand and understated elements, reflecting its historic similarities to a coronation, but also reflecting O'Malley's desire for a low-key ceremony.

''It seems to me the symbolism he's choosing is to distance himself from his predecessor,'' said the Rev. John Baldovin, a professor of historical and liturgical theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge.

''He's supposed to be the first servant, not a big shot, but once you add all the trappings of power and influence and fancy houses and fancy dinners, he's a lot more like a powerful person,'' Baldovin said. ''He's got a crown, which is what a miter is, and a crozier, which is a shepherd's staff. It's filled with incredible mixed messages.''

That confluence of the regal and the simple will be nowhere more evident than on O'Malley's body. The bishop is expected to wear the hooded brown robe of his religious order underneath the white vestments and miter of his high office.

Although the liturgy will be the same as for any new archbishop, O'Malley has tried to simplify every element he can. For example, he has asked that the Knights of Columbus not form an archway with their swords for him to walk through as he enters the cathedral.

He has not invited large numbers of bishops. The only cardinal expected is Cardinal James F. Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Cardinal Law was invited, but decided not to come. Only a handful of bishops from outside New England are expected, including Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, who is the only other Capuchin archbishop in the United States.

O'Malley has barred fancy parties at downtown hotels, choosing instead to host a reception this afternoon at St. John's Seminary at which the archdiocese will serve sandwiches, chips, cookies, and soda.

O'Malley has asked to be addressed by his first name, in keeping with the practice of his religious order. He wants to be known after today as Archbishop Sean, Coyne said. He has been sleeping for the last week at the bishop's residence in Brighton, but has not made a decision about where he will permanently reside, Coyne said.

The action of the day will begin with O'Malley's entry into the cathedral.

Ordinarily, a new bishop is greeted at the door of the cathedral, but O'Malley has asked to be received in the middle of the church, so more people will be able to witness the interaction. There, the archdiocese's senior auxiliary bishop, Bishop John P. Boles, will present O'Malley with the cathedral's cross, which contains a relic that the church believes is a piece of wood taken from the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

O'Malley wants as many people as possible to see him receive the cross because of its central symbolism to Christians. He plans to reflect on the theme of the cross during his homily, which is expected to last 20 minutes.

''The presentation of the cross is a symbolic way of declaring our faith to him, saying that we are a community under the cross, a people who derive meaning from the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord; it says we are believers, and we are a church,'' Field said. ''As a church we've experienced great suffering, and we know that healing comes not by denying suffering, but by facing it and accepting it. Everybody there will share a measure of that suffering and will understand that.''

The pope's ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, will preside at the installation. Montalvo will ask Bishop Walter J. Edyvean, vicar general of the archdiocese, to read aloud an apostolic letter appointing O'Malley archbishop. Edyvean will then show the pope's letter to the archdiocesan college of consultors, a group of auxiliary bishops and priests, who are supposed to verify its authenticity.

Montalvo will then invite O'Malley to sit in the episcopal throne, called the cathedra, which has been vacant since the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law last December. The throne is a relic of an earlier era, when bishops were civil as well as religious leaders, and the church uses phrases of power to describe this moment, saying that the bishop ''takes possession of'' his new cathedral and his new diocese.

''When he sits in the cathedra, he takes full responsibility - pastorally, theologically, and governmentally - of the Archdiocese of Boston,'' Coyne said.

After O'Malley sits in the cathedra, signifying his role as ruler, and receives the crozier signifying his role as shepherd, he will greet representatives of the archdiocese. Then he will celebrate his first Mass as archbishop of Boston and leader of an archdiocese that is home to 2 million Catholics.

The Mass is the central rite of the church. After today's service, Catholics at every Mass in the archdiocese will be expected to pray for O'Malley by name.

The readings O'Malley has chosen, from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, reflect his Franciscan roots.

One is from the Book of Isaiah, in which God admonishes, ''Observe what is right, do what is just,'' and the reading offers a reference to the church as a welcoming place for foreigners. The liturgy will reflect that openness, with Bible readings in Spanish and Portuguese and intercessory prayers in Cape Verdean Creole, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Nigerian, Vietnamese, and English.

A reading from Philippians seems to counsel against arrogance, declaring, ''Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.''

Attendance at the installation is by invitation only. The archdiocese is planning to set up a large-screen television at neighboring Cathedral High School for any spillover. O'Malley has invited all the priests of Boston and Fall River, representatives of religious orders, two laypeople from each Boston parish, civic leaders, and representatives of non-Catholic Christian and non-Christian religious denominations.

Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is the most prominent non-Catholic elected official invited, but is not planning to attend, a spokesman said. Romney, who declared last week that ''people should go to jail'' because of the sexual abuse crisis, is on vacation, according to a spokesman.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator John F. Kerry, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino are planning to attend, according to their aides.

Several organizations representing victims of abuse and other interests are planning to demonstrate outside the installation. Boston police have set aside an area across from the cathedral for protesters, allowing them to be seen and heard by people entering the cathedral, but prohibiting them from disrupting worshipers, according to police spokeswoman Mariellen Burns.

Although much of the public attention of the day will probably be focused on O'Malley's homily and how he addresses the abuse crisis, theologically the heart of the day will be O'Malley's first Mass as archbishop.

''People keep asking me, what is the most important part of the day, and what I will be looking for is the moment of profound significance when he celebrates the Holy Eucharist with the faithful of the Archdiocese of Boston,'' said Raymond L. Flynn, the former mayor of Boston who served as US ambassador to the Vatican during the Clinton administration. ''That's when he is presenting the people of Boston with hope and spiritual well-being. That's when the healing begins.''

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/30/2003.
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