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Approximately 48 hours after learning that Pope John Paul II had named him the ninth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop Sean O’Malley began a whirlwind trip to the archdiocese July 1, meeting with the media, regional bishops, chancery employees, patients at Caritas St. Elizabeth Medical Center and with victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
Flying in from Palm Beach June 30, where he is currently bishop, Bishop O’Malley spent the night at the archbishop’s residence before beginning a day filled with meetings and ending with a flight back to Florida.
Bishop Richard Lennon, interim leader of the archdiocese, welcomed Bishop O’Malley and expressed his gratitude to the pope for appointing “such a fine bishop to lead the Archdiocese of Boston at this time in history.”
Speaking to the media, Bishop O’Malley, who is of the Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin, said that he was still “shell-shocked” by his appointment. He thought he would spend the rest of his life in the Palm Beach diocese and said never thought that he would return to Massachusetts as archbishop of Boston.
"The path has never been easy, but today it seems overwhelming," commented Bishop O'Malley, who was dressed in his brown Franciscan habit and sandals. "Still, I feel privileged to be called to serve the Church in Boston and hope that in some way I might be an instrument of peace and reconciliation in a Church in need of healing."
He spoke of the “devastating” effects that the clergy sexual abuse scandal has had on victims, their families, the Catholic faithful and the archdiocese as a whole.
"The entire Church feels the pain of this scandal and longs for some relief for the families and communities that have been so shaken by these sad events and by the mishandling of these situations on the part of Church officials," stated Bishop O'Malley.
When asked to speculate as to why clergy sexual abuse was not dealt with correctly in the past, he said that years ago there was not an awareness of the “profound damage” that such abuse causes to victims. Many, he said, felt that the “problem” was a moral weakness rather than a sickness.
He went on to state that the Church has begun to redress the “grave errors of the past.” Noting the Charter and Norms for the Protection of Children, which were adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Review Board, the Office for the Protection of Children headed by Kathleen McChesney, and programs and policies that individual diocese are establishing to reach out to victims.
"Much has been done," said Bishop O'Malley. "Much needs to be done."
Before his most recent appointment, Bishop O’Malley served in Palm Beach and Fall River, where he helped to repair dioceses fractured by their own sexual abuse scandals. He reiterated to the faithful of Boston, the same commitment that he made to those in the Diocese of Palm Beach — to work to bring reconciliation by making “the safety of children our paramount goal.”
"As your archbishop, I commit myself to working with you to ensure the safety and well being of our young people in the Church," he emphasized. "Together as Catholics, clergy, consecrated religious and laity, we must work to bring healing and comfort to the victims of abuse, and to guarantee that through vigilance and education, our churches, schools and agencies will be safe havens for children and young people. I know that the laity has a great role to play in this process."
Among the areas requiring his immediate attention were financial settlements, which he is “anxious” to resolve.
"We hope that the achievement of financial settlements will be a factor in a process of healing. Settlements are not hush money or extortion or anything other than the rightful indemnification of persons who have suffered gravely at the hands of priests," he explained.
One of his priorities is to reach out to victims and to listen to their stories and sufferings. He said that listening to victims in the Fall River diocese was the “biggest help” in bringing healing there and pledged to meet with as many victims as want to see him.
"I ask [victims and their families] for forgiveness for the horrendous sins that have been committed. The whole Church asks for forgiveness again and again."
On the other hand, he is concerned about the faithful priests and seminarians of the archdiocese who have had to endure the past year and a half.
"I know the toll that the pain and embarrassment of the scandal has taken on your ministry," he stated. "I too, have experienced the joys and sorrows of being a priest. Your role is essential in the life of the Church. We are a Eucharistic people. We need our priests."
He also reached out to the marginalized and disenfranchised in the archdiocese, among them the large number of Catholic immigrants, namely the Hispanic community.
He closed his address with the words that have inspired Saint Francis, “Repair my Church.”
The bishop left the press conference to discuss plans for his installation, which will be held within the next two months. Where he will reside has not yet been finalized.
Following the press conference, Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston, issued a statement congratulating Bishop O’Malley.
"My prayers are with the new archbishop and with the archdiocese," the statement read. "In their ecclesial communion may they show forth the presence of the Risen Lord."