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Beliefnet.com, a multi-faith Web site, recently named Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley the “Most Inspiring Person of Year” from a pool of 10 finalists that included President George W. Bush, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire V. Gene Robinson, Pope John Paul II and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi.
Of the finalists chosen by the Internet site, Archbishop O’Malley received the least number of votes from Web site visitors. Episcopal bishop Robinson actually topped the list, with President Bush ranking second. However, rather than highlighting one of the “two most controversial figures” on the list, the site’s editors decided to honor “someone who unites.”
Thus, they chose Archbishop O’Malley, who came to Boston at a time when the Church here was deeply divided as a result of the clergy abuse scandal. In his nearly five months as archbishop, he has reached out to the different groups in the archdiocese, meeting with priests, victims, faithful Catholics in the parishes, immigrants and the poor.
"Archbishop O'Malley is a rare religious leader who has managed to unite and inspire a wide variety of people," said Beliefnet's editors. "Even those who dislike his conservative views on sexual or moral issues appreciate his heartfelt efforts to restore spiritual credibility to the Church."
In recognition of their honor, Archbishop O’Malley granted Beliefnet a rare one-on-one interview. In the interview, he speaks of his appointment as archbishop of Boston, the $85 million settlement he helped reach with victims, the decision to sell the former Cardinal’s Residence and how bishops across the country handled sexual abuse by clergy before the crisis broke.
Discussing his relationship with Cardinal Bernard Law, former Archbishop of Boston, Archbishop O’Malley said he admired his predecessor for his “incredible strength.”
"It was very difficult for him to step down -- he wanted to be part of the solution," said Archbishop O'Malley. "I'm sure he felt that great desire but came to the point where he felt the best thing to do would be to leave and he's done that."
Of the cause and scope of the abuse crisis, Archbishop O’Malley said that bishops failed to focus on “the damage done to the victim” and did not have enough knowledge of what pedophilia is.
To strengthen the priesthood and prevent future instances of abuse among clergy, bishops have prioritized “the need to be selective in accepting people to the seminary and ordaining them, to make sure they are mature individuals capable of living their celibate commitment,” he said.
Archbishop O’Malley also touched upon the impact Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) claims to have had in contributing to a resolution of the abuse crisis in the archdiocese. The archbishop said that he is unsure that the group actually affected how the Church responded to the crisis.
"I don't know that the Church would have done anything differently had they not existed," Archbishop O'Malley said. "Obviously, we have been confronted with a scandal, we have tried to deal with it, sometimes better sometimes worse, but it's not something that we're not going to deal with."
He went on to state that he finds it difficult to evaluate VOTF because of the “ambiguity” of their intentions and their platform.
"They deny that they have an agenda, but do they or don't they?" he asked. "Our policy here is an ambiguous policy toward an ambiguous situation."
"They're functioning in some parishes, and we permit that, but we’re not allowing them to extend into others for the time being until we’re more comfortable with what they mean by ‘change the Church,’” the archbishop continued.
Archbishop O’Malley said the “next challenge” he faces will be the process of parish closings that the archdiocese has begun. He explained that he has been encouraged by parishioners throughout the archdiocese to continue the process of “reconfiguration” started by Cardinal Law.
"It's my experience that there is a lot of hope in the parishes -- a lot of enthusiasm. That is very comforting," he said. "People realize we have other problems beyond just the abuse crisis -- the fact that we have many churches that are becoming difficult to maintain."
The full text of the archbishop’s interview is available at www.beliefnet.com.