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The elevation of the Archbishop of Boston to the College of Cardinals is first and foremost an expression of the affection and personal trust that Pope Benedict XVI has for Archbishop O’Malley, but it also shows a particular concern of the Holy Father for Boston Catholics.
Papal trust in the archbishop is not new. Pope John Paul II showed that same trust when he appointed Archbishop O’Malley to the Fall River diocese in the wake of the Father Porter scandal. His ability to heal those wounds was probably a factor in his appointment as bishop of Palm Beach after the previous bishop resigned following accusations of sexual misconduct.
That papal trust was confirmed when, in the wake of the terrible sex abuse crisis that rocked the Boston archdiocese in 2002, the archbishop was named to succeed Cardinal Bernard Law who resigned after a year of intense scrutiny of the way the archdiocese handled the many existing cases of abusive priests.
Today, in the context of a still-wounded archdiocese, with new settlement talks involving a couple hundred alledged victims of sexual abuse taking place, and several parishes still occupied by parishioners not willing to let their church building close, this appointment should bring reassurance to all that the Church in Boston is very much in the mind and prayers of the Holy Father.
The future is not easy. Catholics’ trust in local Church leadership was shattered by the crisis. Reconfiguration did not help to heal the wounds. Some Catholics, who may love their parish priest and community, remain cynical about the hierarchy and the leadership of the archdiocese.
The archbishop has taken significant steps to regain the trust of his flock. He was able to settle with over 500 victims of abuse just a few weeks after his arrival in Boston. After it became evident that the process of reconfiguration was causing pain for many parishioners, the archbishop appointed a committee to review the process and the most contentious cases. Some churches were reopened and the suffering greatly diminished. His commitment to financial transparency will bring further reassurance to Catholics that there is no intention of hiding anything or anyone.
Archbishop O’Malley came to Boston with the mission of restoring a lost trust. “Rebuild my Church,” was his plea to Catholics in Boston nearly three years ago when he first arrived . All his actions since have pointed toward that goal. With the “red hat,” he has received the papal blessing for his efforts. His first statement after receiving the honor has stressed his hope that “all people of the archdiocese will renew their commitment to our shared mission of faith and rebuilding the Church.”
It may be a good time for all Boston Catholics to rally behind our cardinal-designate and use our talents, time and treasure to help the archdiocese rise from its ashes.