Pope Names New Leader for Troubled Boston
By FRANK BRUNI with FOX BUTTERFIELD
July 1, 2003
ROME, July 1 - Pope John Paul II today named Bishop Sean
P. O'Malley of Palm Beach, Fla., to lead the the scandal-plagued
Archdiocese of Boston.
Boston was hit harder than any other diocese by the disclosure
of sexual abuse accusations in the Roman Catholic church last
year, and its long-serving archbishop, Cardinal Bernard F.
Law, resigned in December as a result.
Bishop O'Malley, 58, has extensive experience in taking over
troubled dioceses and trying to regain the trust of embittered
In 1992, Bishop O'Malley was chosen to take over the Diocese
of Fall River, in southeastern Massachusetts, after accusations
became public that a former priest there, James Porter, had
molested more than 100 children in the first large sexual
abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in the United States.
Last year, Bishop O'Malley was sent to the Palm Beach Diocese
after its two previous bishops resigned after admitting to
One Vatican official said Bishop O'Malley's experiences in
Fall River and Palm Beach were why he emerged as the likeliest
candidate for Boston, which, he said, needed a leader sensitive
to what priests and parishioners there have endured.
The Rev. Robert Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish
in Sharon, a suburb of Boston, and chairman of the Boston
Priests' Forum, an independent group that had called for Cardinal
Law's resignation, said Monday, before the appointment, that
he was optimistic about the possibility that Bishop O'Malley
would be named.
``I think we're fortunate,'' Father Bullock said. ``It's
a very good appointment, and I think people hope it's true.''
The thing that stands out about Bishop O'Malley, Father Bullock
said, is the way he dealt with the victims in Fall River.
``It was direct and personal,'' he said. ``His policies were
firm; he was unequivocal, and he established a good set of
Bishop O'Malley, who was born in the Cleveland suburb of
Lakewood and grew up near Pittsburgh, is a member of the Capuchin
Order, a religious group dedicated to following the tradition
of St. Francis of Assisi. Colleagues describe him as modest,
and he dresses in the Franciscans' medieval coarse brown habit
Church experts drew parallels between Bishop O'Malley and
Cardinal Law. Both men are close to the Pope, they said, and
both are strong conservative opponents of abortion and the
death penalty. Both are also forceful advocates for helping
But whatever else is in his record, it will be Bishop O'Malley's
handling of sexual abuse by priests in Fall River and Palm
Beach that will draw the closest scrutiny.
When he arrived in Fall River, a crumbling, old industrial
city, in 1992, Bishop O'Malley had to confront almost 200
of Mr. Porter's victims. Like the accused priests in Boston
over the last year, Mr. Porter had been transferred from parish
to parish by church authorities without notification of his
misconduct. Mr. Porter, who has been defrocked, was ultimately
convicted of molesting 28 young people and sentenced to 18
to 20 years in prison.
Soon after arriving, Bishop O'Malley announced that helping
Mr. Porter's victims was his priority. He agreed to meet with
victims and promised that the church would pay for their therapy.
Bishop O'Malley also instituted a sweeping reform policy,
requiring background checks and sexual abuse training for
anyone who worked with children. This put him in the forefront
of Catholic prelates nationwide in dealing with sexual abuse
by the clergy.
Roderick MacLeish, a Boston lawyer, worked with Bishop O'Malley
to settle 101 cases involving Mr. Porter. ``He is absolutely
the right person for the job in Boston,'' Mr. MacLeish said.
``The importance of this nationally is tremendous.''
But Frank Fitzpatrick, a victim of Mr. Porter who as a private
detective played a crucial role in uncovering Mr. Porter's
abuses, said of Bishop O'Malley, ``I distrust this guy.''
Mr. Fitzpatrick, who runs an organization called Survivor
Connections in Cranston, R.I., said: ``He is a p.r. guy. As
far as real action, and doing what they need to do to stop
it, he's not the savior.''