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Pope Names New Leader for Troubled Boston Archdiocese

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 Catholics.

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 molesting teenagers.

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 guidelines.''

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 and sandals.

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 the poor.

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.''

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests