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Spotlight Report

In Palm Beach, Catholics feel a sense of loss

By Wayne Washington, Globe Staff, 7/2/2003

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O'Malley will find wounds to heal
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In Palm Beach, a sense of loss
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 The James Porter case
Bishop O'Malley led the Fall River diocese during the James Porter sex abuse scandal in the early 1990s.  
Coverage from the archives

 The predecessor
Coverage of Law's resignation

ALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Newly appointed Palm Beach Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito had barely taken his place behind the podium at a press conference yesterday when he was hit with the question on the minds of many in this stunned Catholic diocese.

''Let me ask a question most of the people in this room want to ask,'' a local television reporter said. ''Just how long do you plan to stay?''

Barbarito chuckled meekly as the audience broke up in laughter.

For Palm Beach Catholics, laughter and the hope that Barbarito can continue to move the diocese away from its scandal-plagued past might be the only things keeping them from crying.

With Bishop Sean O'Malley leaving to become archbishop in Boston, Barbarito becomes the second leader of the Palm Beach Diocese in eight months and the fifth bishop to lead the diocese since it was founded in 1984.

He was appointed just as parishioners were growing confident that O'Malley would be the man to address the sexual abuse scandal here. The two bishops who preceded O'Malley resigned after admitting to having had sexual contact with young boys. There are other worries: Parishioners have also expressed concerns that the finances of the diocese are not monitored carefully enough.

The Rev. Thomas Skindeleski, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Apostles in nearby Royal Beach, said that many Catholics in the area are privately wondering: ''Aren't our hurts important enough to be addressed? Can't we keep a bishop here? Things were beginning to happen.''

The letter that church officials wrote to Barbarito, who has been bishop of Ogdensburg, N.Y., informing him of his move indicates that Pope John Paul II is sensitive to what Catholics in Palm Beach have been through.

''His Holiness was anxious that they should not be left one day without the pastoral leadership of a new pastor, and so he immediately turned to you, Bishop Barbarito, as one more than capable of tending the lord's flock in Palm Beach,'' the letter states.

Barbarito said he was in New York Monday, listening to the radio, when he heard a report that O'Malley was going to be the next archbishop in Boston. He laughed, he said, aware that others had been rumored to be Boston's next archbishop and that O'Malley had only been in Palm Beach for a short time.

About 30 minutes later, Barbarito learned in a telephone conversation with church leaders that the report was accurate and that he was to be the next bishop in Palm Beach.

''I am as surprised to be here as you are this morning,'' he told those at this introductory press conference. He promised parishioners that he would work hard to get to know them and their needs, but stressed that they should look to God to heal the wounds of the diocese.

Still, when asked what his future plans might hold, he chuckled and then gave the answer most seemed to want. ''I plan to stick around a long time,'' he said.

This story ran on page A27 of the Boston Globe on 7/2/2003.
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