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Spotlight Report

O'Malley asks for prayers as he heads to Boston

By Alan Scher Zagier, Globe Correspondent, 7/21/2003

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley asked yesterday for the prayers of his South Florida flock as he prepares to leave one troubled diocese and take on the even greater challenge of restoring trust in the Boston Archdiocese.

''As I leave you for still another diocese, I ask for your prayers,'' he told congregants at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola. ''The situation in Boston is a difficult one that only prayer will bring to a solution.''

In his short address during his final Mass as head of the Diocese of Palm Beach before leaving for Boston this week, O'Malley mentioned his new assignment by name only once. He asked the crowd of about 400 parishioners to join him in seeking a renewed spiritual commitment as part of the effort to heal the Catholic Church in the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal.

''We've all suffered because of the crisis in our church,'' he said. ''We need to renew our commitment to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd. . . . Sometimes the task seems overwhelming, and our resources very limited. But at such moments, we must remember that Jesus never promised nothing would go wrong. He promised he would always be with us.''

O'Malley also offered congregants at St. Ignatius Loyola one final piece of advice -- be prepared for the unexpected.

''Life is full of surprises,'' he said. For O'Malley, surprise means being tapped to become the next archbishop of Boston after less than a year in Florida.

For the 225,000 members of the Palm Beach Diocese, surprise means getting ready to welcome yet another bishop, the Rev. Gerald Michael Barbarito, the community's fourth bishop in five years.

O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar, joked about how he told a Palm Beach nun she stood a better chance of getting struck by lightning than he had of succeeding Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned seven months ago after widespread criticism of his failure to remove priests who sexually abused children.

At O'Malley's final staff meeting late last week, his colleagues presented the departing bishop a ''slightly used lightning rod,'' he said.

''In many ways being bishop of Palm Beach was a good surprise,'' said O'Malley, 59, who led the Fall River Diocese for 10 years before moving to Florida. ''I was very happy here, though it's been a very short tenure.''

O'Malley was dressed in sandals and a green robe, the color of the liturgical season for his final Mass in Palm Beach Gardens. He removed his mitre and put on a red zucchetto, a skull cap. Despite his brief stay in South Florida, churchgoers at St. Ignatius Loyola said O'Malley laid the foundation for a new beginning in the Palm Beach Diocese, where two of his predecessors as bishop resigned after admitting they molested minors. A former diocesan financial manager also acknowledged embezzling $400,000 a decade ago.

''We wish him well,'' Diane Parker, of Royal Palm Beach, said of O'Malley.

''He really brought the community together, with everything we've been through.''

Parishioner Regina Nash lauded O'Malley's laid-back demeanor, his simple dress, and his dedication to ministry rather than the trappings of power and prestige. ''He seems to be so humble,'' she said. ''He's not flamboyant. He's a holy man.''

O'Malley will be installed as archbishop of Boston on July 30 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End.

This story ran on page A6 of the Boston Globe on 7/21/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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