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Report: Bishop O'Malley to be named Boston archbishop
By Martin Finucane, Associated Press, 6/30/2003
BOSTON -- The appointment of a new leader for the troubled Boston Archdiocese was "imminent," a Vatican source said Monday, as speculation centered on a man who has ushered two dioceses through clerical sex abuse scandals.
Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, a Franciscan who spent a decade in the Fall River Diocese before being named to lead the Palm Beach, Fla., diocese last year, was the likely successor to Cardinal Bernard Law, said John Allen Jr., a reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper that covers the Roman Catholic Church.
Citing an unnamed source in the archdiocese chancery, WBZ-TV reported that O'Malley arrived Monday evening at T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island on a flight from Baltimore.
In some circles, O'Malley's appointment would be considered a natural, since he has received generally high marks for the way he has grappled with abuse problems. Still, some expressed surprise since O'Malley was only recently sent to Palm Beach.
"It would be very unusual to pull out a bishop from a diocese so quickly, especially one that's had so many problems," said the Rev. Thomas Reese of the Jesuit magazine America.
But Russell Shaw, a church observer and former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the appointment, if it happens, would underscore two things: "First of all, the importance of the archdiocese and the seriousness of the crisis there, and secondly, the quality of the man."
"If it's O'Malley, the Vatican went for absolutely the best they could find," Shaw said.
Law resigned after repeated revelations last year that he and others in the Boston hierarchy allowed priests of accused molestation to keep serving. The waves of scandal angered not only victims' advocates but parishioners and some priests, to the point that Law could no longer run the archdiocese.
Bishop Richard Lennon has been acting as the interim leader of the archdiocese, home to 2.1 million Catholics.
A senior Vatican official told The Associated Press that an announcement to name a successor was "imminent" and could come Tuesday or Wednesday. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said O'Malley has been among the candidates.
A spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese didn't return a call seeking comment and a spokesman for the Palm Beach Diocese said he was not aware of O'Malley's possible move and could not confirm the report.
Others who have been mentioned in recent months as possible successors to Law include Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, Minnesota's Archbishop Harry Flynn and Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the U.S. military archdiocese.
In Fall River, O'Malley, who turned 59 on Sunday, was sent in to clean up a crisis in the early 1990s when the Rev. James Porter was accused of molesting children. Porter ultimately pleaded guilty to molesting 28 children and was sentenced to 18 to 20 years in prison.
O'Malley set up new procedures for dealing with and preventing sexual abuse by clergy, and the diocese paid for therapy, medication and residential treatment for Porter's victims.
"There could never be a better person in the country to have this job and to try to bring about real healing in the Archdiocese of Boston," said attorney Roderick MacLeish, who represented 101 of Porter's victims.
"He is just a very compassionate, humble person who will act quickly to resolve these cases," said MacLeish, who also is one of the lead lawyers for hundreds of plaintiffs with cases against the diocese.
One of Porter's victims, however, said he hadn't been satisfied with his dealings with O'Malley.
"He's slick. He's good public relations. But as far as deep inside, he's not really going to solve the problem," said Frank Fitzpatrick. "The reason is, he's just there to quiet things down."
In Palm Beach, where two prior bishops admitted they were guilty of sexual abuse, O'Malley assured parishioners that his background was free of scandals and accusations, apologized to all victims, and took immediate steps to crack down on clergy sex abuse.
Ray Flynn, the former Boston mayor and ambassador to the Vatican, said O'Malley was a "very quiet, unassuming courageous guy."
"It's almost like a gift of God for Boston if this announcement is going to be made," Flynn said, who noted that the late Archbishop John O'Connor of New York served less than a year in Scranton, Pa., before being appointed to the New York post in 1984. When O'Connor died in 2000, O'Malley was among a list of possible successors.
The Rev. Richard McBrien, a liberal theologian at the University of Notre Dame who wants substantial reforms in the church to end the abuse scandals, said that despite all the kudos O'Malley has won for his clergy sex abuse response, he is still a conservative priest.
He said O'Malley would be "uncritically loyal to the Holy See and would not veer one millimeter from its policies and teachings on anything."
Associated Press writer Victor L. Simpson contributed to this report from the Vatican.