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CARDINALS-OMALLEY Feb-22-2006 (1,250 words) With photos. xxxn

Boston's new cardinal: a Capuchin priest called in as troubleshooter

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Archbishop -- now Cardinal-designate -- Sean P. O'Malley flew in to Boston less than three years ago on his first visit to his new archdiocese, he wore the standard brown habit and sandals of his religious order, the Capuchin Franciscans.

The archdiocese was in financial and administrative disarray after 18 months at the epicenter of the national clergy sex abuse scandal. It faced a loss of confidence in its leadership, sharp declines in revenue and hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits.

Addressing Boston's Catholics, the newly named archbishop invoked "those words that inspired St. Francis, when the crucified Lord said to him, 'Francis, repair my church.' I ask you and plead with you: Repair my church."

Cardinal-designate O'Malley, 61, and 14 other archbishops whom Pope Benedict XVI named cardinals Feb. 22 will be inducted into the College of Cardinals at a consistory in the Vatican March 24.

Less than a year after his installation in Boston July 31, 2003, the new cardinal-designate reached a widely hailed $85 million settlement with more than 500 clergy sex abuse victims and sold off 43 acres of archdiocesan property, including the large mansion known as the cardinal's residence, to pay off the settlement.

His success in that area has been tempered by ongoing conflicts over his decision in 2004 to close one-sixth of the archdiocese's parishes.

He has been a leader of the campaign to reverse the state's legalization of same-sex marriages by a referendum for a constitutional amendment, a highly divisive issue in the state.

In the 2004 election-year debate within the church over the reception of Communion by Catholic politicians who uphold public policy positions at odds with fundamental church teachings, he found himself in the hot seat as head of the archdiocese of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry -- a Catholic with a solid record of opposing legal restrictions on abortion. Archbishop O'Malley stated publicly that Catholic politicians who publicly contradict basic church teachings should not present themselves for Communion, but he resisted pressures to publicly bar Kerry or other politicians like him from the sacrament.

Before his appointment to Boston, then-Bishop O'Malley already had a reputation in church circles as a troubleshooter whose combination of personal humility, pastoral sensitivity and political acumen had served well in resolving other difficult conflict situations.

In 1992, as the new bishop of Fall River, Mass., he immediately made it his top priority to deal with the scores of childhood abuse victims of James R. Porter, a former Fall River priest whose history of crimes against children was making international news. Within two months he instituted a new diocesan policy barring any diagnosed pedophile from ministry. By the end of the year he reached an undisclosed settlement with 68 Porter victims who had sued the diocese.

In October 2002 he was transferred to Palm Beach, Fla., to heal wounds in a diocese whose last two leaders -- Bishops Anthony J. O'Connell and J. Keith Symons -- had resigned after admitting that as priests they had sexually abused minors.

Sean Patrick O'Malley was born June 29, 1944, in Lakewood, Ohio, and joined the Capuchins in 1965. Following his ordination in 1970, he earned a master's degree in education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature from The Catholic University of America, where he also taught from 1969 to 1973. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and German.

In 1973 he founded and directed the Centro Catolico Hispano in Washington. In 1977 he founded the archdiocese's Spanish-language community newspaper, El Pregonero.

In 1978 he was made Washington archdiocesan episcopal vicar for the Hispanic, Portuguese and Haitian communities and executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Social Ministry.

He was named coadjutor bishop of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, in 1984 and became head of that diocese the following year. Over the next five years he founded two Catholic TV stations and a diocesan newspaper and oversaw the establishment of a new community of women religious. He opened homeless centers, soup kitchens and a hospice for the terminally ill and started new diocesan services for the mentally ill and handicapped.

The Fall River Diocese was vacant when the revelations hit in 1991-92 that dozens of children there had been molested by Porter in the 1960s. Porter, who left the diocese in 1967 and the priesthood in 1974, quickly became the most notorious clerical abuser of children in the nation.

When Bishop O'Malley was transferred to Fall River in June 1992, he quickly made pastoral care and financial settlement with victims a priority, and before the end of the year the main group of victims settled with the diocese.

When he was named to Palm Beach in 2002, it was clear he had been assigned to the troubled diocese because of his track record for bringing reconciliation and healing.

Less than two months after Bishop O'Malley was installed in October 2002 in Palm Beach, Cardinal Bernard F. Law -- facing growing lawsuits, lengthy legal depositions, deep divisions in parishes and growing turmoil over his leadership -- resigned as archbishop of Boston. In July 2003 the Vatican again turned to Bishop O'Malley, naming him to Boston.

The day his Boston appointment was announced he met with sex abuse victims there and listened to their stories. After he was installed he brought in his attorney from the Fall River sex abuse cases as his lead attorney in the Boston cases, clearly signaling plans to move quickly toward a constructive settlement.

The fallout from the abuse scandal stretched far beyond the $85 million settlement covered by the property sale, however.

As late as 2000 the archdiocese was able to celebrate the millennial year of jubilee by canceling $28 million in debt owed by 104 parishes -- most of it going to the 28 poorest parishes in the archdiocese. With the scandal, Catholic contributions to archdiocesan causes and appeals plummeted, exacerbating an already brewing financial crunch that forced staff layoffs and effectively ended generous archdiocesan subsidies to needy parishes, schools and other institutions.

Coupled with the priest shortage and demographic changes that had been building for years, fiscal realities forced Archbishop O'Malley to institute an archdiocesewide study of what parishes were viable and which ones must be closed or merged.

After the closings and mergers were announced, parishioners in several parishes occupied their churches around the clock to prevent them from being locked up and sold. Archbishop O'Malley subsequently reversed decisions on several closings and many parishes that were closed accepted the decision without protest, but the parishes that fought the closings were the ones regularly in the news.

Like his predecessor, Archbishop O'Malley has a strong outreach to new immigrant groups and is highly regarded by them.

One of his earliest decisions after he arrived in Boston was to move into the cathedral rectory, forgoing the magnificent mansion in Brighton that had housed the four previous archbishops. As a priest in Washington he had lived in a small apartment in a rundown building in a crime-ridden neighborhood. As a bishop in St. Thomas and in Palm Beach he had also chosen simpler housing than the homes of his predecessors.

He still wears his brown robe and sandals on appropriate occasions, although such occasions are less frequent in Boston than when he headed smaller dioceses.

Many consider his continued embrace of Capuchin simplicity and poverty as a sign of holiness and spiritual grounding that the new cardinal-designate has retained as he has been moved up the ecclesiastical ladder.


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