Approximately 48 hours after learning that Pope John Paul II had named him the sixth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, Archbishop Seán O’Malley began a whirlwind trip to the archdiocese July 1, meeting with regional bishops, the media, chancery employees, patients at Caritas St. Elizabeth Medical Center and with victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
Flying in from Palm Beach June 30, where he had been serving as bishop, Archbishop O’Malley spent the night at the archbishop’s residence before beginning a day filled with meetings and ending with a late afternoon flight back to Florida.
The new archbishop, who is a member of the Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin, began his first day by introducing himself to the auxiliary bishops. He then addressed the people of the archdiocese through a press conference with the media.
Archbishop O’Malley, said that he was still “shell-shocked” by his appointment. He had thought he would spend the rest of his life in the Palm Beach diocese and never expected to return to Massachusetts, especially as archbishop of Boston.
"The path has never been easy, but today it seems overwhelming," commented Archbishop O'Malley, who came dressed in his brown Franciscan habit and sandals. "Still, I feel privileged to be called to serve the Church in Boston and hope that in some way I might be an instrument of peace and reconciliation in a Church in need of healing."
He spoke of the “devastating” effects that the clergy sexual abuse scandal has had on victims, their families, the Catholic faithful and the archdiocese as a whole.
"The entire Church feels the pain of this scandal and longs for some relief for the families and communities that have been so shaken by these sad events, and by the mishandling of these situations on the part of Church officials," stated Bishop O'Malley.
When asked to speculate as to why clergy sexual abuse was not dealt with correctly in the past, he said that years ago there was not an awareness of the “profound damage” that such abuse causes to victims. Many, he said, felt that the “problem” was a moral weakness rather than a sickness.
He went on to state that the Church, through the promulgation of policies and programs and the establishment of child protection offices, has begun to redress the “grave errors of the past,” but that “much needs to be done.”
Before his most recent appointment, Archbishop O’Malley served in Palm Beach and Fall River, where he helped to repair dioceses fractured by their own sexual abuse scandals. He reiterated to the faithful of Boston, the same commitment that he made to those in the diocese of Palm Beach — to work to bring reconciliation by making “the safety of children our paramount goal.
"As your archbishop, I commit myself to working with you to ensure the safety and well being of our young people in the Church," he emphasized. "Together as Catholics, clergy, consecrated religious and laity, we must work to bring healing and comfort to the victims of abuse, and to guarantee that through vigilance and education, our churches, schools and agencies will be safe havens for children and young people. I know that the laity has a great role to play in this process.
Among the areas requiring his immediate attention were financial settlements, which he is “anxious” to resolve.
"We hope that the achievement of financial settlements will be a factor in a process of healing... We must step up to the plate. People's lives are more important than money," he said.
Wishing to promote unity in the archdiocese, he reached out to victims, to those who have left the Church because of the scandal, to the marginalized of the archdiocese, namely, immigrant Catholics.
He also expressed his concern for the priests and seminarians of the archdiocese.
"I know the toll that the pain and embarrassment of the scandal has taken on your ministry," he stated. "I, too, have experienced the joys and sorrows of being a priest. Your role is essential in the life of the Church. We are a Eucharistic people. We need our priests."
Those words were especially well received by Father John Farren, OP, recently appointed rector of St. John’s Seminary.
"[Archbishop O'Malley's] coming here promises the leadership of a pastor who is deeply compassionate, intelligent, energetic and forceful, and who has a deeply sensitive to preaching Jesus Christ. These are precisely the elements that are needed," he said. "The phrase that caught my ear was 'holy, happy and hard-working priests.' I think that is precisely the enterprise of the seminary. When he identifies that as the formula, that is right on the mark. What we need are priests who are holy, happy and hard working, but also well-formed intellectually, spiritually, humanly and pastorally. If we can put that combination together, that is key for the renewal of the presbyterate, and I think that will contribute mightily to a renewal of the Church in Boston."
Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon attended the press conference and had a similar reaction to the archdiocese’s new spiritual leader. “One sees here today the spirit of St. Francis filling the room. It’s a spirit of healing and peace and a spirit of joyfulness — joyful Franciscan charisma that I hope will be contagious here in the archdiocese,” said Glendon, who is also a member of the archdiocesan Social Justice Commission. “He comes here barefoot, hoping to be an instrument of healing and peace and bringing the joy that is so characteristic of the Franciscan expression of Christianity.”
Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston, also expressed his hope in the new archbishop.
"My prayers are with the new archbishop and with the archdiocese," a statement from cardinal read. "In their ecclesial communion may they show forth the presence of the Risen Lord."
Following the press conference, Archbishop O’Malley had lunch with Bishop Richard Lennon, apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, during which they discussed plans for the upcoming installation.
Archbishop O’Malley then met briefly with chancery employees, eager to meet their new archbishop. He introduced himself and shook hands with each of them.
Closing his address with the words that inspired St. Francis, “Repair my Church,” he took his first step in restoring the Church in Boston by meeting privately with a number of alleged victims of clergy sex abuse.
During the press conference he said that listening to victims in Fall River was his “biggest help” in bringing healing to that diocese. Those who attended took the opportunity to tell the newly named archbishop their stories and their frustrations with how the crisis has been handled.
"I think [Archbishop O'Malley's appointment] is a very positive step in the right direction. I have hope he can come in immediately and fill a large void," said Rodney Ford, father of Gregory Ford who claims he was molested by Father Paul Shanley. "I think he could be the man to come in and show some compassion for all the victims."
Rodney Ford attended the closed door meeting, which took place at the archbishop’s residence, with his wife, Paula.
Archbishop O’Malley visited patients at Caritas St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Brighton before returning to Palm Beach.
Dr. Michael Collins, president and CEO of Caritas Christi Health Care, stated that the healthcare network was “honored” that Archbishop O’Malley chose St. Elizabeth Medical Center as one of his first stops in Boston. There he visited with patients and caregivers in the neonatal intensive care unit and also met with cancer patients.
"During his brief stay, Archbishop O'Malley's spirituality and wonderfully warm manner touched everyone with whom he met," said Dr. Collins. "We are looking forward to his arrival to Boston to invigorate the incredibly important work of the archdiocese, including that of our Caritas Christi health care ministry."
Maureen Iannoni, who was at St. Elizabeth for her weekly chemotherapy session, said that she and her family were also “very honored” to meet Archbishop O’Malley. Iannoni’s oldest son, Jay, was confirmed by Archbishop O’Malley when the family lived in the Fall River diocese.
"He offered me a special blessing for my health, and the next week my scans were much better," commented Iannoni. "I believe his blessing had something to do with it. It was very special to see him again... He is such a man of the people, very down to earth, very kind and humble."