In the first of a series of meetings to introduce himself and become familiar with matters affecting the priests in the archdiocese, Archbishop Seán O’Malley met with between 250 and 300 priests, Sept. 2., at St. Elizabeth Church in Milton. Further meetings will take place in the coming days.
According to Father Christopher Coyne, archdiocesan spokesperson, the archbishop is holding these meetings in order to “begin to get to know his priests.”
Archbishop O'Malley “spoke of the challenge that we, the Church in Boston, face as a result of the crisis” and gave words of “hope to continue the good ministry [of the priesthood] and words of encouragement to persevere,” said Father Coyne.
The meeting, which ran from around 1:30 to 3 p.m., began with midday prayer during which Archbishop O’Malley touched upon the words of St. John Vianney, who, above all, encouraged the faithful to pray and to love.
St. John Vianney worked to restore the Church in France during the 19th century. In 1929 the Holy See declared him the patron saint of parish priests.
"Archbishop O'Malley spoke about what he saw as the life of the parish priest -- to pray and to love -- and that's what he was saying he would hope would be his ministry among us, and our ministry among ourselves and among the people," noted Father Thomas Maguire, pastor of St. Helen Parish in Norwell, who was in attendance.
Father Maguire said that following the prayer service, Archbishop O’Malley spoke for 30 minutes on such topics as the theology of the priesthood, the life of the priest, the role of diocesan priests, and the need for the sacraments and for prayer.
The priests were then given the opportunity to voice their concerns and raise questions to their new archbishop.
"He got to know the priests through their questions," commented Father Maguire. "To listen to the concerns, the issues, the questions, the worries that priests had; to meet, to greet, to see what our concerns were."
The priests raised issues such as the reality that a large number of rectories are staffed by only one priest and the difficulty that is caused when trying to cover the parish for vacation or days off.
Priests also questioned whether the status of the Voice of the Faithful in the archdiocese would change and whether more parishes would be consolidated. According to priests who attended the closed meeting, the archbishop did not address the abuse settlement process directly, but briefly addressed the concerns of priests wondering what could be done to expedite the resolution of cases of priests on administrative leave as a result of accusations made against them.
The archbishop encouraged the priests to maintain relationships and friendships with the priests on leave and to continue to extend their support to them.
Father Robert Bullock pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon, who also attended the meeting, found that the archbishop looked at the sexual abuse crisis which has gripped the archdiocese as an opportunity for spiritual growth.
"He talked about it in strong terms. He just said that this is a time that will make us or break us," Father Bullock told the Associated Press. "He stressed that this is a great opportunity for spiritual growth. He said we could find in it new powers to grow through holiness."
Father Maguire reported that Archbishop O’Malley sat silently throughout a portion of the question period to absorb the points that his priests were raising, but then he began to answer questions in general terms, “with the understanding that ‘I’ve only been here for a month, we’re all learning… we do have work to do, and we have to do this together.’”
"I thought it was a good meeting. I think that it was an effort, a gesture, to obviously meet the priests, to present himself in an environment just with them, as opposed to [his installation at] the cathedral. Meeting them, trying to get to know them, is daunting... our numbers are larger than he's ever had to deal with before," noted Father Maguire.