Boston's New Archbishop Sizes Up the Task Ahead

“The Entire Church Feels the Pain of This Scandal,” Says Sean O’Malley

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, JULY 2, 2003 (ZENIT.org).- Here are the remarks of Archbishop Sean O’Malley, upon his introduction Tuesday as the head of the Boston Archdiocese (www.rcab.org).

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The Holy Father has seen fit to name me your Archbishop at this very difficult time. I feel acutely aware of my own deficiencies in the face of the task at hand and I ask for your prayers and your collaboration as I embark on this ministry.

I am grateful for my vocation as a Capuchin Franciscan Brother and as a Catholic Priest and Bishop. The path has never been easy, but today it seems overwhelming. 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.

The devastating effects of the sexual exploitation of minors by members of the clergy have wounded us all beginning with the victims themselves and their families who suffer the poisonous aftermath of abuse. 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 the Church’s officials.

The Church throughout our country has mobilized to attempt to redress the grave errors of the past. The Charter and Norms for the Protection of Children which were adopted in Dallas and confirmed by the Vatican, the audit process designed to measure compliance with the Charter, the National Review Board and the Office for the Protection of Children headed up by a former FBI agent, are but some of the steps taken by the National Conference.

Our individual dioceses are implementing policies and establishing independent lay review boards and programs to reach out to victims. Much has been done; much needs to be done.

I make the same commitment to you as I did to the people of Palm Beach:

Reconciliation always demands a firm purpose of amendment. It means seeking new ways to avoid the grave mistakes of the past and to make 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. This is an arduous task, and I truly ask for your cooperation. 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.

I am anxious to hear first-hand from the bishops, priests, parish councils and lay leaders about what is happening and what needs to happen. I know that the Catholic community of Boston is grateful to Bishop Lennon and his staff for all they are doing during this time of transition. I will do all in my power as archbishop to bring to fruition the arduous task he has begun. We are all anxious for the financial settlements with those who have suffered from sexual abuse. We know that no amount of money can ever compensate for the damage caused by abuse. It is most regrettable that there was not more of an awareness of the grave consequences in bygone days. If there had been, we could only hope the Church and the psychiatric community would have reacted more decisively to cases of child abuse.

We hope that the achievement of financial settlements will be a factor in a process of healing. I have always told diocesan lawyers in the past that settlements are not hush money or extortion or anything other than the rightful indemnification of persons who have suffered gravely at the hands of a priest. Even when I have been told that there is no legal obligation, I have always said, if there is a moral obligation then we must step up to the plate. People’s lives are more important than money.

In Boston the numbers (of victims) are great and the (dollar) amounts are staggering. We want to do right by the victims and, at the same time, to carry on the essential elements of our mission, especially our mission to give people the Good News of the Gospel and to serve the poor, the sick and the marginalized.

I am anxious to learn more about what the Archdiocese is doing in its outreach to victims and to hear from the victims themselves. We have made many mistakes in the past, but I think we are on the right path. Work with us.

As Archbishop, I am gravely concerned about our priests and seminarians; so many fine men who want to give their lives to God and to serve God’s people. I know the toll that the pain and embarrassment of the scandal has taken on your ministry. I ask you to pull together, to support one another, to realize that a crucial part of a priest’s ministry is to minister to each other. I am your brother. I too have experienced the joys and the sorrows of being a priest. Your role is essential in the life of the Church. We are a Eucharistic people. We need our priests. The whole Catholic community wants holy priests, happy priests, hard-working priests. Draw strength from the mysteries you celebrate, from your people, from your communion with your Archbishop and your fellow priests.

I take up the challenge of being the archbishop of Boston because I love the Church which is the Body of Christ. I thank all of the faithful Catholics who have stood by the Church in these difficult times, who faithfully come to Mass and support the Church and who witness to their Catholic faith by the lives of discipleship they live.

To those Catholics who have stepped away from the Church, I say: Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. At times like these we need to pull together as a Church. The Catholic faith and practice has built a culture in our people of New England, (sustaining) virtues of honesty, solidarity, social justice, service to the poor, the sick, the suffering, protection for the weak, for the unborn. The community of faith has instilled a spirituality and generosity that has helped thousands upon thousands of people to be good people, faithful spouses, loving parents, heroic citizens and self-sacrificing members of the community. The Gospel and the Sacraments have strengthened generations of Boston Catholics to follow Jesus Christ, loving God above all and loving their neighbors as themselves, and embracing the idealism and solidarity that are essential for a civilization of love.

And so, as the Church is wracked by scandal and crisis, the stakes are very high. I appeal to all Catholics to help the Church to be a wounded healer by healing the divisions in our own ranks so that we can be a leaven for good in the society in which we live.

True discipleship to Jesus Christ is discipleship in the community of faith. I address to you, the Catholics of Boston, the words that inspired Saint Francis — “Repair My Church!”

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