Boston Archdiocese on the Path of Healing

Interview With Archbishop Sean O’Malley

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WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 28, 2003 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- Almost four months have passed since Archbishop Sean O’Malley took over leadership of the Boston Archdiocese, which was profoundly disturbed by the clerical sex-abuse scandals.

In this interview, the 59-year-old Capuchin assesses the situation in the archdiocese.

Q: The day you were installed as archbishop, you personally asked the Boston community for forgiveness, although you, individually, had nothing to do with the crisis. Why?

Archbishop O’Malley: The only way to reach a path of genuine reconciliation is to assume the responsibilities of one’s brothers and not fear the suffering and humiliations that will come. Only if we all — bishops, priests and laity — live all the way this penitential rite will we be able to become a stronger and holier Church.

Q: What have been the first steps to regain the trust of the faithful, undermined by the scandals as well as by the “scandalism”?

Archbishop O’Malley: Before being concerned about the image of the archdiocese, is the duty to re-establish credibility and to complete the process of reconciliation with the people who are wounded. I have tried to do this by engaging in dialogue with everyone. I have personally met with people who said they were victims of abuses and I have gone on several occasions to the parish where the priest was dismissed because of accusation of sexual abuse.

Q: What have you observed in these situations?

Archbishop O’Malley: People who suffer, who are wounded, confused, who don’t know where to begin to rebuild the life of their community and confirm the Church at the center of their lives. But many want to do so.

The faithful have been very welcoming. I have not perceived suspicions. I have listened to their needs, I have asked them what it is that they are now asking for, and the answer, in the majority of cases, has been: Concentrate again on the genuine mission of our local church, without distractions, and this will help us toward healing.

Q: What response have you had from priests?

Archbishop O’Malley: Within the clergy, the most important work must be done with young priests, as many of them have been demoralized by the scandal and the effect it has had on their ministry. In this case also, it is necessary to maintain open dialogue and offer consultation services, retreats, texts on which to reflect.

To respond to the more practical problems, moreover, we have worked in-depth to reach a single compensation agreement with all the victims, which will be finished in December.

Q: And what has been done on the prevention front?

Archbishop O’Malley: We have revised our program of formation of priests and instituted a more careful selection process in the seminaries. I have also talked to many experts in order to understand the causes of the problem in greater depth.

Q: Have you discovered other problems in your diocese that remained in the shadows during the crisis?

Archbishop O’Malley: There are many financial problems, for example. Outstanding among all of them is the need to count on funds for Catholic schools, which have always been the pride of Boston. But it is urgent to reconfigure the parishes.

In dioceses of the northeastern United States, such as ours, there are two or three churches in each neighborhood of a city, but few outside. Those small cities have lost many faithful and it is hard for them to remain standing, as more efforts are needed in the suburban belt. Therefore, we have to regroup some parishes to redistribute resources better.

Q: Does Boston share the generalized crisis of vocations that exists in many U.S. dioceses?

Archbishop O’Malley: We have two large seminaries, and one indeed has had a reduction of candidates, but the other one is in the midst of a boom. I want to understand more closely what the reasons are.

Q: How do you hope to intervene?

Archbishop O’Malley: Before the seminaries, we must try to get the people to return to the parish. We are preparing a communication campaign to explain again what our mission is to those who have left; what it is that we represent for society.

Q: What message do you want to give young people?

Archbishop O’Malley: We are aware of the enormous spiritual thirst among young people and we are doing much in the universities to respond. In planning, I hope to increase further spiritual and prayer endeavors in the universities.

Another channel are our high schools. We have 125,000 students in high school in the diocese; it is an enormous school system.

Q: You seem optimistic about the possibility of re-establishing soon a climate of trust in the diocese.

Archbishop O’Malley: Let’s say I’m confident. A confidence that comes, above all, from the enormous quantity of prayers that we have received from all over the world. Prayer will help us to find the right way toward complete healing.

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