Vatican Said to Be near Decision on New Boston Archbishop

By Frank Bruni
New York Times
June 30, 2003

ROME, June 30 - Pope John Paul II plans to appoint a new leader for the scandal-racked Archdiocese of Boston as early as Tuesday, several Vatican officials said today. One of those officials said the position was almost certain to go to Bishop Sean P. O'Malley of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla.

Boston was hit harder by the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church last year than perhaps any other diocese in the United States, and its long-serving archbishop, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, resigned late last year, forced out by a torrent of documents showing that he knew of child abusers among his priests.

If Bishop O'Malley does take over in Boston, it will not be the first time that he has assumed the task of trying to salve the wounds and win back the trust of an embittered, angry flock of Catholics.

In 1992, Bishop O'Malley was chosen to lead the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., after accusations emerged that a former priest there, James Porter, had molested scores of children. Mr. Porter eventually pleaded guilty to 41 charges of sexual abuse against 28 children and was sent to prison. Bishop O'Malley reached a settlement with the victims and instituted a policy on preventing abuse that was later studied by other dioceses.

Bishop O'Malley stayed in Fall River until 2002, when he was dispatched to Palm Beach, where his two previous predecessors had resigned after admitting that they sexually molested minors.

One Vatican official said today that Bishop O'Malley's experiences in Fall River and Palm Beach were strong factors in his emergence as the most likely candidate for Boston, which needs a leader sensitive to what many anguished priests and angry parishioners there have endured.

"He's dealt with cases like this," the Vatican official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said that all signs at the Vatican pointed to an announcement this week of Bishop O'Malley's selection, but that there was always a slight chance that the situation could change.

The official said the choice of Bishop O'Malley was "very surprising" and unlikely to have been foreseen by many Roman Catholic leaders, "given that he was just sent to Palm Beach." But the official said that other Vatican officials making the decision "must have figured that Boston was more important."

Another Vatican official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new Boston diocesan leader would be announced in Rome on Tuesday or Wednesday. "It's imminent," the official said, adding that he did not know who the choice would be.

The Vatican press office declined to make any comment.

News of Bishop O'Malley's likely appointment was first reported early today by John L. Allen Jr., who is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly in the United States, and a Rome-based consultant to CNN.

Bishop O'Malley, who was born in Lakewood, Ohio, in 1944, was ordained in 1970 as a priest in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, a branch of the Franciscans, and as bishop has continued to wear his order's brown robes and sandals.

He has served as the executive director of the Hispanic Catholic Center in the Archdiocese of Washington and as a bishop in the Virgin Islands.

According to the Palm Beach Diocese's Web site, he earned a master's degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature, both at the Catholic University of America in Washington, where he taught from 1969 to 1973.


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