Signs of the Times

Capuchin Friar Brings Renewed Sense of Hope to Boston Church

A man in the simple brown robes and sandals of a Capuchin friar brought a renewed sense of enthusiasm and hope to the embattled Catholic Archdiocese of Boston in early July, weeks before his formal installation as archbishop of Boston. Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley, who will be installed on July 30 at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, spent a whirlwind day in Boston on July 1, meeting with the media and victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, as well as with bishops, chancery employees and patients at Caritas St. Elizabeth Medical Center.

I address you, my fellow Catholics of Boston, with those words that inspired St. Francis, when the crucified Lord said to him, Francis, repair my church,’ Archbishop O’Malley said at a news conference. I ask you, and plead with you: Repair my church.


Archbishop O’Malley returned at the end of the day to Palm Beach, Fla., where he has headed the diocese since only last October and where he is to remain until his installation in Boston. A Vatican official said the archbishop’s transfer to Boston after such a brief term in Florida was a highly unusual step that reflects deep Vatican concern for the Boston situation and its confidence in the Capuchin friar.

The 59-year-old archbishop succeeds Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned last December after a year of growing scandal over his handling of priests who sexually abused children. In Palm Beach, Archbishop O’Malley headed a diocese whose last two bishops resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

The appointment drew praise from church and civic leaders in Boston, as well as from Catholics in the pews.

Archbishop O’Malley has made clear that his first priority in Boston will be confronting the clergy sexual abuse scandal and redressing what he called the grave errors of the past.

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, he said at the news conference. I know that the laity has a great role to play in this process.

Among the areas requiring his immediate attention are financial settlements, which he said he was anxious to resolve. We hope that the achievement of financial settlements will be a factor in a process of healing, he said. Settlements are not hush money or extortion or anything other than the rightful indemnification of persons who have suffered gravely at the hands of priests.

At the meeting with victims on that first day in Boston, Archbishop O’Malley heard some plain talk, according to a report in The Boston Globe. Bernie McDaid, who says he was abused by the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham 40 years ago, said he told the new archbishop: So, Sean, don’t blow it. The whole room started laughing, and he laughed, too, McDaid said. So he is human. And I like that. It broke the ice a little bit.

A Capuchin friar since 1965 and a priest since 1970, the archbishop was named coadjutor bishop of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, in 1984 and became head of the diocese the following year. He was bishop of Fall River, Mass., from 1992 to 2002 and bishop of Palm Beach since Oct. 19, 2002.

Following ordination, he earned a master’s degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature, both from The Catholic University of America in Washington, where he taught from 1969 to 1973. Beginning in 1973, he served as executive director of Centro Catolico Hispano in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., until his appointment in 1978 as episcopal vicar for the Hispanic, Portuguese and Haitian communities and executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Social Ministry.

In addition to English, Portuguese and Spanish, Archbishop O’Malley speaks French, Italian and German.

He could be as comfortable speaking with the ambassador to Portugal as he was talking with a simple immigrant from El Salvador, Capuchin Brother Donald E. Lippert, who now heads the Centro Catolico Hispano in Washington, told The Globe. Mary E. Alexsovich, Archbishop O’Malley’s younger sister, told The Globe that she thought his legacy would be his work with the poor.... But it seems it will be the other poor: the poor victims of clergy sex abuse, she said. He’s got a job to do, and he’ll do it.

French Archbishop: Church Must Minister to Remarried Catholics

A French archbishop said the church has a duty to minister to Catholics in second marriages who wish to give God his place in their new union even though they cannot receive the Eucharist. Archbishop Francois Garnier of Cambrai said that if the new couple appear established on solid foundations, we can agree to respond to their request for prayers, especially if this will be the point of departure...for a Christian life. Writing in the June issue of the archdiocesan monthly magazine, the archbishop said the Catholic Church had a duty in conscience to address couples wishing to give God his place after remarrying. We must respect the new project of couples whose wish to succeed is even greater after a previous failure, Archbishop Garnier said.

British Bishop Questions Proposal to Extend Gay Rights

The chairman of the British bishops’ marriage and family committee questioned a government proposal offering greater rights to gay partners in long-term relationships. Auxiliary Bishop John Hine of Southwark said in a statement on July 1 that marriage between a man and a woman was the cornerstone of family and society and deserved an elevated position in British law.

Under current British law, same-sex couples are not legally recognized. Under a government proposal unveiled in late June, couples would be able to register legally and receive a wide range of legal rights and protections.

Bishop Hine said that while there were other issues arising from long-term relationships outside of marriage that need to be addressed, the government’s apparent focus on same-sex unions was confusing. It is not clear why the focus of the government proposals is on same-sex unions when there are many other long-term relationships of a nonsexual nature which face exactly the same issues and deserve the same attention, he said.

Church Official Welcomes Israeli Withdrawal

As Israeli troops began their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the Bethlehem area, a church official expressed cautious hope for the future. If this is to be a first step in a big process, then it is welcomed and we are happy, said the Rev. Majdi al-Siryani, legal adviser for the Latin Patriarchate. But still we are skeptical. We have seen many, many first steps that have not been followed by second or third steps. We don’t want this to be an isolated incident. A few days earlier, Father al-Siryani said he accompanied Patriarch Michel Sabbah to Gaza, where they found everything in ruins. Gaza is destroyed, he said. There are no roads. The buildings are destroyed. There is no infrastructure. It is horrible.

On July 1, Israeli authorities demolished the foundations of the unauthorized mosque that had been built next to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, bringing to an end a squabble that began some five years ago when a group of Muslim fundamentalists took over the land, claiming it as holy ground where a martyr from the Crusades had been buried.

The demolition took place with little incident, said Ramzi Hakim, spokesman for the mayor’s office. This is a difficult step to take because from the beginning the issue was exploited cynically by [Israeli] officials to create divisions between Nazareth residents. This has never been a religious issue but rather a political one, he said. Immediately afterward, workers began construction on the Italian-style plaza originally planned for the area in preparation for the year 2000.

Meanwhile, after six years of legal proceedings, Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected the petition by former residents of the Catholic village of Ikrit in Galilee to return to their homes, which they were forced to evacuate more than 50 years ago. In their June 26 decision, the three High Court justices accepted the government’s position that a combination of current security concerns and the Palestinian demand for the right of return for Palestinian refugees made it impossible to return the residents of Ikrit to their village.

Gregory Deplores Supreme Court Decision on Sodomy Laws

Because it reduces respect for human sexuality and the family, the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision overturning state laws that made sodomy between consenting adults illegal is to be deplored, said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., said in a statement dated June 27 that the Supreme Court in its decision in Lawrence v. Texas chose to view homosexual behavior between consenting adults as a matter of privacy.... However, human sexuality cannot be viewed this way.... Sexual activity has profound social consequences which are not limited to those immediately engaged in sexual acts. For this reason, the larger society has always shown a concern about what is and is not acceptable in sexual behavior between individuals.

In its 6-to-3 decision overturning laws in Texas and about a dozen other states, the Supreme Court said the due process clause of the Constitution protects homosexual couples’ right to engage in sexual practices without intervention by the government.

Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the case was decided on the narrowest of grounds. Justice Kennedy took pains to insulate this case from broader conclusions. He points to laws against prostitution and rape to show that not every sexual act between adults is outside the reach of legislatures. Chopko also said Kennedy is equally careful to note that this case does not involve the question whether the government must formally recognize homosexual relationships.

The court also overturned a California law that retroactively removed the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors. California newspapers said that among the 800 cases that had been or were currently being prosecuted under the revised statute of limitations, more than 20 involved current or former Catholic priests arrested in the last 18 months. Just a few days before the ruling, two former Los Angeles priests were arrested and a third ordered to stand trial on charges dating back 30 to 50 years. A Los Angeles County district attorney told The Los Angeles Times that cases against 10 priests in his jurisdiction would probably be dismissed.

News Briefs

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, nuncio to the United Nations, on July 8 called for the international community to start work on a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on international arms trade that will reduce and eventually eradicate the illicit traffic of small arms and light weapons. Earlier, on July 1, he asked developed countries to take collective responsibility for poverty around the world and to tackle the difficulties of poor countries as if they were internal problems of their own.

A clinic in southern Ethiopia run by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary has been cited by Unicef for its success in saving children from dying of starvation caused by famine.

Six cardinals and four archbishops met at the Vatican in early July to discuss plans for the next world Synod of Bishops, a gathering likely to take place in late 2004 or 2005. One participant confirmed the synod would focus on the Eucharist.

The Vatican’s top health official said surgeons in Singapore should not have attempted a risky operationwhich proved fatalto separate 29-year-old Iranian twin sisters joined at the head.

By early July most U.S. Catholic bishops had answered a national survey on the extent in their dioceses of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, and the first dioceses had begun an external audit of how well they are implementing the national Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The 2003 edition of the Official Catholic Directory showed that although the number of priests and religious dropped by 1,226 to 44,487, the number of Catholics in the country increased by about 2 percent to 66.4 million, a level on a par with the overall population growth rate. Catholics continue to make up about 23 percent of the total U.S. population. The number of infant baptisms decreased by 2,226 to 1,005,490, but the number of adult baptisms grew by 1,121 to 81,013. The number of people received into the full communion of the Catholic Church also was higher in the 2003 directory, at 82,292, an increase of 1,052.

Liberian Archbishop Michael Francis of Monrovia has called on the United States to send peacekeeping troops to quell the violence and chaos gripping that West African nation.

Apologizing to victims of sexual abuse by clergy, South Africa’s bishops said they will ensure that abusers will be removed from ministry. They also said that if parents do not report a case of alleged child abuse by priests to police, the church will do so.

Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, an outspoken critic of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, said the government condemned his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell because it wants to keep its human rights abuses secret.

Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati took over the helm of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative on June 27. He succeeds Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb, 71, of Mobile, Ala.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has praised Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen, N.J., for being a model bishop for his support of victims of sexual abuse by clergy.

The heads of the Vatican offices responsible for the sacraments and Catholic doctrine met with Pope John Paul II to discuss norms for the celebration of Mass and adoration of the Eucharist.

Just as those who trust in the powerful of the world imitate their selfishness and pride, those who trust in God imitate his love for others, Pope John Paul said on July 2. As the Gospel of St. Matthew makes explicit, he said, We will be judged on our choices to serve Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

Even in our relationships with family and friends, forgiveness can be hard to come by.
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago, Chile, the Vatican announced on March 23.
Gerard O’ConnellMarch 23, 2019
Sister Bibiana Emenaha
A combination of a rapidly growing population, extreme poverty, unemployment and armed conflict push people to cross Nigeria’s porous borders in search of a better life.
Linus UnahMarch 22, 2019
As we come to grips with a national history of violence, greed and racialized privilege, this fable of noblesse oblige rings hollow.
Brandon SanchezMarch 22, 2019