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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
Bishop vows to tackle abuse fallout
Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley
Bishop O'Malley has much damage to repair
The Roman Catholic bishop chosen to lead the Archdiocese of Boston has vowed to help heal a church still devastated by a clergy sex abuse scandal.

Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, 59, who has replaced the disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law, said he also wanted to settle the hundreds of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits facing the church.

In his first public comments since being named as Pope John Paul II's choice, he criticised previous archdiocese leaders for their handling of paedophile priests.

He said that the sums of money required to settle the abuse lawsuits were "staggering" but no amount could compensate for the damage caused by abuse.

Bishop O'Malley's predecessor, Cardinal Law, resigned amid public outrage in December amid accusations that he covered up paedophilia by Roman Catholic priests in his diocese.

The new archbishop gained national attention for cracking down on sex abuse in his two previous assignments, establishing tough new procedures for preventing abuse in Fall River, Massachusetts, and then taking over the Palm Beach diocese after two previous bishops were implicated in sex scandals.

Bishop O'Malley, known as a soft-spoken but very conservative bishop, planned to meet with victims of abusive priests later on Tuesday as a first step in the healing process.

I feel acutely aware of my own deficiencies as I face the task at hand
Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley

He told reporters: "The path has never been easy but today it seems overwhelming. Still, I feel privileged to be called.

"I feel acutely aware of my own deficiencies as I face the task at hand."

The Vatican announced Bishop O'Malley's appointment in its daily bulletin. It also named his successor in Palm Beach, Bishop Gerald Barbarito, currently bishop of Ogdensburg, New York.

Praise and pain

The lay victims group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it welcomed Bishop O'Malley and would work with him, but stressed that "no one person can magically undo the horrific pain so many in this archdiocese feel."

"He did lead the Fall River diocese in the aftermath of serial predator priest James Porter. But one case does not make a track record," said Ann Hagen Webb, New England co-ordinator of the group.

"There could never be a better person in the country to have this job and to try to bring about real healing in the Archdiocese of Boston," said attorney Roderick MacLeish, who represented 101 of Porter's victims.

He's good public relations, but he's not really going to solve the problem
Frank Fitzpatrick, victim of James Porter

One of Porter's victims said he hadn't been satisfied with his dealings with Bishop O'Malley.

"He's slick. He's good public relations. But as far as deep inside, he's not really going to solve the problem," said Frank Fitzpatrick.

"The reason is, he's just there to quiet things down."

In Palm Beach, where two prior bishops admitted they were guilty of sexual abuse, Bishop O'Malley immediately apologised to victims and took immediate steps to crack down on abuse.

In Boston, however, he will likely find his greatest challenge.

The BBC's Alison Whisson
"Victim support groups have welcomed the new appointment"

New leader for Boston Church
30 Jun 03  |  Americas

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