O’Malley, who is 59, arrived in Boston Monday night from Palm Beach, Fla., where he has been serving as bishop of that diocese since last October. He will replace Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned last December after a year of allegations that he had gravely mishandled the sexual abuse crisis in Boston.
O’Malley, who often wears his customary hooded brown robe and sandals, is known for a humble, unassuming style. But he is also widely respected for his work in the diocese of Fall River, Mass., where he served from 1992 to 2002. During his early years in that assignment he cleaned up the sexual-abuse crisis involving Fr. James Porter, who pled guilty to molesting 28 children, including many altar boys.
O’Malley set up innovative procedures for reporting and preventing clergy sexual abuse, and his diocese reached out compassionately to victims and their families, earning him respect from around the nation.
He left Fall River last October to become bishop of the Palm Beach Diocese after two previous bishops there had admitted to molesting boys. Although he was in his Florida assignment for less than a year, he earned high marks from parishioners there for his ability to calm the waters of the scandal-plagued diocese.
Born in Lakewood, Ohio, he is the son of Theodore and the late Mary Louise (Reidy) O’Malley. He studied at Fidelis Seminary in Pennsylvania, and at the Capuchin Center in Washington, D.C. He is fluent in several languages and has a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese Literature from Catholic University.
In 1984, he became bishop of the St. Thomas Diocese in the Virgin Islands, where he remained until his transfer to Fall River in 1992.
He is considered a conservative and traditionalist who will adhere faithfully to the church’s teachings on such issues as abortion, the death penalty, birth control, priestly celibacy and the ordination of women
In an address to his Fall River parishioners last year, O’Malley spoke about the scandal rocking the church and revealed his traditionalist leanings.
“People are quick to blame the church’s problem on celibacy,” he said. “In fact, the church’s problems are a result of celibacy not being embraced and lived. In former times people exercised more restraint in sexual matters. Television, Hollywood, and songwriters respected certain standards. . . . Today, by contrast, MTV, the Internet, the music industry and Hollywood promote promiscuity even among teens.
“Cohabitation is the norm, adultery is winked at, divorce is rampant, and one-third of children in the United States are born out of wedlock. The sexual revolution has not been good for our country; nor has the church been left unscathed, as the present crisis clearly indicates.”
At a press conference in Boston Tuesday morning, O’Malley said that he found his new assignment “overwhelming.” He said that he had set time aside to meet later that day with some of the victims of the sexual abuse.
“Much has been done and much needs to be done,” he said about his mission to help “repair” the church. “I make the same commitment to you that I made 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.”
Bishop Richard Lennon, the interim administrator of the Boston Archdiocese, is expected to remain in that role for several months until O’Malley’s official installation.