Sept. 3, 2002 – Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, who served the Catholic Diocese of St. Thomas from 1984 to 1992, was named by Pope John Paul II on Tuesday as bishop of the Palm Beach Diocese, which covers 49 parishes in five counties in southeastern Florida.
O'Malley was named coadjutor bishop of the Virgin Islands Catholic community in 1984, becoming bishop the following year. Since 1992, he has been bishop of Fall River, Massachetts.
In his new assignment, he succeeds Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, who resigned in March after admitting he molested a seminarian more than 25 years ago.
O'Malley, noting that his new appointment comes at a difficult time for the Catholic Church, said he was committed to working with the members of the diocese to ensure the safety of young people in the church.
"This is an arduous task, and I truly ask for your cooperation," O'Malley said at a press conference on Tuesday at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola Family Center in Palm Beach Gardens. Sexual exploitation of minors by members of the clergy has had devastating effects on every one, he said, beginning with the victims and their loved ones who "suffer the cruel aftermath of abuse."
"The whole church feels the pain of this scandal and is anxious to try to bring some healing and reconciliation to our families and communities that have been so shaken by these sad events and by the mishandling of these situations on the part of the church," O'Malley said.
He asked for help from the laity in bringing healing and comfort to abuse victims and to guarantee that churches, schools and church agencies will be safe havens for children and young people. One member of the Palm Beach Diocese said she would be glad to put the O'Connell scandal behind her. "It's time to get on with things," said Mildred Cost, a member of St. Vincent Ferrer Church in Delray Beach.
O'Malley, 58, was born in Lakewood, Ohio. He became a monk in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin on Aug. 29, 1970. In a 1985 interview with this reporter, he said it was unusual for priests who are monks or friars to be elevated to the rank of bishop. In fact, he said, his entire career path was a somewhat of a surprise.
"When I entered the monastery, I though I would go and work in a mission in some place like Papua, New Guinea," he said in the interview that appeared in Pride Magazine. He also said of his position at the time in the Virgin Islands that he would be "content to be here the rest of my life."
O'Malley 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, D.C. He taught at the university from 1969 to 1973. In 1973, he was appointed executive director of Centro Catolico Hispano in the Washington archdiocese.
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