BOSTON - Sean Patrick O'Malley begged forgiveness from the victims of clergy sexual abuse Wednesday as he was installed as the new Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston and promised a new start for a community fractured by scandal.
During a ceremony marked by simplicity and humor, O'Malley asked for prayers and help as he tries to rebuild the archdiocese, heal the wounds of victims and restore the confidence of ordinary Catholics.
O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar, also made it a point to thank "so many good priests struggling to make sense out of it all," a remark that drew sustained applause from the approximately 900 clergymen in the audience at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
"The whole Catholic community is ashamed and anguished because of the pain and damage inflicted on so many young people and because of our inability or unwillingness to deal with the crime of sexual abuse of minors," O'Malley said in his homily. "To those victims and to their families, we beg forgiveness and assure them that the Catholic church is working to create a safe environment for young people."
O'Malley, 59, is the sixth archbishop of Boston and has one of the best reputations among national Catholic leaders for dealing with abuse-related issues.
He succeeds Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in December as evidence mounted that church leaders shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish to keep allegations against them secret.
More than 500 lawsuits are pending from people who claim they were sexually abused by priests over the past six decades. A report by the state attorney general said it's likely more than 1,000 people were abused by hundreds of priests since 1940.
The installation ceremony at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross was low-key, in keeping with O'Malley's humble demeanor as a friar and in deference to the victims of abuse.
O'Malley also asked to be called by his first name and will be known as "Archbishop Sean."
Gary Bergeron, 41, who said both he and his younger brother were sexually abused by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham in the 1970s, was one of dozens of alleged victims who were invited to attend the installation ceremony. Some declined the invitation, but Bergeron attended with his parents.
"I think that his message was on target on all aspects," Bergeron said of O'Malley's homily. "Today is the first time I've felt a compassion from a church official in a long, long time."
The ceremony had some light moments, like when O'Malley - who has had assignments in Florida and the Caribbean - talked about the "lovely vacation spots" where he has served as bishop.
"My Provincial used to say, "O'Malley, when will you get a real job?' Well, Brother Paul, does this count?" O'Malley said, prompting laughter from the crowd of 2,500.