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Boston archbishop aims for reconciliation

O'Malley: "The stakes are very high."

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BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The Vatican on Tuesday named Sean Patrick O'Malley to replace Cardinal Bernard Law as the head of the troubled Boston Archdiocese.

O'Malley said he will attempt to bring "reconciliation" to Boston's Catholics, hurt and angered by a sex abuse scandal, and will make the safety of children a "paramount goal."

Law resigned as archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese in December amid controversy over the way he handled allegations that priests sexually abused children and that the alleged molestations were covered up.

O'Malley, 59, told reporters Tuesday: "The devastating effects of sexual exploitation of minors by members of the clergy have wounded us all, beginning with the victims themselves and their families, who suffered the poisonous aftermath of abuse."

In his two most recent previous positions -- bishop of the Palm Beach, Florida, and bishop of Fall River, Massachusetts -- O'Malley won praise for his handling of sex abuse scandals.

Hundreds of people allege they suffered sexual abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese and have filed lawsuits.

Depositions given by Law in those suits have revealed details about how those in the church suppressed allegations of abuse.

O'Malley said Tuesday the church as a whole and individual dioceses have been "mobilized in an attempt to address the grave errors of the past" but much "needs to be done."

"I do ask for forgiveness for these horrendous sins and crimes that have been committed," he said. "The whole church feels ashamed and pained."

He hopes to meet with all levels of the archdiocese -- from the laity to the clergy -- to understand the problems there.

'A moral obligation'

O'Malley said that even though "we hope that the achievement of financial settlements will be a factor in a process of healing," people's lives "are more important than money."

"I have always told diocesan lawyers in the past that settlements are not hush money, or extortion or anything other than the rightful indemnification of persons who have suffered gravely at the hands of a priest. Even when I have been told that there is no legal obligation I have always said, if there is a moral obligation we must step up to the plate.

"In Boston, the numbers of victims are great and the dollar amounts are staggering. We want to do right by the victims (and) at same time to carry on the essential elements of our mission, especially our mission to give people the good news of the gospel and to serve the poor, the sick and the marginalized."

Asked why the sex abuse scandal evolved, O'Malley said the seriousness of the "malaise" was apparently not well understood in the past.

"There was not an awareness in the past of the profound damage done to victims. If people had realized that, they would have taken this problem much more seriously.

"I think they saw it as a moral problem, a weakness and not as a sickness or a compulsion on the part of the predators. I don't think there was any inkling of how devastating such an experience is for a child."

O'Malley, born in Lakewood, Ohio, was appointed bishop to the Fall River Diocese in 1992 after serving in Washington and the Virgin Islands.

As bishop of Palm Beach, he gave the homily at the memorial Mass for the victims of the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

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