PORTLAND – An auxiliary bishop from the Boston archdiocese who specializes in religious education was tapped by Pope John Paul II on Tuesday to succeed Bishop Joseph Gerry as spiritual leader of Maine’s 234,000 Roman Catholics.

“I am delighted to be here,” Bishop Richard Malone, 57, of Salem, Mass., told reporters as he appeared beside Gerry at the Catholic Chancery just hours after being notified of his selection.

Malone will serve as bishop designate until March 31, when he will be installed as the 11th bishop of the Diocese of Portland at a Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Gerry, who has headed the statewide diocese since 1989, submitted his retirement on his 75th birthday in September in accordance with church law. He plans to return to the St. Anselm monastery in Manchester, N.H., where he spent most of his adult life as a Benedictine monk.

A Beverly, Mass., native, Malone was ordained as a priest in 1972 and spent his entire career in and around Boston, where he was elevated to auxiliary bishop in 2000. He served in a parish in Stoneham, Mass., before beginning a long ministry in education that included teaching in high schools and colleges, serving as a college chaplain, and overseeing education policies and programs within the archdiocese.

That work, he told reporters, shielded him from the personnel decisions that came under close scrutiny as the archdiocese was embroiled in the sex abuse scandal that led to the departure of Cardinal Bernard Law.

“Boston is, as everyone of you knows, a hurting church, and a church that is slowly coming out of a horrific phase in its history,” Malone said. “I was as shocked and as saddened as anyone was by the tragic story of the sexual abuse of children by some priests and also at the fact that oftentimes those cases seemed to have been handled poorly.”

The Church has learned from the painful experience and is moving forward and becoming stronger, he said. But much remains to be done, he said, including abuse prevention initiatives to make sure that children are aware of signs of potential abuse and know what to do should they appear.

Malone said he was pleased that the Portland diocese was found to be fully compliant with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ charter for the protection of children.

A member of the Committee on Evangelization of the Bishops’ Conference, Malone said a priority in his new assignment will be to reach out to lapsed Catholics and “invite them to come closer to the Lord’s table and to taste the Lord’s wonderful love.”

He also indicated that he will have to restructure the state’s 138 parishes to put them in line with shifts in population and a decline in the number of priests.

Malone said that while he will be chief shepherd of the diocese, he will vigorously seek the advice of clergy, religious and laity in reaching and carrying out his decisions.

Gerry, who will serve as administrator of the diocese until the new bishop is installed, expressed gratitude for the blessings he has received during his 15 years as bishop.

“I pray that Bishop Malone’s appointment as our diocesan bishop will be a source of countless blessings and joy for him and for all as he moves among them teaching, governing and sanctifying,” he said.

Gerry, a Millinocket native, faced criticism for his handling of sex abuse cases after the scandal erupted in Boston.

Advocates for abuse victims unsuccessfully pressed Gerry to release the names of 51 accused priests, 18 of whom are dead and none of whom are still in active ministry, according to the diocese.

A spokesman for Voice of the Faithful in Maine said the lay Catholic reform group had little information about the incoming bishop and was eager to meet with him.

“Auxiliary bishops do not step forward publicly very often, so there’s very little known about Richard Malone at this point,” Michael Sweatt said.

Sweatt said his group was interested in Malone’s dealings with abuse victims and the poor, his plans to initiate healing and his efforts to energize the priesthood.

“What we’re hoping for is a bishop who will model for us the life of Christ,” Sweatt said. “There’s a lot of work here in this diocese. There’s much to do.”

Malone expressed a love for Maine, having spent time during two summers at Holy Redeemer Parish in Bar Harbor, but was in “shock and awe” at the prospect of leading a diocese that covers 33,000 square miles.

“I’ll be getting new tires for my Honda Civic,” he said.

He also said that his French, which he studied in college, “can be resuscitated.” While making it plain that he was not fluent enough to converse with French-speaking parishioners, he promised to bring himself up to speed.

Whereas Gerry seemed to be uncomfortable in dealing with the media, Malone produced and hosted programs for Boston Catholic Television and is likely to present a more recognizable public face on behalf of the Maine diocese.

“Believe me, he is not camera shy,” Gerry said as he introduced his successor.

On the Net:


AP-ES-02-10-04 1438EST

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.