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Boston Assignment To Clean Up Sex Abuse 'Terrified' Cardinal Sean O'Malley

BOSTON (CBS/AP) -- Cardinal Sean O'Malley was "terrified" when the Vatican sent him to run the scandal-plagued Archdiocese of Boston in 2003, he said in a "60 Minutes" segment that aired Sunday evening.

In the wide-ranging interview with Norah O'Donnell, O'Malley talked about his new role as the president of a Vatican commission to combat child abuse, his views on the role of women in the church and his close relationship with Pope Francis.

When O'Malley was sent to Boston, the church was facing its biggest sex abuse scandal in history.

"There were a thousand lawsuits against us. The seminary was empty," O'Malley said. "As I say such anger, disappointment, upset on the part of the people."

O'Malley had earned a reputation for cleaning up churches besieged by scandal in Fall River and Palm Beach, Florida, but the Boston assignment was especially daunting.

"It was – somebody described it as a fixer-upper," O'Malley said.

Now, O'Malley makes regular visits to Rome to head a new Vatican commission created to combat sexual abuse.

"I think even here, particularly in the past, there was a feeling that this was an American problem," O'Malley said.

But O'Malley said that these days, the Vatican considers child abuse an intolerable, church-wide issue.

"Certainly, the Holy Father is very, very aware of that and very committed to zero tolerance and to responding in a proper way to this phenomenon of child abuse," O'Malley said.

Abuse Survivors Skeptical

After "60 Minutes" aired, WBZ-TV's Paul Burton spoke with Bernie McDaid, one of the first survivors of sexual abuse by clergy to speak out in 2002. More than 10 years later, McDaid said he still feels that the church has not done enough for victims of sexual abuse.

'The fact that there's only been one or two bishops taken down that were covering it up is really a slap in the face, and that stalls the healing and causes mistrust," McDaid said. "It's been nothing but an uphill battle to be heard."

Catholic church abuse survivor Bernie McDaid reacts to Cardinal O'Malley's 60 Minutes interview (WBZ-TV).

McDaid described O'Malley as a "soldier of the church."

"He seemed a little guarded," McDaid said of O'Malley. "He's very calculated, even his voice tone doesn't go up or down."

Kansas City Bishop

O'Malley also said the Vatican needs to "address urgently" the position of Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of failing to take action in response to abuse allegations.

The cardinal acknowledged that child protection policies in his own archdiocese would bar Finn from teaching Sunday school there.

"It's a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently," O'Malley said.  "There's a recognition of that (from the pope)."

Relationship With Pope Francis

The cardinal has been described as the closet American adviser to Pope Francis, whom he first met in 2010 on church business in Argentina.

"I knew that he would be different," O'Malley said. "I am delighted that he is beyond my expectations."

When they're not staying together at the Vatican guest house during O'Malley's Rome visits, he and the pope keep in touch through an old-fashioned means of communication – faxing.

"The pope and I aren't texting," O'Malley said.

Women In The Church

Pope Francis has suggested that the role of women in the church should be expanded, and O'Malley said he agrees that more women should be in positions of power.

"I think there should be. And hopefully, there will be," O'Malley said. "I can't tell you what time, but hopefully soon."

But O'Malley sticks to more traditional church positions on the question of whether women should be ordained.

"If I were founding a church, you know, I'd love to have women priests," O'Malley said. "But Christ founded it and what he has given us is something different."

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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