Reassigned St. John’s rector is a familiar story — and a problem for O’Malley

Cardinal Sean O’Malley

It looks like it might be the same old game of musical chairs for problem priests — and that’s a problem for Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

Monsignor James P. Moroney , the rector of St. John’s Seminary, was quietly reassigned back to his home diocese in Worcester while an investigation into sexual harassment allegations at the seminary continues. Moroney himself has not been accused of sexual misconduct, but the transfer raises questions about his role in handling the allegations.

“It seems pretty clear that the rector should not have been reassigned before the independent investigation is completed,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “The public deserves transparency throughout the process.”


In response, Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for O’Malley said: “We agree with the attorney general that the public deserves transparency. We are committed to follow through on the cardinal’s pledge to allow the independent report to be completed and a report made public on the findings along with any recommendations.”

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Donilon also said, “we would not draw any conclusions” concerning any connection between the investigation and Moroney’s new assignment.

The probe was launched in August, after two former seminarians made allegations of improper conduct at St. John’s Seminary. The alleged misconduct doesn’t involve minors and doesn’t appear to be criminal in nature, but casts concerns about the church’s internal culture. At that time, Moroney also went on sabbatical leave for the fall semester.

In October, O’Malley broadened the inquiry to include two other seminaries. He also announced he had hired former US attorney Donald K. Stern to head the inquiry, after criticism that the investigators originally tapped to review the matter had ties to the seminary. Healey had also stressed the importance of an independent review.

Then late last month — on the holiday weekend leading up to the New Year — came an announcement from the Diocese of Worcester that Moroney would be returning there as interim rector of the Cathedral at St. Paul and Worcester Diocese Office for Divine Worship.


The lack of transparency surrounding Moroney’s move hardly inspires confidence in a church that has an unhappy history of shuffling around predator priests. As Anne Barrett Doyle, a board member of BishopAccountability.org, a watchdog group, points out: “It is absolutely reminiscent of the stealthy transfers of the past. It’s so bewildering that Cardinal O’Malley still doesn’t get it. He owes the public a full and prompt accounting.”

The St. John’s inquiry has been playing out against revived attention on the graver history of sexual abuse of minors by priests. In February, Pope Francis plans to hold a summit in Rome aimed at teaching bishops what must be done “to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors.”

But Francis has a mixed record when it comes to addressing sexual abuse. And as an advisor to Francis, and the head of a Vatican commission on clergy abuse, O’Malley’s commitment to reform has also been called into question. How his office handled previous allegations of misconduct involving seminarians outside Massachusetts has also been troubling. The mystery surrounding Moroney’s return to Worcester adds to those concerns.