The Vatican Plays Its Best Card

By John L. Allen Jr.
National Catholic Reporter
July 18, 2003

NCR Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr. writes a weekly column, The Word from Rome, that appears on In his July 3 column, Allen wrote about why he thinks O'Malley was appointed to the Boston archdiocese. Following is an excerpt:

Since Cardinal Bernard Law resigned on Dec. 13, 2002, I said often that O'Malley would be the obvious successor if it weren't for the fact he had just taken over in Palm Beach in October 2002.

Obviously, the calculation was that Boston is so important -- Archbishop Tim Dolan of Milwaukee told me June 30 that Boston is a "weathervane" for how things are going with the national crisis -- the Vatican felt compelled to play what it considered the best card in its deck.

I see three reasons why O'Malley was that card.

First, he is a fix-it man on the sex abuse issue. He went to the diocese of Fall River, Mass., in 1992 at the height of the scandal surrounding Fr. James Porter. O'Malley won high marks for his outreach to victims and for instituting tough policies for priests, lay employees and volunteers. He repeated the performance in Palm Beach. He struck the right notes at his July 1 news conference in Boston, stating clearly: "People's lives are more important than money."

Second, O'Malley is a known quantity in Boston because of his decade in Fall River. He is well liked and respected, which means that the early buzz on his appointment has been largely favorable. Former Boston mayor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn, for example, called it a "Massachusetts miracle." O'Malley will start with a large reservoir of good will, an asset that few other candidates for the Boston job could offer.

Third, O'Malley is the kind of man who inspires trust as a pastor and as a spiritual leader, and at bottom the crisis in Boston is spiritual. People feel betrayed by their church and its leaders, and will be looking to O'Malley to restore trust. A Capuchin Franciscan, O'Malley has a reputation as a humble man of deep prayer and sincerity. He is no doctrinal radical, certainly; on theological questions, he is closer to Bernard Law than to Law's progressive critics. But what O'Malley will bring is a change of style and of tone, and perhaps that in itself will be enough for some of the dark clouds to lift.


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