Red Hat for Boston
February 23, 2006
THE ELEVATION of Archbishop Sean O'Malley to cardinal shows the importance that Pope Benedict XVI attaches to the Boston Archdiocese and his high regard for O'Malley's 2 1/2-year tenure as its leader. The Catholic Church in Boston is still recovering from the sexual abuse scandal, and the archdiocese will require most of his attention as he assumes an influential position in the worldwide church.
Since 1911, Boston archbishops have been regularly elevated to the College of Cardinals, but some Vatican watchers doubted that O'Malley would be honored so soon. Cardinal Bernard Law, his predecessor, is active in Rome, and Americans are disproportionately represented in the college.
Once he became archbishop in July 2003, O'Malley settled the bulk of the abuse cases, selling archdiocesan headquarters in Brighton to raise the needed funds. And he moved on to a parish closing and consolidation initiative. When angry parishioners staged sit-ins, he had the good sense to appoint a new commission to recommend the reversal of several closings. Reflecting his background in the Franciscan order, he demonstrated a more pastoral inclination than Law.
O'Malley has gone far to repair the damage caused by Law's failure to prevent the abuse crisis, and had earned consideration for elevation to cardinal.
Law, fluent in Spanish, became a papal intermediary in Latin America when he was cardinal archbishop. O'Malley, who speaks Portuguese, Spanish, and Creole, might be expected to do something similar. But in a news conference by telephone yesterday, he said, "I hope to continue to be able to focus on Boston. . . . We have had a very bad patch over the last few years."
O'Malley must continue to navigate the different issues associated with gay marriage with an awareness that much of the rest of society does not share the church's emphatic opposition to the broadening of an essential human institution. For many Catholics the key religious issues are not gay marriage or other topics that might preoccupy the Vatican, but the day-to-day living of their faith, as mediated through their pastor and parish.
As the archdiocese celebrated the elevation of O'Malley, its website noted the retirement of three more priests. According to the site, the number of Boston diocesan priests stood at 850 at the end of 2004, down from 901 in 2001. O'Malley will have to bring in more lay people to occupy positions once held by priests, and move priests around the 310 parishes without the priests burning out. O'Malley has revived the archdiocese at its center but it needs the strong roots that a vigorous priesthood can provide.
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