In one Roman neighborhood, rooting for Cardinal O'Malley

In one Roman neighborhood, rooting for Cardinal O'Malley

  Cardinal O'Malley greeted by parishioners in Rome on Sunday

If it were up to Maria Cherubino, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston would emerge from the coming conclave as the next pope.

“He’s a spiritual figure, he’s fairly young and energetic, and he seems sure of himself. All that is important, because I think the church needs a great guide in this particular moment,” she said after attending Mass celebrated by Cardinal O’Malley in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

A few pews away, Elisabetta Porco gave a similar endorsement.

“There was just something about him I immediately liked when I saw him. Maybe being a friar is part of it, but I have the feeling he would be a different kind of pope,” she said.

Her assessment appeared to be shared by the crowd of parishioners that packed into the small church, where O’Malley is the “titular” cardinal – every cardinal is assigned a titular church in Rome, and the Boston cardinal was lucky enough to get a historic one in the city center.

Father Rocco Visca welcomed Cardinal O’Malley with a talk that stopped just short of being a campaign speech. He recalled telling a reporter about O’Malley’s qualities as a “lovable, humble but decisive” man, whose only “defect” was that he was a Capuchin friar – a remark made in jest, but reflecting the fact that it’s been ages since a member of a Franciscan order was elected pope.

Father Visca said he knows that Cardinal O’Malley has called the prospect of his election to the throne of Peter “surreal” and even frightening, but he urged the cardinal to let himself be guided by "the design of the Holy Spirit.”

“We hope this will be your last visit to our church as a titular cardinal. And if our prayers are answered, we hope your first visit as pontiff will be to our – and your – church, Santa Maria della Vittoria,” he added, to the delight of everyone in attendance.

Well, almost everyone.

A contrary voice from Boston

Among those attending the Mass was Peter Borré, who heads the Council of Parishes in Boston, a group that has fought against O’Malley’s plans for parish closings. He said Boston has gone from 400 parishes 10 years ago to 280 parishes today, and if Cardinal O’Malley has his way, that will shrink to about 130 parish clusters in coming years.

The way Borré sees it, “That’s purification with a vengeance.”

“I think the fundamental policy choice is, do we continue one-third of a century of downsizing … with the idea of, let’s get to a base? Or do we restore the catholic small-c and reach out? O’Malley, for all his pastoral ways, has been on the leading edge of downsizing. That doesn’t work for me,” he said.

Another reason Borré has trouble envisioning O’Malley as pope is his management style, at a time when many cardinals are calling for deep reform of the Roman Curia.

“It’s clear from these discussions in Rome that somebody has got to get a grip on the Curia. This guy, in Boston for almost 10 years, has given up. He signs what he’s told to sign. And then this American notion, well, that it’ll be a split ticket so we’ll have Godzilla as secretary of state – that doesn’t work in an absolute monarchy,” he said.

The prodigal son

In his homily at today’s Mass, O’Malley spoke in decent enough Italian (though he mispronounced the Italian word "conclave"), reflecting on the Gospel parable of the prodigal son, and the need for the church to reach out with mercy to people who have grown distant from the faith.

He spoke briefly about the conclave, which begins on Tuesday, asking for prayers so that the cardinals will “choose a new pope who will confirm us in our faith and make more visible the love of the Good Shepherd, who seeks out the lost sheep, who heals the sick and who embraces the prodigal son.”

"One can leave the house of the father, the church, for various reasons: ignorance, a poor welcome, negative experiences, scandals and spiritual mediocrity," he said.

O’Malley has become an unlikely favorite of Italians in the run-up to the conclave, even coming in first place in a reader poll conducted by the newspaper Corriere della Sera. In fact, as of today O’Malley was leading the next highest vote-getter in the reader poll, Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, by a 2-1 margin.

That ensured that there were almost as many journalists as worshipers in the Santa Maria della Vittoria church. At the end of the Mass, a priest told reporters not to even think about interviewing the cardinal: “We’re taking him out a secret back door known only to us.”

The priest joked that the church is probably best known on the tourist map as the setting for grisly scenes in Dan Brown’s fictional best-seller, “Angels and Demons.”

The Sunday send-off

All across Rome, other cardinals were receiving similar send-offs to the conclave as they celebrated liturgies in their titular churches. 

A few blocks away, Cardinal Scola told his faithful: "The church's mission is always to announce the mercy of God, even to the sophisticated and disoriented people of the 21st century, even in these afflicted times."

Meanwhile, just down the street, Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer said the conclave marked a "beautiful' moment for the church, and an opportunity to show the world that the faith was built on "joy and hope."

13 comments (Add your own)

1. Bob Schwiderski wrote:
The picture looks like the people are filled with "false idol" worship!

Here is a list of 174 accused clerics

Sun, March 10, 2013 @ 8:46 AM

2. Number 9 wrote:
Might we really get an American????

Sun, March 10, 2013 @ 2:16 PM

3. Deacon John M. Bresnahan wrote:
The cardinals would be crazy to choose an American. Everytime some group or country didn't like a decision of his, the hue and cry would go up that the CIA or the U.S. government is running the Vatican.

Sun, March 10, 2013 @ 2:43 PM

4. Michael wrote:
Thank you for the snapshot as to the goings on in Rome to which the average layman is not privy. As probably most Catholics, I have been following the goings on via the media and am surprised at how meaningful it has been for me. I was reminded of Macauley's statement, "There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church… She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s." Thomas Babington Macauley, 1840. God willing, a 266th successor to St. Peter...Thanks be to God.

Sun, March 10, 2013 @ 2:53 PM

5. queenieb wrote:
@ Deacon John,
Do you mean as "the hue and cry" has gone up for centuries, that the Vatican acts on behalf of the kings, dictators, Kennedys, etc.?
The gates of hell will not prevail.

Sun, March 10, 2013 @ 3:34 PM

6. Theresa Maccarone wrote:
I think Cardinal O'Malley would make a great Pope.

Sun, March 10, 2013 @ 5:04 PM

7. Mike Andrews wrote:
O'Malley inherited a failing archdiocese and by most accounts markedly improved the health of the church there. Let's admit it: He is closing parishes because Boston Catholics have fallen away in huge numbers. Boston is perhaps the most faithless church in the United States.

Sun, March 10, 2013 @ 7:52 PM

8. Deacon Jonathan Jones wrote:
The Council of Parishes has had it's own agenda for some time, opposing any reorganization of the parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston. This opposition comes despite the obvious need to address the diminishing priesthood, and attendance at some parishes. The Archdiocese is currently in the process of forming collaboratives, of two to three parishes, which would be under one pastor The decision to close a parish church, would be left to each collaborative. Cardinal Sean has done his best not to pursue the closing of additional parishes; tried to be patient with those who occupied parishes already approved for closure. He came to Boston, to a situation that was already dire for many reasons, and has brought the Archdiocese into a much better place, for its clergy and laity.

Sun, March 10, 2013 @ 10:51 PM

9. Michael O'Keefe wrote:
Perhaps if Boston Catholics had not spent the last 50 or so years practicing artificial birth control and other errors it wouldn't be necessary to close their parishes. They have the church they wanted, and they do not like it..

Mon, March 11, 2013 @ 7:21 AM

10. Luket wrote:
I can't help it, Bishops with beards make me nervous...

Mon, March 11, 2013 @ 7:56 AM

11. Jim wrote:
Mike Andrews,
You are correct that O'Malley inherited a failing archdiocese and is closing parishes because Boston Catholics have fallen away in huge numbers. You're also correct that Boston is perhaps the most faithless church in the United States. That's where you go off the mark.

In the Boston Archdiocese, weekly Mass attendance has plunged from 376,383 in 2000 to 286,951 in 2009. As of 2012, it had dropped to 245,000–a 12.5% drop in just the past 5 years, and down 34% in the past 12 years.

The diocese is nearly $140M in debt, and that's not counting the $70M cut from lay employee pension plans that was owed to former employees. Capital reserves have been drained.

There is an active network of homosexual priests. Several of them have been publicly blessing "gay marriages" for years--with the full knowledge of Cardinal O'Malley--and nothing has been done about this.

Cardinal O'Malley presided over the canonization-style funeral of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, which scandalized the world. In explaining it afterwards, he glorified Kennedy and criticized the pro-life Catholics who felt that O'Malley was giving air-cover for pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians who now felt that they could vote in favor of abortion and still be seen by the Church as "good Catholics."

I would urge all people considering Cardinal O'Malley or other cardinals for the papacy to separate the style from the substance. Cardinal O'Malley scores high points for style, but extremely low points on substance. Assess objectively how they have done in their own dioceses in the main canonical responsibilities of teaching, sanctifying, and governing. In these three areas, when you look at the actual evidence and experience on the ground in the past 10 years, you will find Sean O'Malley does not score well. Check out for more specifics.

Mon, March 11, 2013 @ 5:30 PM

12. John wrote:
Have you seen the March 11 Washington Post story about the three Donilin brothers from Rhode Island? Tom is a national security advisor to President Obama. Terry is communications director for Cardinal O'Malley. While Tom is expected to step down this year, there is a third brother, Michael A., who is a longtime political aide to Vice President Biden.

More support for the people cited in Deacon John's assessment.

Mon, March 11, 2013 @ 6:04 PM

13. John O'Neill wrote:
The Cardinal is a friar. The Holy Spirit may inspire the other Cardinals to elect a man who didn't want the job. I'm sure that Cardinal O'Malley dosen't want it. The rest may be history.

Mon, March 11, 2013 @ 10:43 PM

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