National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  July 16, 2004

O'Malley calls Law post 'poorly timed'


Boston’s archbishop has admitted that the nomination of his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law, to a Roman job “couldn’t have come at a worse time,” and that “people in Boston didn’t really understand the appointment.”

Archbishop Sean O’Malley spoke to NCR July 2 in Rome. O’Malley, 60, was in Rome to receive the pallium, a sign of his authority as a metropolitan archbishop, in a June 29 Vatican ceremony.

Law, whose failure to intervene against abusive priests in Boston made him a symbol of the sex abuse crisis, resigned on Dec. 13, 2002. After more than a year officially residing in a convent in Maryland, Law, 72, was named May 27 as archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major. The position means that he will live and work in Rome.

The appointment came just two days after the Boston archdiocese announced plans to close 65 parishes, nearly one-fifth of the parishes in the archdiocese and perhaps the largest single closing of churches in American Catholic history.

Law’s appointment triggered wide criticism in Boston, with one editorial calling the move “bitter and callous.”

O’Malley told NCR that the appointment was “poorly timed.”

“I don’t know that people in Boston really understood it,” he said. “It seemed to them like a reward. It came across as some sort of prestigious, powerful post,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said that a New York Times report May 28, suggesting that Law might receive as much as $12,000 a month in his new post, “was not helpful at all.”

NCR later reported that, according to Vatican spokesperson Joaquín Navarro-Valls, Law’s monthly stipend will be $5,000 a month.

O’Malley defended Law’s appointment as “something given to a retired cardinal.”

“It’s not like being the prefect of a congregation or some important post in the Vatican,” O’Malley said.

Law, meanwhile, appears to be settling in to his new situation in Rome. On July 1, he attended the Fourth of July party sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, arriving in his cardinal’s dress and spending considerable time chatting with guests at the residence of Ambassador James Nicholson.

On other matters, O’Malley told NCR that despite the toll of what he called “a very difficult” first year in office, he believes there is “a lot of movement” in Boston toward healing the wounds caused by the sex abuse scandal.

“People are returning to the church,” he said. “They’re contributing again, they’re getting involved again.

“The depth of the problem is very great, and it will be a long process. The hurt will be with us for a long time,” he said. “But there are signs of hope.

“All the pain and suffering of crisis, not just in Boston but across the United States, has focused Catholics on the essentials of the faith,” O’Malley said. “Catholics who are serious Catholics are even more serious, more committed, because of what we have suffered.”

O’Malley said he hopes to use the bicentennial of the Boston archdiocese in 2008 as an opportunity to “call people to spiritual renewal.” To prepare for that, he said, he is currently working to set up a diocesan pastoral council.

Earlier in the week, O’Malley told Boston-area newspapers that he was frustrated with the slow pace of progress in Rome in processing the case files of priests charged with sexual abuse. He vowed to press Vatican officials to speed things up.

“The process has been very slow, and I’m very frustrated by that. The resources here are inadequate to be able to expedite the cases with the facility that we’d like to see.”

O’Malley told NCR that after his Vatican meetings, he was encouraged by the openness he found to the idea of commissioning canon lawyers from the United States to help clear the logjam.

Under rules promulgated by John Paul II in 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith receives all files of priests charged with sexual abuse, and then decides whether a canonical process should be launched at the local level or in Rome. By most accounts, several hundred American cases are currently awaiting a judgment.

Finally, O’Malley told NCR he was “amused” by ongoing speculation in Boston as to why he was not made a cardinal in the October 2003 consistory, in which Justin Rigali in Philadelphia received the coveted “red hat.”

“I never thought I would be made an archbishop,” he said. “I’ve told the Holy Father that I don’t think Capuchins should be made bishops at all except in the missions. I’m really uncomfortable with all the hoopla.”

O’Malley is a member of the Capuchin Franciscans, and often wears the order’s distinctive brown habit.

O’Malley said it is not unusual that archbishops in traditional cardinal’s sees might have to wait before entering the College of Cardinals. He cited Cardinal James Hickey, who waited eight years after having been named archbishop of Washington in 1980, and the late Cardinal James Cushing, who was appointed archbishop of Boston in 1944 and did not become a cardinal until 1958.

Vatican sources told NCR at the time that part of the logic for not making O’Malley a cardinal more quickly was to allow him to focus on the local situation. O’Malley said that could well be a factor.

“My plate is already pretty full,” he said.

In the end, O’Malley said he believes Boston will pull through in part because of support from Catholics worldwide.

“Everywhere I go, people say they are praying for Boston,” he said. “I believe them.”

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, July 16, 2004

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