My Cappuccino Cardinal – Sean O’Malley of Boston

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Cardinal Sean O'Malley laughing about question on "cappuccino" robe at press conference in Rome. Freeze frame of video shot for AP Television by Luigi Navarra.

Dear Blog Readers-

A quick word about my “Cappuccino” Cardinal, that would be the Cardinal from my hometown, Boston,  Cardinal Sean O’Malley.  O’Malley has suddenly emerged on the lists of Papabile or papal contenders.   He became a Capuchin Friar at age 21 and to this day wears the brown, hooded habit and a white rope belt making him stand out among the crowd of Cardinals.

Today he spoke together with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston at a briefing in Rome.  Now, in this blog I have whined and moaned about trying to keep up with my job as a journalist while juggling family demands.  But once in a while, being a Mother has its advantages.  Today, I popped a question from my 12-year-old daughter Chiara (who my blog readers might know has a penchant for fashion and fingernails) on Cardinal O’Malley.  Chiara wanted to know if the Cardinal “would wear his “Cappuccino” robe if he were elected Pope?”  Capuchin Friars are are known as Cappuccini in Italian and, singularly as Cappuccino, and of course a “cappuccino” is Italy’s national drink (together with espresso and vino), so Chiara was curious.

The Cardinal let out a lovely guffaw in his deep baritone, and Cardinal DiNardo had a good chuckle too.  And then O’Malley answered, “As far as your daughter’s concern, I’ve worn this uniform for over 40 years and I presume I will wear it until I die, and because I don’t expect to be elected Pope, so I don’t expect to have a change of wardrobe. “

I hope he’s wrong.  I think he would make a great Pope.  O’Malley has  risen up to the top of my favorite pope choices list (together with Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines) and this is why.

For starters, Chiara is right to notice his distinctive look– Cardinals in Rome wear red sashes and skull caps.  Pope Benedict XVI gained a reputation for some exotic Papal attire including the red with white fringe Camauro hat that made him look like Santa Claus, and his famed red shoes.  Today O’Malley walked into the briefing with his “cappuccino” robe, white rope around his waist and sandals. I noticed a small swathe of pale flesh between his dark socks and his brown robe.

But aside from the refreshing simplicity, he has never shirked from tackling one of the church’s worst problems, sexual abuse. O’Malley was made a Cardinal in 2003 by Pope John Paul II and was sent to Boston to clean up the mess left by Cardinal Bernard Law with the many cases of sexual abuse by priests.  O’Malley sold 6 churches and the Cardinal’s mansion to help pay off the $85 million in settlement with 540 victims of sexual abuse by clergy. O’Malley moved into a small room in the rectory at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited the US in 2008, Cardinal O’Malley brought several victims to meet the Pope in Washington and gave the Pope a list of first names of 1000 people who had been abused so Benedict XVI could pray for them.

O’Malley has a doctoroate in Spanish and Portugese literature, and speaks Spanish fluently.  I shared an elevator with a Peruvian journalist yesterday who told me that he had just finished an interview with O’Malley.  I said, “hey I’m from Boston and he is not giving me an interview!” And the Peruvian journalist answered, “perhaps it is because you don’t speak Spanish.”

O’Malley founded the Hispanic Catholic Center in Washington DC to provide help to hispanic immigrants.  Today he switched between English and Spanish in the press conference with total ease.

Earlier today I interview Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit who has had his troubles with the Vatican for his liberal views on priestly celibacy and the ordination of women when he was Editor of the Catholic Magazine “America”.  He is now working as an analyst for National Catholic Reporter.  He told me that this week the Cardinals are probably looking for someone who has a charisma and universal appeal combined with the administrative abilities to get the Vatican house in order. Reese summed it up as “There are 1.2 billion members in the church, so it takes some management skills, the ability to make this central office work. So what are the Cardinals looking for? They are looking for Jesus Christ with an MBA from Harvard. Goodluck!”

Ok, so they won’t find Jesus Christ with an MBA from Harvard, but in O’Malley they certainly have a humble person who appears to have handled the administration in Boston pretty well.

Now the Church needs a good Pope to clean up the corruption and mismanagement in the Vatican, but it also needs to reach out to those 1.2 billion members of the church.  Two of my blog readers — my sister Elspeth Slayter of Slowly-by-Slowly.com and Nancy Rockwell of biteintheapple.com have pointed out to me a fascinating study by the Pew Research Forum on Religion in Public Life on the demographics of those Catholics showing the dramatic rise in the Catholic world in Latin America, Africa and North America while substantially shrinking in Europe.  Perhaps it is time that the Cardinals hunt for a Pope beyond Europe’s borders.

Maybe they should go for my “Cappuccino”  Cardinal.

A cappuccino at the Sant'Eustachio Coffee Bar in Rome. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Coming Soon: Another of my favorite Cardinals, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila

CORRECTION:

A very kind and helpful Blog reader in Boston, M.J. Doherty, has informed me of a couple of errors in the above post:

1)  Archbishop Sean O’Malley was made a Cardinal in March, 2006, by Pope Benedict XVI (not in 2003 by Pope John Paul II). I was actually there for that and covered it for AP Television, so no excuse for getting that wrong.

2) And this from M.J. Doherty about a common misconception. “The money gained from the sale of the former mansion and property around it probably contributed to settlements and costs of the clerical sexual abuse crisis in Boston, but the sale of parish churches did not.  Long before the scandal hit in a major way in early 2002, the archdiocese had financial issues that had to be faced as well as bricks-and-mortar plants affected by a changing demographic in inner city and some suburban parishes.  Because parish reconfiguration planning and execution began to go on at the same time as archdiocesan response to the abuse crisis in 2003, people thought parish sales were funding settlements.  This became a common misconception 2004-2006 as parishioners in those parishes challenged the decisions, but that was a misconception, and Cardinal O’Malley’s transparent and public financial report in 2006 demonstrated the facts.”

Thank you M.J. Doherty, I appreciate that someone is paying attention and am happy to be corrected.

10 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ciao Chow Linda
    2013/03/06

    Thanks for bringing Cardinal O’Malley to our attention. I knew nothing about him, but after reading your portrayal of him, he seems like a great choice for pope. But as he said, he doesn’t expect to be elected. I would imagine that the leading contenders already know they are in the running, and that long shots like O’Malley are not just being humble — they know their chances are slim. I imagine he will remain in his Boston post, continuing to wear his brown capuchin robes. Brava to Chiara for coming up with that question. It reminded me of the time we were on a traghetto in Venice and a capuchin friar was also on board. My then seven-year old son said, “Hey look, there’s Obi Wan Kenobi.”

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/06

      They we go– an Obi Wan Kenobi Pope! That would be perfect. I agree his chances are slim, but I think he would make a good Pope, and we’re happy to have him back in Boston as well.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Adri
    2013/03/06

    Oh, another delicious post. I did not know much about Cardinal O’Malley, and I certainly did not know he is a Cappucino. Gotta love the nomenclature. It sounds like he would be a magnificent Pope. His language skills would come in handy and endear him to the ever increasing number of Spanish speaking faithful. Can you just imagine – a Pope from America. Wow. That’s all I can say. Except for, of course, thanks again, Trisha.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/06

      Thanks Adri! I don’t think he has much of a chance, but I do think he is an interesting candidate.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Tiffany Parks
    2013/03/06

    In 2003 I was living in the South End of Boston, exactly one block from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, which I could see from my windows. I remember the scandal of Bernard Law’s cover-up being on everyone’s lips, but nothing was ever mentioned of Cardinal O’Malley and his advocating on behalf of the victims. (Good news rarely makes the news!) Your blog has convinced me he would be an excellent choice for pope. Humility in the Vatican! can such a thing be possible? … although I agree with him he has little chance, unfortunately, but hey, miracles can happen!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/06

      Let’s hope for a miracle on this one!!

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Nancy Rockwell
    2013/03/06

    Well done, Trisha, a great summary that gives us the feel of what’s going on in Rome now, the thinking, guessing, wishing, hoping. And I did not know that O’Malley had that doctorate, we all know he is fluent in Spanish and when he goes to Lawrence and Lowell says mass in Spanish. He’s an interesting man. And you are echoing the late Cardinal Martini’s comments, that the Catholic church needs to alter its wardrobe to work in the modern world. Plus, if O’Malley were elected, everyone would drink cappucinos, the ‘new’ cup! However, there are a lot of disgruntled folks who think he has not handled the abuse well enough, and that he keeps far too many things secret in the Chancery, records of clergy, etc. Still, he would be an interesting choice, and with a strong persona. Can’t wait to read about the Manila cardinal. Your blog is a god-send!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/06

      Thank you Nancy! It is interesting that you mention there are people who think he has not done enough on the sexual abuse. Today in Rome the group SNAP – the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests – held a press conference releasing their list of the “Dirty Dozen” cardinals who should not become Pope — O’Malley was on the list along with the others below.
      Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras), Norberto Rivera (Mexico), Marc Ouellet (Canada), Peter Turkson (Ghana), George Pell (Australia), Tarcisio Bertone (Italy), Angelo Scola (Italy), Leonardo Sandri (Argentina), Dominik Duka (Czech Republic), Sean O’Malley (United States), Timothy Dolan (United States), and Donald Wuerl (United States).
      No space for it here but SNAP did provide explanations as to why these individuals were chosen.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Pauline
    2013/03/06

    Heeyy – Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines is also at the top of my list! I wouldn’t mind the Cardinal Braz de Aviz from Brazil either! And I love that Chiara came up with that question – ah, the minds of little kids!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/03/06

      I don’t know much about Cardinal Braz de Aviz from Brazil, but Cardinal Pedro Odilo Scherer of Sao Paolo is on many Papabile lists. I have been desperately trying to get an interview with Tagle but his spokesman in Rome keeps telling me that I should just “pray for him.” I told him “I am praying for an interview with him” but it didn’t do me any good.

      Reply

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