Friday, Boston’s Archbishop Sean O’Malley will travel to Rome where
Pope Benedict XVI will officially be made a Cardinal. In an interview
with the Boston Globe, the Cardinal-designate looked back on his time
as Archbishop, and forward, as the Church faces new challenges and
tries to make itself understood in what he called “a highly secularized
During the exhaustive interview, the Cardinal-designate discussed what he sees as profound strides in reconciling the archdiocese’s tumultuous sexual abuse crisis, the recent Catholic Charities controversy over adoption by same-sex couples, and even his thoughts on the volatile national immigration debate.
Early on, the Globe asked O’Malley what he thought of the symbolic red of the cardinal’s hat representing the wearer’s willingness to suffer for the Church.
He said he likes to think that he is prepared for any suffering that might come for his vocation and his Church and added that “the dominant culture, the secular culture, does trivialize our beliefs, and at times ridicules them.”
“It's not the same as the kind of persecution that people experience in Cuba or, before the fall of the Iron Curtain…But, I think that there are many forms of persecution, and certainly one of them is to be ridiculed.”
He went on to cite the many strides made in the Archdiocese to rectify the sexual abuse crisis--which has colored much of the Archbishop’s tenure--starting with the sale of the Archbishop’s own home. O’Malley pointed out that there is likely no “other institution in [Massachusetts] that has done as much to re-guarantee the safety of children as the Catholic Church has done.”
He admitted however, that “we still have a long way to go.”
The Cardinal-designate also defended the Holy See’s recent directive that Catholic Charities not place adoptive children with same-sex couples—a particularly heated controversy in Boston. He said that that “in our works of mercy, in our social programs…we must be consistent in teaching the Catholic faith in one voice.”
He pointed out that “the Church's teaching on marriage is very central to our beliefs and…we see that the institution of marriage in today's world is very much threatened on many fronts, and yet it is the very cornerstone of society.”
“The best way for a child to be raised”, he explained, “is to be conceived and nurtured and raised by committed, loving parents in a marriage. And so, for the church, in our social service activities and other works of mercy, we need to be consistent.”
He quickly added however that “it's always difficult when people look at Catholic teaching on the periphery, and don't see that the core of our teaching is the love of God above all else, and the love of our neighbor as ourselves.” He said he “was very pleased that the Holy Father's first encyclical is 'Deus caritas est,' that God is love.”
“I know,” he said, “that many people would cast our actions as mean-spirited or to denigrate people. But it is our desire to be faithful to that love that is the very core and reason for our church and our religion, that we must love God, obey his commandments, and try and create a civilization of love…in our highly secularized, individualistic world, I know that that message doesn't come across too clearly.”
Archbishop O’Malley also alluded to numerous transitions taking place in the chancery itself, referring to the selection of a new chancellor, new auxiliary bishops and a new director of development.
He also lamented the archdiocese’s numerous parish closings--acts which were greeted with much consternation by parishioners--but said that the Church didn’t have much choice.
He said that the “closing of parishes has allowed us to regroup, to strengthen some of our communities, and it's going to allow us to be able to staff all of our parishes with clergy for a much longer time. It's also allowed us to strengthen our retirement funds that were weak.”
He added however, that “It certainly has been a very painful process,” both for parishioners and for himself.
Prince of simplicity
Cardinal-designate O’Malley, a Franciscan Capuchin, is known for his simplicity and love of poverty. Asked how he would handle the prestige of becoming a cardinal, he responded, “We have the vow of obedience, and I took as my motto 'Do Whatever He Tells You -- Quodcumque Dixerit Facite,' which are the last words of the blessed mother in the Bible.”
He admitted however, that he didn't “like the hoopla and will try to avoid as much of it as I can without --I don't want to not recognize the dignity of this honor and the office and what it means for Catholics, and so, when in proper times I have to wear certain liturgical vestments, I will certainly do that.”
“I've always tried to observe what the church expects of us,” he said, “but my preference is to try and maintain a simple lifestyle.”
Looking to the future, O’Malley said that “passing on the faith is the biggest challenge,” he faces, coupled with “inspiring people to have a sense of personal vocation as individuals.”
At the same time, he said, people must “feel that they are part of a communal mission that Christ has entrusted to us as his people. For some people, in today's world, religion is kind of reduced to this new age, individual spirituality. But this is not our ecclesiology. This is not our Catholic faith.”
Rather, he said “Our Catholic faith is very much that, although I have a personal vocation, a call to holiness and a call to a way of life, I'm also called to be a disciple with, and to share a mission, with my brothers and sisters in the household of the faith. And so, to communicate that vision in today's world, which is so highly privatized and individualistic.”