Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Boston archbishop is named a cardinal...

Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday announced in Rome that Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley will be made a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church in a ceremony at the Vatican late next month.

O'Malley is among 15 new cardinals included in the first set of appointments by Benedict of so- called "princes of the church." The new cardinals -- who will receive the red hats, or birettas, that signal the rank at a consistory in Rome March 24 -- will help oversee the Vatican's bureaucracy through service on oversight committees, and ultimately many of them could have a vote in the selection of Benedict's successor.

O'Malley, 61, has served as archbishop of Boston since July 2003. A Capuchin Franciscan friar, he had previously served as bishop of Palm Beach, Fla.; Fall River, Mass.; and the US Virgin Islands. O'Malley travelled with and visited Pope John Paul II on multiple occasions; he has had a less close relationship with Benedict XVI, but had a private meeting with the new pontiff at the Vatican Oct. 27.

In Boston, O'Malley has had a difficult and contentious tenure. He won widespread praise for settling more than 500 legal claims brought by victims of clergy sexual abuse in late 2003. But his decision to close scores of parishes, citing shortages of priests, money, and worshipers, has been controversial, and six closed parishes have been occupied, in some cases for more than a year, by protesters.

The elevation to cardinal is certain to be viewed by many Catholics as a strong vote of confidence by the Vatican in O'Malley's handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and the parish closings. The elevation could also help quiet persistent speculation among local Catholic priests and laypeople that O'Malley intended to leave Boston.

Personally, I've been a bit disappointed by Archbishop O'Malley. The PR under Cardinal Law was a disaster. Unfortunately, the PR continues to be a disaster. Maybe the task he faced was so big that nobody could have come out of it looking good. The sense of betrayal runs very deep among many Catholics.

Anyway, as a not very observant Roman Catholic I congratulate the Archbishop. He will still have some sleepless nights.