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The habit-wearing Capuchin who may just be the next pope

Archbishop O' Malley lives a truly simple, monastic life and has proved himself to be a supremely effective and fearless pastor and administrator.

The habit-wearing Capuchin who may just be the next pope
Andrea Tornielli
Vatican City

February 28, 2013

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One of the papabili arrived in Rome a few days ago. He is wearing a Capuchin habit and has an imposing disposition. He is a determined man devoted to prayer who ten years ago was called to perform a miracle that was considered impossible: restore the credibility of the Catholic Church in Boston which was crumbling as a result of the paedophilia scandal that had led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law. He has a typical Irish name, Patrick O’Malley, was a missionary in the Virgin Islands and is deeply involved in assisting the U.S.’s Latin communities. He is also plays a leading role in the pro-life movement.

The Capuchin cardinal is not one of those candidates who are known favourites for the papacy, such as Marc Ouellet. O’Malley is an outsider, a surprise candidate whom electors could pick if there is a vote gridlock.

The Archbishop of Boston somehow manages to unite Europe and the Americas. When he arrived in Boston, once a stronghold of U.S. Catholicism, he found the diocese on its knees. Sex-abuse cases had been covered up and paedophile priests were moved from one parish to another, free to continue abusing new victims. The situation was disastrous: vocations and mass attendance had dropped and the Church had lost a great deal of credibility. The archbishop came to the diocese wearing his friar’s sandals and without causing an outcry. He started listening but he also taking decisions. He paved the way to purification and renewal and now the situation that existed ten years ago is just a horrible memory. Faithful are returning to church and vocations have picked up again.

O’Malley was born in Ohio in 1944. He grew up in Pennsylvania, took his vows at the age of 21, entering the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. He was ordained a priest in 1970 and was immediately sent to Washington, the federal capital, where he taught Spanish literature and Portuguese at university. Three years later he established a humanitarian aid organisation for Latinos and Latin American refugees and immigrants, called “Centro Católico Hispano”.

In 1984 he became bishop of the diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. In 1992 he was transferred to Fall River, Massachusetts and in 2002 went on to lead the diocese of Palm Beach, in Florida. John Paul II sent him to Boston one year later.

He found himself dealing with a vast number of compensation requests made by abuse victims. He had to sell the Bishop’s residence and move to a monastic cell in order to make the payments. He was able to combat clerical paedophilia right to its core and above all he listened to victims. He even accompanied some to Washington in April 2008, for a moving meeting with Benedict XVI. He was the figure who handed the list of names (no surnames) of approximately a thousand people who were sexually abused by members of the clergy in the last few decades, directly to the Pope, so he could remember them in his prayers. Cardinal O’Malley also criticised Wojtyla’s entourage for their inadequate handling of the problem in the final years of his papacy, when John Paul II’s illness had taken hold.

Ratzinger created him cardinal and included him in the list of apostolic visitors sent to Ireland to put together a report on how the diocese has dealt with paedophilia cases.

O’Malley is friends with a number of cardinals, from the Italian, Scola, to the Latin American, Maradiaga and has always been at the forefront of the pro-life battle and the fight against abortion. He has also blessed Catholic demonstrations against same-sex marriage. As a cardinal he has shown depth of spirituality and wit, not to mention leadership skills which many cardinal electors consider an essential quality for the future Pope, who will be called to sort out the Curia. 

Full Story: O’Malley: The sandal and habit-clad outsider 

Source: Vatican Insider/la Stampa

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