John Allen, the widely read and respected Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, blogged Tuesday that buzz is growing in the Italian press about the possibility of Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, being elected pope.
Although many Vatican analysts say the prospects for an American pope remain low because of the immense geopolitical power the United States already holds on the world stage, Allen calls the prospect “thinkable” this time because America is no longer the only superpower.
While most of the US press has focused on Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, as a possible candidate, Allen writes, Italian journalists keep mentioning the 68-year-old O’Malley, “partly on the strength of his profile as a reformer on the church’s sexual abuse scandals, and partly because of his Capuchin simplicity as a perceived antidote to the Vatican’s reputation for intrigue and power games.”
Allen cited mentions of O’Malley’s name in the AGI , an Italian news agency; and the publications L’Arena, Il Giornale, and La Stampa; as well as comments by the Vatican writer Marco Politi to a German newspaper and a blog item by the Vatican writer Paolo Rodari.
“I can confirm the O’Malley buzz from personal experience. Right now, it’s tough for an American journalist to walk into the Vatican Press Office without fielding questions from colleagues about him,” Allensaid.
On the negative side, Allen said, “O’Malley has zero experience in the Vatican” and is a “sensitive soul who occasionally has seemed to struggle under the burden of office.” Allen pointed out that O’Malley has also had some detractors on his handling of the sex abuse scandals. And he said that no one from a religious order has been pope since the 19th century and there’s never been a Capuchin.
Just last week, O’Malley treated the possibility of being pope as a cause for levity.
Asked at a news conference last week about whether he would be interested in the job, O’Malley, who, as a cardinal, will travel to the Vatican to vote for the next pope, said with a laugh, “I haven’t lost any sleep about it, and I have bought a round-trip ticket, so I’m counting on coming home.”
O’Malley was born June 29, 1944 in Lakewood, Ohio. He was raised in western Pennsylvania, where he entered a Franciscan seminary. He holds a master’s degree in religious education and a Ph.d. in Spanish and Portuguese literature from the Catholic University of America in Washnigton, according to the archdiocese’s website.
He taught at Catholic University and founded Centro Catolico Hispano in Washington, an organization to help immigrants. He has served as bishop of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; Fall River, Mass.; and Palm Beach, Fla. He was appointed archbishop of Boston in July 2003 and was named cardinal in 2006, the website said.
O’Malley became archbishop in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal. The scandal, triggered by reports in the Boston Globe, broke under the watch of O’Malley’s predecessor, Bernard F. Law. A flood of lawsuits and investigations resulted as it spread across the nation and then worldwide, rocking the Catholic church. O’Malley was seen as someone who would try to mend the church in Boston.
In January 2012, reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of the crisis, O’Malley said his top priority had been to provide outreach and care for survivors of clergy sexual abuse and to “do everything possible to make sure this abuse never happens again.”
Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.