Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley is not quite a household name outside of Massachusetts. But this year continues to be one of remarkable ascent for the unassuming Capuchin friar who just celebrated a decade as archbishop of Boston.
As the only American on the council of eight cardinals whom Pope Francis selected to advise him on church governance reform, a fluent Spanish speaker with advanced degrees in Spanish and Portuguese literature, and a Franciscan who has long embraced the simple lifestyle the pontiff shares, he has become “the pope’s new BFF,” writes Amy Sullivan in the National Journal Magazine.
“As the world knows by now, Francis does not hesitate to make full use of his cell-phone plan, making it possible for him to call O’Malley—and O’Malley to call him—without involving aides. But the two also email each other directly, resulting in an unprecedented level of communication and giving American Catholics a voice in this unusually collaborative papacy.
‘No other popes have had close relationships with an American at that level,’ says Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America. Schneck notes that Pope Paul VI had close ties to some lower-ranking Americans, such as now-Cardinal Justin Rigali, who served for a time as his English translator. ‘But to the best of my knowledge,’ he says, ‘there’s nothing that compares to the very close relationship that Cardinal O’Malley has with Pope Francis.’ ”
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And David Gibson of the Religion News Service includes O’Malley in his list of the four most influential US bishops, but he includes an interesting sidenote:
“The only limit to O’Malley’s influence is his own reticence to play church politics. O’Malley, according to associates in Rome and the U.S., is such a Franciscan that he loathes dropping names or pressing his views on Francis. ‘O’Malley is, of course, the closest American to the pope,’ said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a veteran church-watcher and National Catholic Reporter columnist. ‘But he’s a saint. He’s not a politician.’ ”
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This weekend, the well-traveled cardinal is in Mexico City for a meeting of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus on “the New Evangelization” in America.
Other headliners include Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who just completed a three-year term as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, who on Tuesday was elected as Dolan’s successor; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a Quebec native who is president of the commission and holds a pivotal role at the Vatican, running the department that recommends candidates for bishop.
A press release from the Knights says the conference will focus on “the New Evangelization” – efforts to bring inactive Catholics back to church – and the church’s mission in the Americas “in the wake of the election of Pope Francis, whose impact within the region – and beyond – will be the subject of much discussion.” Lisa Wangsness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.