Walsh said he did so out of frustration with recalcitrant church officials. O'Malley said in a statement at the time that when he arrived in Fall River, he had been focused on the Porter case and had no indication that prosecutors were interested in investigating old allegations.
Marco Politi, a papal biographer, said O'Malley is benefiting from the Italian love for Franciscans and from the desire for a pope from another country, who Italians believe will not get involved in Italian politics. At least one profile of O'Malley in Italian media noted that in 2010, he criticized Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who had dismissed victims’ criticism of the church as ‘‘petty gossip’’ just as the crisis was erupting in Europe.
‘‘O'Malley comes across as a humble man in robes who communicates well,’’ Politi said. ‘‘They admire him for selling off the expensive archbishop’s palace to pay debts, and that he lives in a simple home.’’
O'Malley, a native of Lakewood, Ohio, studied at a Franciscan seminary, then joined the religious order and was ordained at 26. A graduate student at the Catholic University of America, he earned a master’s degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature. O'Malley now speaks eight languages, including Italian, Portuguese and Haitian Creole, according to his spokesman Terrence Donilon. He asks parishioners to address him informally as ‘‘Cardinal Sean.’’
Despite all the attention, Donilon said Tuesday the cardinal ‘‘expects to be going home.’’
Speaking last week at the North American College, the prominent seminary for American priests in Rome, O'Malley played down his prospects, pointing to his brown robe.
‘‘I've worn this uniform for over 40 years and I presume I will wear it until I die,’’ he said, ‘‘Because I don’t expect to be elected pope, so I don’t expect to have a change of wardrobe.’’
Associated Press writer Victor Simpson contributed to this story.