This may be wishful thinking; O’Malley is a firm traditionalist and has never raised the issue. But Groome said the cardinal might consider it because of the shortage of priests.
O’Malley has also deepened relationships with other prelates during the conclave, something that Scot Landry, the archdiocese’s secretary for Catholic media, said might prove helpful in getting phone calls or letters answered more quickly.
“Italian culture puts an emphasis on good relationships,” he said.
In recent years, O’Malley has receded from the spotlight in Boston, as the controversies that dominated the early part of his tenure — clergy sexual abuse and church closings — have quieted.
Bookish and somewhat reticent, he is not as politically or socially connected as some of his predecessors, such as Cardinals Bernard F. Law and Richard Cushing. His responsibilities as a cardinal require him to travel a great deal, further distancing him from local events.
His sudden status as a papabile thrust him back into the conversation, and much of the attention has been positive. Monsignor William Fay, pastor of St. Columbkille Church in Brighton, said his parishioners noted the similarities between Francis and O’Malley with pride.
“I think what people are feeling is, ‘My gosh, he really could have been elected,’ ” he said.
Landry said many bostonians may have gotten to know o’malley better by watching and reading about him during the conclave.
“I think these holy week liturgies may be the most packed ever,” he said, referring to the masses o’malley says at the cathedral of the holy cross.
But soon, O’Malley is likely to be consumed with a sweeping “pastoral planning” project, an ambitious and risky effort that will dominate his agenda for at least the next five years.
In an effort to conserve money and deal with the declining ranks of priests, the archdiocese is trying to group 288 parishes into about 135 clusters, assigning one or more priests and a single contingent of staff and lay leaders to each cluster.
Hoping to avoid the public relations catastrophe that occurred nine years ago when the archdiocese closed dozens of churches, O’Malley has approached this plan with caution. No churches will be shuttered; clergy and parishioners were widely consulted during a two-year planning phase; and leaders at every level will undergo extensive training intended to help make the plan work.
But it will undoubtedly cause consternation. Many priests will assume responsibility for multiple parishes, in some cases adding stress to an already difficult job. Parishes will have to work more closely with each other than ever before. And some parish staff may lose their jobs.
“In some places, collaboration is going to work great, it’s going to go smoothly and be wonderful,” said Hines, the pastor from Medford. “In other places, it will be like pulling teeth, dragging people along.”
For O’Malley, “the challenge is going to be just being able to put a public smile on the whole thing,” he said.
The ultimate goal is to bolster what the church calls “The New Evangelization” — bringing inactive Catholics back to church and inviting new people in. It is an urgent concern of O’Malley’s at a time when surveys have shown that just 16 percent of baptized Catholics go to Mass each week, down from 70 percent in 1970.
But some skeptics see the plan as a backdoor way to close churches, despite assurances from the archdiocese that this is not the goal.
“A decade ago, when the downsizing tsunami was set in motion, there were about 400 parishes; by the latest plan, the total will shrink to about 130 ‘collaboratives’ in a few years,” said Peter Borré, a Boston lawyer who advocates on behalf of churches facing closure.
“This retreat is completely at variance with the expansive vision of the Jesuits, one of whose ‘soldiers’ ” — Pope Francis, a Jesuit — “has now scaled the heights.”
The archdiocese said that in fact there were 357 parishes before the church closings almost a decade ago and that it is not closing churches or parishes this time.
Kellyanne Dignan, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the whole point of O’Malley’s reorganization is to strengthen parishes so they can address what the church sees as the root cause of its priest shortage, financial issues, and empty pews.
“The cause is that people have become weary of faith, have forgotten about the centrality of Christ in their lives,” she said. “If we address that cause — that’s what the New Evangelization aims do — then the symptoms go away.”Continued...