Program #0471 for Tuesday, February 19, 2013: Buzz about Cardinal Sean as papabile and the Sacrament of Confession

February 19, 2013

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Buzz about Cardinal Seán as papabile and the Sacrament of Confession

Buzz about Cardinal Seán as papabile and the Sacrament of Confession

Summary of today’s show: The media rumors are swirling about who’s in the running for the papacy and the speculation this past weekend swirled around Cardinal Seán in journalistic chatter around Rome. Scot Landry and Fr. Michael Harrington discuss the talk and the qualities that might make Cardinal Seán a consideration in the conclave. Then on the day before The Light Is On For You begins again for Lent, they discuss the Sacrament of Reconciliation and God’s mercy and love extended for the forgiveness of those who seek Him.

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Michael Harrington

Links from today’s show:

Today’s topics: Buzz about Cardinal Seán as papabile and the Sacrament of Confession

1st segment: Scot Landry welcomed everyone to the show. He talked about a story over the weekend from John Allen, who covers the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter newspaper and is considered one of the leading Vaticanists in the US. Allen wrote that the “buzz grows in Rome” for Cardinal Seán.

First, Scot played a clip from Cardinal Seán at a press conference last week on what he’s looking for in the next pope as he looks at the other cardinals to choose from in the upcoming conclave.

He listed the things the new pope should have, which ends up being essentially a list that would make a superpastor:

  1. A leader
  2. with deep faith
  3. energy
  4. Passion
  5. organizational skills
  6. cultural experience
  7. who inspires the young
  8. facility with languages

Scot and Fr. Michael Harrington both agreed that Cardinal Seán himself has many of these same qualities. Fr. Mike said he is also not afraid to introduce new programs and to be an evangelizer in new ways to introduce the faith. Scot said he’s happy and willing to try new things. Some have worked out well, others less so. Fr. Mike said he’s often the first to try new initiatives, like setting up the first blog by a cardinal, the first to set up a catholic media secretariat in his diocese, the first to take on a pastoral plan the size of Disciples in Mission, focused on evangelization.

Scot said he received many emails from friends today telling him about Allen’s story. Here’s what Allen wrote:

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that an American could not be elected to the Throne of Peter because you can’t have a “superpower pope.” Not only do the Americans already have too much power, or so the theory went, but a shadow would hang over the papacy as part of the world would suspect its decisions were being secretly crafted by the CIA.

In the early 21st century, however, some of the air has gone out of that bias, because the United States is no longer the world’s lone superpower. As a result, for the first time an American seems thinkable.

While the U.S. media has focused on Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York as the most plausible, if still remote, American prospect, another name has generated a surprising degree of buzz in the Italian press: Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, 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.

Here’s a sampling of what’s been in the Italian papers over the last few days vis-à-vis the 68-year-old Capuchin cardinal of Boston.

Marco Politi

One of Italy’s most-cited Vatican writers, Marco Politi gave an interview on Feb. 14 to the Suddeutsche Zeitung, the main daily in Munich, in which he was asked who the favorites are heading into the conclave. He replied: “There are no favorites. It’s not like 2005, when there was a clear candidate in Ratzinger and a strong contrast in Martini. The situation is very fragmented, and there are many papabili. There’s Cardinal Scola of Milan, and Cardinal Ouellet who heads the Congregation for Bishops. There are candidates from South America, as well as outsiders such as Cardinal O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Erdo of Budapest. There’s not yet any aggregation of votes.”


The “Italian Journalistic Agency,” or AGI, ran a piece three days ago on the church’s “champions” in the fight against clerical abuse, lauding O’Malley for “restoring credibility to the church after the ‘escape’ to Rome of his predecessor, Bernard Law, pursued by legal causes seeking compensation (to compensate the victims, O’Malley sold the archbishop’s residence and moved to live in a small room at the seminary).”


Published in Verona, Arena had a run-down today of probable candidates for the papacy from outside Italy. “In the United States, the most likely figures are Timothy Dolan, the exuberant archbishop of New York, and Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston,” it said.

Il Giornale

Last Tuesday, the day after Benedict’s surprise announcement, Il Giornale published a run-down of possible popes. “There are diverse names of non-Europeans,” it said. “Among them, the name of the Capuchin archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley, is prominent, who resolved a situation rendered fairly dramatic not only by sexual abuses committed by priests but also by the cover-ups by his predecessor, Bernard Law. In recent weeks, among other things, Benedict XVI called to Rome as Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with responsibility for these cases, the ‘right hand’ of O’Malley, Father Robert Oliver.”

La Stampa

Writing yesterday, Vatican-watcher Giacomo Galeazzi said that the candidate “indicated from the American bishops seems to be the courageous Capuchin friar O’Malley, the only cardinal, with the Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schönborn, to publicly defend the victims of pedophilia (like Pope Benedict, who gave priority to efforts to render justice to those injured both in the soul and the body, and to relieve their suffering as much as possible) when the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, defined the scandal as “petty gossip” in an embarrassing salute to the pope in 2010.”

Paolo Rodari

The well-regarded Vatican writer Paolo Rodari treated O’Malley at greatest length in a blog post last Saturday. “There are many who ask themselves if the next pope will be a Capuchin,” Rodari wrote. “On paper, the Capuchins have the numbers for giving the papacy a turning point. They’re close to the people, they don’t have a ‘clerical’ mentality, they emphasize collaboration with the laity, and they have an attractively simple model of life. Those are three characteristics cut out for a church that’s paid a high price for its scandals. … O’Malley is a humble prelate, which is no bad thing in a Roman Curia that’s suffering not just a few financial difficulties. It’s no accident that he’s a Prince of the Church who prefers his simple brown Capuchin habit to the sartorial splendor to which his office entitles him. He’s a cardinal who loves to dialogue with his faithful through Twitter, and uses his personal blog as an important instrument not only of communication but for meeting everybody, the faithful and even non-believers.”

Scot said these are strong endorsements and credible articles by six leading publications in Italy. Fr. Mike said it shows anything is possible. He said when the cardinals sit down, they will discuss what are the emerging issues at this time for the Church and what does the Church need now. Scot said this all brings it out of the realm that a Pope Sean is a non-starter. He said there’s a greater than zero chance of an American pope this time for various reasons.

John Allen continues:

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.

At the moment, this is basically journalistic chatter. The real action will begin next week, when most of the cardinals will be in town for Benedict XVI’s big farewell on Feb. 28. We’ll see then if O’Malley has serious traction as a candidate.

As the cardinals from other parts of the world start to take a serious look, they’re likely to see both promising qualities in O’Malley and question marks.

On the plus side, many cardinals have said they’d like a pope with a global vision, sensitive to the church outside the West where two-thirds of Catholics today live. O’Malley has a Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese literature, and has long experience of ministering to both Hispanics and Haitians. He worked in Chile as a priest, and served as the Bishop of St. Thomas in the Caribbean. He’s deeply attached to many of the devotions popular at the Catholic grassroots across the developing world.

O’Malley has at least a basic command of Italian, seen by most as a prerequisite for serving as the Bishop of Rome.

O’Malley’s simplicity isn’t just a matter of wearing his brown habit, or insisting on being called “Cardinal Sean.” By reputation he’s not given to building empires or playing political games, and on the back of the Vatileaks mess, ongoing questions about the Vatican Bank, and other perceived Vatican imbroglios, that profile could strike some cardinals as just what the doctor ordered.

Despite his overall image as a moderate, O’Malley is by-the-book when it comes to matters of Catholic orthodoxy and is especially committed to the pro-life cause, making him attractive to cardinals concerned that the church hold the line on its positions in the culture wars.

O’Malley is also passionate about the “New Evangelization,” expressed not only in his use of Twitter and blogs, but in his general approach to the role of a bishop.

Certainly O’Malley’s image as a house-cleaner on the sex abuse crisis doesn’t hurt. Ironically, the best spokesperson for the O’Malley campaign at the moment may be his fellow American, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who, fairly or not, has become the latest symbol of the church’s failures. Controversy over his presence at the conclave has spread across the Atlantic; this week the widely read Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana has a cover package on “The Mahony Case,” including an on-line poll for readers to vote as to whether Mahony ought to participate in the election of the next pope.

In that context, many cardinals may feel special pressure to pick a pope seen as having “clean hands” on the sex abuse crisis.

Those positives, however, come intertwined with some features of O’Malley’s biography that may give cardinals pause.

For one thing, O’Malley has zero experience in the Vatican. While that means he’s not identified with its recent meltdowns, it may also mean some cardinals will wonder if he’d be out of his depth trying to get the place under control, perhaps overly dependent on veteran insiders to get things done.

For another, O’Malley is a sensitive soul who occasionally has seemed to struggle under the burden of office. In 2004, facing not only sex abuse litigation but also a painful round of parish closings, he put out an anguished letter to Boston Catholics in which he wrote: “At times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job, but I keep waking up in the morning to face another day of reconfiguration.”

On the heels of a pope who just resigned because he felt he no longer had the strength to do the job, some cardinals may wonder if O’Malley possesses the steel to withstand the burdens of the papacy.

It’s worth noting that O’Malley’s record on the abuse crisis has not played to universal praise. The victims’ group SNAP faulted him for delaying release of the names of accused priests in Boston, asserting that O’Malley “belatedly and begrudgingly posted a very partial list with minimal information, using hair-splitting excuses for not being more prompt or thorough.”

Finally, while 34 previous popes have come from religious orders, there hasn’t been one since the 19th century, and there’s never been a Capuchin. In some circles, there’s a belief that under ordinary circumstances popes ought to come out of diocesan structures rather than religious orders, on the grounds that the diocese represents the ordinary pastoral setting most people experience. In addition, the Capuchins themselves have usually held that they really shouldn’t become bishops at all except in mission territories. Among the keenest devotees of tradition in the College of Cardinals, there might be some reluctance along these lines.

Scot recapped that Allen talks about Cardinal Seán’s strengths, including his connection to other cultures. He said Cardinal Seán comes alive when he speaks with and greets people from other countries and new immigrants. Fr. Mike said Cardinal Seán has the heart of an evangelist and loves working with young people. On the other hand, he said Allen notes that this is all journalistic chatter and in the conclave, it will be the Holy Spirit who cuts through politics and chatter to select the right pope.

Scot said he confesses to being partial to Cardinal Seán, to respect his style of leadership, and how he dealt with the sexual abuse crisis, especially in being pastoral toward victims. One of the best ways to make disciples of all nations is to go out and love them and Cardinal Seán exemplifies that.

Scot said there were three things he didn’t like about the column. First, it is the use of a political word to describe Cardinal Seán as a moderate. He is completely orthodox, not trying to be ideological in anyway. Second, on the criticism of SNAP against Cardinal Seán, Scot has never heard them say a positive word about a bishop. Third, that as a religious Cardinal Seán doesn’t have diocesan experience, given that he’s been a diocesan bishop for almost 30 years. Fr. Mike confirmed that Cardinal Seán has a keen sense of how to be a diocesan priest with a pastor’s heart.

Scot asked listeners to pray for Pope Benedict and all the cardinals, but also to pray specifically for Cardinal Seán now as this article places a spotlight on him that he doesn’t want, which unleashes both cheerleading and criticism from all sides.

2nd segment: Scot said starting tomorrow and for all the following Wednesday of Lent, all parishes and chapels of the archdiocese will be open for confession from 6:30pm to 8pm as part of the Light Is On For You initiative. Come back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Bishop Robert Hennessey, an auxiliary bishop of Boston, leads this effort.

Scot emphasized that the website is a resource for much information on Penance. He noted some of the great lines that Bishop Hennessey gives in the video. He noted that confession is liking hitting the reset button. He said the story of the Prodigal Son is really the story of the Loving Father, who sprints out to his son who has been away, willing to forgive the ways he has hurt him. Fr. Mike said confession is one of God’s greatest gifts to His Children. The bishop mentioned the excuses people give about being away so long or being embarrassed or thinking God can’t forgive them, and Fr. Mike has heard them all. The Church across the country is embracing this initiative to tell people that they’re wrong about this.

Fr. Mike said if you’re hearing those voices in your heart, that is not the voice of the Holy Spirit, but of the devil. He says every listener should go take advantage of the great gift of Reconciliation. The priest is waiting to receive and give you the loving mercy of God. Scot said if you don’t know the prayers or what to do the priest is there to help you.

Fr. Mike related a story of going to a juvenile delinquent institution. He heard the confessions of teens who had done some very bad things. As he tried to offer forgiveness, each would deny that God could forgive them and he wondered how he could break through to convince them that God would forgive them. Eventually, he started to ask if they were greater than God. When they would say No, he told them that no matter what their mountain of sins, God is greater than any sin they could commit.

Scot said God is always reaching out to us to call us home to the confessional, no matter how long we have been away from him. Now, Scot shared CatholicTV’s Fr. Robert Reed’s message about confession:

Scot said we can’t be the person God has created us to be if we’re burdened by all the sins we’ve accumulated since our last confession. Fr. Mike said so many are coming back to confession and so many young people. Whenever he’s at a youth event, there are long lines of young people waiting to go to the sacrament of confession.

Scot added that there are many humorous videos on as well, including one from Matt Weber, who has been a guest on TGCL.

Scot said a wonderful line: “I don’t like going to confession, but I love coming from confession.” Scot talked about going to St. Anthony’s Shrine on a regular basis and doesn’t think he’s had the same priest twice in more than a year. Fr. Mike said it’s better to go to a regular confessor, like a spiritual director, who can help someone get through their spiritual barriers, but if that’s the obstacle then just go.

Fr. Mike emphasized that there will be a priest in every church and chapel on every Wednesday from 6:30pm to 8pm waiting for you to bring to you the loving mercy of God. Scot encouraged everyone to be an apostle of confession, going to confession and sharing the testimony of how it felt to be cleansed.

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