Photo: Getty / Franco Origlia
Today is officially the last day of Pope Benedict XVI’s time as head of the Catholic Church and the search for a new Pope has already begun.It may be a tough selection process. There’s a lot of candidates out there — Paddy Power is listing over 70. There’s a few clear favourite, including a couple of Italians, a Cardinal from Quebec, and a Black cardinal from Ghana.
However, we believe there’s one great candidate right under our nose who isn’t getting enough attention.
Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley has reportedly flown to Rome where he will take part in a meeting to decide when the conclave to find the next Pope will take place. While Paddy Power puts him at a mid-ranking 40/1, reports in the Italian media linking his name to the top spot have begun to appear.
O’Malley could be a great candidate for three crucial reasons.
His handling of abuse
In Boston, O’Malley is perhaps best known for a sympathetic, human response to sexual abuse in the region — a welcome change from one predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law, who became notorious for cover-ups.
O’Malley was forced to confront abuse in the Church after the sexual abuse scandal in Fall River diocese broke in the early 1990s. By 1995 when he required all Catholic clergymen, staff and volunteers with access to children to participate in abuse prevention workshops, complete a detailed questionnaire on their past, and agree to a criminal background check. His policy was summed up as zero-tolerance.
The work in Boston earned him a reputation. By 2002, when he accepted a position in Florida, replacing a Bishop accused of abuse, one lawyer who had represented over 100 abuse victims told the Boston Globe he “thought the world” of O’Malley.
For a Church that is widely seen as having mishandled decades of abuse, someone with O’Malley’s experience could be vital for moving on. Even those that felt he didn’t go far enough — and he certainly has critics — may admit he’d be a step in the right direction.
“He saw it firsthand. That’s all I’ve got to go on. That doesn’t mean I’m delighted, but he’s the best they’ve got,” Bernie McDaid, a survivor of Catholic abuse in Boston told NPR.
He speaks Spanish
O’Malley has never resided in the Vatican for an extended period, and his Italian is described as “basic” by John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter — far from ideal.
However, O’Malley has considerable language skills. Not only is he a Native-English speaker, but he holds a phD in Spanish and Portuguese literature. In both Boston and Florida, O’Malley has shown himself adept at understanding Latino communities. Writing in the Boston Globe, Xavier L. Suarez says that his work with the community resulted in him being “unofficially but universally recognised as Hispanic”.
Having a Spanish-speaker as leader of the Vatican is a clear advantage for the Catholic Church for one key reason — demographics.
South America is home to almost 40% of all Catholics, where as Europe is just 23.7%. However, the church there is seen to be facing strong competition from both Evangelical movements and secularism, Naunihal Singh notes in the New Yorker.
He understands the Internet
The Vatican can’t have failed to notice how popular the Pope’s Twitter account, launched last year, was. With O’Malley they will have a Pope who has already proved himself adept at communicating with the internet.
In 2006, O’Malley became the first Cardinal with his own blog, which he continues to use to this day. He later launched a podcast series, which he described as “yet another tool I can use to reach the young people in our Church who more and more are turning to the Internet for their information.”
He now has a Twitter account with over 10,000 followers, though it exists largely to promote his blog.
The blog acts as a pretty fascinating glimpse into his life. For example, here’s a paragraph from the day after the Pope’s resignation was announced:
So many things appear on the Internet that are just jokes or hoaxes to get a rise out of people that I said, “I don’t think that can be an accurate statement.” However, by the time we came out of our meditation, lauds and Mass at about 8 o’clock, it was being reported by all the mainstream news outlets. So, I realised it had to be true.
A media-savvy Pope who can blog and tweet in English, Spanish, Portuguese and (maybe with a little help) Italian? That sounds like a 21st Century Pope.
Could he do it?
O’Malley is far from a favourite — he’s not even the favourite American, according to Paddy Power. Cardinal Timothy Dolan currently leads him by 33/1 to 40/1, and is generally seen as a more charismatic speaker.
While the desire for a non-European Pope is strong, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen. An overwhelmingly European group of Cardinals will make up the conclave, and its not hard to see why they may balk at the idea of a Pope from the world’s richest, most powerful country.
Many observers believe that, after a Polish Pope followed by a German Pope, the numerous Italians in the conclave may want an Italian. Archbishop Angelo Scola and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, both from Italy, are among the favourites. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana is being offered good odds, though he faces his own major obstacles.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet from Canada is another strong possibility. Speaking English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and German, and having done missionary work in South America, he has some similar positive attributes to O’Malley. But Ouellet is from Quebec, where the Catholic Church has all-but-disappeared within his lifetime.
O’Malley is taking things lightly, joking that he has bought a two-way ticket back to Boston. “I assure you no cardinal goes into the conclave with the ambition of being chosen for this responsibility,” he told a mass last week.
For the sake of the Catholic Church, we think the conclave should consider him seriously.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.