BOSTON — Clergy sex abuse victim Bernie McDaid’s prediction days ago that Cardinal Sean O’Malley would be the new pope turned out to be flat wrong, and he admitted Wednesday that it was a letdown.
McDaid said the election of the Boston cardinal, who reached out to him and other clergy abuse victims to arrange a secret 2008 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, would have signaled a church ready to finally reckon with its abuse problem.
Instead, Argentine Jorge Bergoglio was made pope on Wednesday, and McDaid said he sees a Catholic Church more interested in uniting its hierarchy.
“They’re putting their problems first again, instead of the real problem that’s causing the disruption, which is the child sex abuse, which they still haven’t worked through,” McDaid said.
But former Boston Mayor and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn said the humble Bergoglio, a Jesuit, is similar to O’Malley. In the end, Flynn said, the heavy buzz around O’Malley gave the world a chance to know him and his work.
“I thought he brought great pride and recognition to the city of Boston and the United States,” he said.
O’Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan, came to Boston in 2003, succeeding Cardinal Bernard Law. (Law, at 81, was too old to vote in the papal conclave.) O’Malley wasn’t considered a serious contender when he left for Rome. But his plain style and reputation for cleaning up dioceses plagued by sex abuse scandals caught the Italian media’s attention. In the days before the election, O’Malley’s name was being floated among the favorites.
Boston College theology professor Thomas Groome said there’s no doubt the support for O’Malley was more than media hype. He was seen as an authentic and holy man and perhaps also appealing because he probably didn’t want the job, Groome said.
“I’d put my life on it that there’s nobody more relieved in Rome right now than Sean O’Malley,” he said.
At age 68, and with Bergoglio at 76, O’Malley is young enough to contend in the next conclave, Groome said.
“The O’Malley issue is not over and done with,” he said.
Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for sex abuse victims, said O’Malley’s reputation for healing wounded dioceses is vastly overstated. In fact, he said, O’Malley has worked to obscure the abuse problem in Boston, such as by refusing to release a full list of abusive priests in the archdiocese by not including priests who belong to religious orders.
O’Malley is a “company man” and wouldn’t have been an advocate for sex abuse victims as pope, he said.
“Cardinal O’Malley is skilled at sweeping clergy sex abuse matters under the rug,” he said.
But former priest Bernie Sullivan, who knew O’Malley when he led the Diocese of Fall River and Sullivan edited the local newspaper, said O’Malley was just what the church needed.
Sullivan recalls O’Malley as so unassuming that at their first meeting they met at a second-rate restaurant and O’Malley was excited to have a coupon to defray the cost of their tuna melts. Sullivan also said O’Malley never held it against him that he left the priesthood and in fact held a regular dinner for former priests.
“I think the church could use the virtue of kindness, of simple kindness,” Sullivan said.
O’Malley thanked God for the selection of Bergoglio, who became the first pontiff from the Americas and chose the name Francis.
“We pray that the Holy Spirit, who led us to choose the Holy Father, will guide him in witnessing the eternal truths of our faith,” O’Malley said.