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O'Malley, Dolan Passed Over For Pope. Thank God.

Thank God, or at least 115 aging Roman Catholic cardinals, the Boston-New York pontifical pennant race is over.

Can we go back to bickering about baseball now?

No more polls about Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s chances of occupying the front seat in the Pope-mobile. No more interviews with bookies taking bets on the odds of New York beating out Boston in the race to the Chair of St. Peter.

Pope Francis waves to the crowd in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Weds., March 13, 2013. (AP)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Weds., March 13, 2013. (AP)

It has been hard to distinguish the front page from the sports page in the last few weeks as the normally sober metropolitan broadsheets in Boston and New York ran breathless daily updates on the wildly inflated prospects for their hometown clerical hero scoring a permanent berth in Vatican City.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s boisterous good humor was said to be a winning asset after the turbulent reign of the dour Pope Benedict XVI, the first pope to resign in 598 years. Could the charming but relatively new cardinal — Dolan has had his red hat for only 13 months — best Boston’s bearded O’Malley, he of the simple, Capuchin robes and humble sandals? Would Dolan’s smooth television skills seal the deal with a Vatican team that has muffed its public relations for more than a decade? Wouldn’t the modest monk be a more appealing face for a church hierarchy known less for its humility than its arrogance? (Unasked: why would the conclave even consider a pope from the epicenter of the monumentally mishandled, and still reverberating, clergy sexual abuse scandal?)

Cardinal Sean O’Malley (AP)
Cardinal Sean O’Malley (AP)

American parochialism, always on display in matters of international affairs, set up shop this month in St. Peter’s Square, where speculation was in far greater supply than sources. The new pope would be younger, given the strains of the job. (Dolan is 63 to O’Malley’s 68.) He would be a man of the world, given the renewed emphasis on the Catholic mission to evangelize. (Dolan is such a jetsetter he keeps a set of vestments in Rome; yes, but O’Malley is multilingual.)

Whoops. Never mind. The new pope is 76. And Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires has spent his career toiling quietly in Argentina. (The equally parochial Italians can comfort themselves that the first non-European pope in 1,200 years is the son of Italian immigrants to Buenos Aires.)

A reliably conservative ally of the retired pontiff, the new Pope Francis is unlikely to move on any of the issues roiling American Catholicism beyond reinforcing the orthodoxy of his recent predecessors. Pope Benedict XVI appointed 67 of the cardinals who selected him. The equally conservative Pope Paul John Paul II appointed another 48. The men meeting this week in the Sistine Chapel, average age 72, were not looking for a spiritual leader to liberalize the Catholic Church’s teaching on clergy celibacy, women priests, birth control or homosexuality. He is a Jesuit, alright, but not from the same branch that produced Daniel Berrigan.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan (AP)
Cardinal Timothy Dolan (AP)

Expect more of the same, theologically, delivered with a refreshing Latin accent, a belated acknowledgement by the Vatican that South America is home to most of the world’s more than one billion Catholics.

O’Malley and Dolan ran a great race for the big job, even as they repeatedly told the banks of microphone wielding reporters from Boston and New York in Rome that, no, they did not expect to be elected pope. The two American princes of the church are on their way home now, their attention returning to more mundane matters of shrinking congregations, priest shortages and persnickety demands for more accountability and transparency in confronting clergy sexual abuse.

It is time for us to move on, too. Opening Day is April 1. It’s Boston against New York at Yankee Stadium.


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This program aired on March 14, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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