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Scholars, local Catholics want O’Malley to plow his own furrow

The Patriot Ledger

Archbishop Sean O’Malley said he had received no feedback from the pope about his handling of parish closings, and the settlement of hundreds of sexual abuse cases, during a conference call yesterday with reporters.

But the Vatican announcement yesterday that Archbishop O’Malley would be elevated to cardinal was all the feedback he needed, said observers.

‘‘He wouldn’t be getting this position if Rome was hesitant about him,’’ said Boston College theology professor Thomas Groome.

Groome and other prominent Catholic scholars say the elevation also signifies Boston’s role as a pillar of the American Catholic Church.

At Notre Dame University, the Rev. Richard McBrien thinks Boston’s prominence played a larger part in the decision than the archdiocese’s handling of controversial issues. Had Archbishop O’Malley not been elevated, ‘‘it would have been regarded by many as an affront to Boston,’’ said the Rev. McBrien, an observer of the national Catholic scene.

Archbishop O’Malley also said he believes Pope Benedict XVI’s action ‘‘is as much about the church of Boston as it is about me.’’

Archbishop O’Malley is the fifth Boston cleric to become cardinal in the past century, starting with Cardinal William Henry O’Connell in 1911.

Archbishops Richard Cushing, Humberto Medeiros and Bernard Law were also elevated.

Some local Catholics viewed Archbishop O’Malley’s elevation as the chance for a fresh start in the archdiocese.

‘We can only be hopeful that this is a new direction for the archdiocese,’’ said Mary Akoury, the parish council co-chair at St. Albert the Great Church in Weymouth, which Archbishop O’Malley reopened after parishioners held a 10-month vigil.

In Scituate, John Rogers said he and fellow parishioners at St. Frances X. Cabrini, another closed church, hope Archbishop O’Malley will use his more powerful rank ‘‘to take the reins and do what is right’’ - perhaps starting with the reopening of their closed parish.

John Hynes of Canton, a local leader in the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful, also found optimism in yesterday’s announcement.

‘‘You’re seeing a resurrection of the hopes present when he arrived in Boston,’’ Hynes said.

Groome said it was an opportunity for Archbishop O’Malley to put policies that are more his own into place, to ‘‘plow his own furrow.’’

Archbishop O’Malley said he’s not sure how often his duties as cardinal will take him away from Boston, but he said he believes Pope Benedict XVI understands the need for him to keep his focus on Boston ‘‘in this crucial period.’’

Catholics who were angered and distressed by the clergy sex scandal greeted Archbishop O’Malley’s arrival in July 2003 with near-unanimous relief and expectation.

Archbishop O’Malley said the archdiocese has tried to respond to the needs of clergy abuse victims, ‘‘but we know so much more needs to be done.’’

He settled more than 500 sex-abuse lawsuits within months, then shattered much of the goodwill when he launched scores of parish closings in 2004.

Many local Catholics hope their new cardinal will reconsider shutting St. Frances X. Cabrini and other parishes, and consult more with lay Catholics than with certain holdovers from Cardinal Law’s administration, which was widely seen as discredited.

‘‘He has got to break that inner circle,’’ Hynes said. ‘‘Maybe this will give him the confidence to do that.’’

St. Albert the Great parishioners have seen two well-liked pastors come and go since they persuaded Archbishop O’Malley to keep the church open, on what they believe was the advice of Cardinal Law’s advisers. Akoury, the council co-chair, said that from the start, parishioners hoped he would ‘‘clean house,’’ and act with the help of his own advisers.

‘‘That did not happen, and that was always a concern,’’ she said.

Groome said those concerns may soon be dispelled - or confirmed, depending on how Archbishop O’Malley responds.

‘‘He’s his own man now,’’ Groome said. ‘‘Now we’ll see what he does.’’

Lane Lambert may be reached at llambert@ledger.com.
Copyright 2006 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Thursday, February 23, 2006