Conclave Commentary: Did Cardinal Violate Oath of Secrecy?

The hot news is mostly still about the conclave from this past week. BCI will share several news highlights for you today, among them, the question of whether certain cardinals openly violated the conclave oath of secrecy. Then we will be back to local Boston Archdiocese fiscal governance issues in our next post.

Comments from Cardinal O’Malley and Others After the Election

This Boston Globe article has a photo of Cardinal O’Malley taking the oath of secrecy before the election.  The oath says:

“In a particular way, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way, either during or after the election of the new Pontiff.”

In view of that oath, what should we make of these post-conclave comments by Cardinal O’Malley and Cardinal Brady in the AP article, “So what really happened inside the papal conclave that selected Pope Francis? Here’s a cardinal’s-eye view“:

VATICAN CITY — Three rounds of ballots had been cast with no winner, but it was becoming clear which way this conclave was headed.

When the cardinals broke for lunch, Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston sat down next to his Argentine friend, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio.

“He seemed very weighed down by what was happening,” O’Malley said.

Hours later, the Buenos Aires archbishop would step before the frenzied masses packed into St. Peter’s Square as Francis, the first pope from the Americas.

Cardinals take an oath of secrecy when they enter a conclave, promising never to reveal what goes on inside.

“The conclave is a very prayerful experience,” O’Malley said. “It’s like a retreat.”  Each man wrote a few words in Latin on a piece of paper: “I elect as supreme pontiff…” followed by a name.

One by one, they held the paper aloft, placed it on a gold-and-silver saucer at the front of the room, and tipped it into an urn.

“When you walk up with the ballot in your hand and stand before the image of the Last Judgment, that is a great responsibility,” O’Malley said.

And then the tallying began, with three cardinals — known as scrutineers — reading out the name on each slip.

When they finished counting, it was clear the field remained wide open, said Sean Cardinal Brady, leader of the church in Ireland. “There were a number of candidates,” he said.

A cardinal threaded the ballots together and put them in a stove.

Outside in St. Peter’s Square, as black smoke billowed from the chimney, the cheering crowd fell silent and began to thin.


On Wednesday morning, the cardinals filed in again and repeated the ritual of voting. There were two votes before lunch, and the field was narrowing. But the smoke was black again, and the crowd was again disappointed.


At lunch, O’Malley sat down besides Bergoglio.

“He is very approachable, very friendly,” he said. “He has a good sense of humor, he is very quick and a joy to be with.”

But with the vote going his way, Bergoglio was uncharacteristically somber.


The cardinals were getting close to a decision. They started over, and the scrutineers read out the names.

And it began to dawn on the men that their work was done.

In the Globe article, Cardinal O’Malley is quoted as saying that after the election, Francis seemed to be at peace.

Does it not occur to these Cardinals that they were sworn to secrecy regarding “everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff”?

Beyond this, we then see a comment from Cardinal O’Malley in the Globe about why he is glad he was not elected pope: “He’s a prisoner in a museum,’’ O’Malley said of the pope, drawing laughter from Boston area reporters. “It’s not a wonderful life.’’

This response feels like yet another lost teaching moment and opportunity for Cardinal O’Malley.  Last we checked, the role of the Holy Father was to be the Vicar of Christ on earth. He is the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church.  If you read Matthew 16:17-19, we see Jesus promised that He would build His Church on Peter and He gave the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter alone. “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”

The immensely important role of the successor to Peter is to ensure that the benefits of the Kingdom of Heaven can be attained by the faithful, as exemplified by the instruction “feed my lambs”, “feed my sheep.”  The Holy Father continues the role St. Peter instituted after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who instructed Peter in establishing His Church on earth. Peter then handed down this authority from Pope to Pope until the present day.

To BCI, it seems that to publicly characterize the Vicar of Christ on earth as a “prisoner in a museum” who does not have a “wonderful life” is to misrepresent and diminish the nature of the role.

Boston Catholic Media and PR/Communications at the Conclave

This article in the Boston Herald discusses the presence of the Boston Catholic Media team at the conclave:

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s moment in the papal sun in Rome this past week was beamed back to Boston thanks to a team of plugged-in assistants.

“My purpose in coming on this trip was to let Boston Catholics and other Catholics from the area experience the buildup for the announcement and the announcement itself,” said Scot Landry, secretary for Catholic Media.

Landry said cardinals from the U.S. tended to be much more open with the press than did their colleagues from the rest of the world.

“I would say there was a clash of cultures in terms of the way the church engages the media, particularly the secular media” he said. “When we first arrived, the American cardinals were going to press conferences and doing interviews every day. In a way, they felt honored that so many were there to cover them and through their coverage bring it home to Catholics around the world.”

Thanks for thinking of us back here, but for future reference, we were actually doing just fine by reading the hundreds of articles available to us in the regular news media.

As for the media briefings, it seemed to many people that the U.S. cardinals doing the briefings forgot that the main purpose of the pre-conclave meetings was for the cardinals to prayerfully consider the needs of the universal Catholic Church and the attributes for the next Supreme Pontiff, so they would each be prepared for the crucial vote. If we understand Landry correctly, the U.S. cardinals felt honored that the media was giving them attention?  In other words, their egos were stoked by the media attention, so they addressed that situation by engaging in the press briefings and interviews (which would have the effect of further stoking their egos) to “bring it home” for us?  Thanks again.

Even if it were the case that the cardinals arrived in Rome and suddenly discovered the media wanted stories, and the selfless cardinals could help us poor saps starving for news, how does that explain Terry Donilon and the Boston Archdiocesan PR team starting their media campaign weeks before Cardinal O’Malley travelled to Rome, and continuing with Terry live in Rome?

And how does that explain this shameless self-promotion of Terry Donilon in the Washington Post, suggesting that Terry Donilon could become a key aide to a new Holy Father if Cardinal O’Malley were elected pope, while Donilon’s brother was National Security Advisor to Obama?:

One Donilon brother “working for the most powerful man on the planet and the other one could work for the most powerful religious leader on the planet?” mused Terry.

We have one word for the above. Pathetic.

Another American Pope Candidate Embraces the Far Left

This article about Cardinal O’Malley and his senior aide/advisor, Fr. Bryan Hehir, made the rounds this past week. It opens by saying:

A top aide [Fr. Bryan Hehir] to a left-wing American Catholic Cardinal [Cardinal O’Malley], reportedly in the running for the job of pope, taught a course called “Matthew, Marx, Luke, and John” at a pro-Marxist think tank in Washington, D.C. The course included a discussion of “the future of the Christian alliance with Marxism” and the “theology of the oppressed.”

This last one will have to be the subject of a future blog post.

29 Responses to Conclave Commentary: Did Cardinal Violate Oath of Secrecy?

  1. Liam says:

    The oath has, in practice, not been interpreted scrupulously, shall we say. Again, the difference between Anglospheric legal literalism and Mediterranean legal culture, especially when the latter applies to the eminent (in this case, not just Cardinals). I think trying to find ways to dig at Cdl Sean for the conclave is going to boomerang as compared to more fruitful attention to local nuts and bolts reportage.

    • Liam,
      We are aware that the oath has not been interpreted scrupulously by many. But we would argue that past violations of the oath do not justify new ones. What about the word, “everything” do the cardinals fail to understand? The more that cardinals openly violate it, the more that practice becomes the norm and the less seriously they will all take a solemn oath before God. We will be back to local nuts and bolts issues next post–covering this story from the Boston Herald:

      Archdiocesan execs pull in top salaries: Pay hits cathedral heights

      • Dan B says:

        The election of a new pope at this particular time in the life of the Catholic Church was a rare opportunity to put some of the rhetoric about the “new evangelization” into practice. Shutting down the American clerics’ daily media press interaction by the Italian dominated Curia cut this important effort short. Hopefully Pope Francis will put some muscle behind the efforts to attract people to the Catholic Church.

      • Liam says:

        Indeed, we have voting tallies for all of the modern conclaves. The main import of the oath is in real time, during the conclave itself, to avoid interference of outside powers. I know it’s not worded that way, but the historic practice is that cardinals feel free to provide information on background or, if on the record, in a way that is designed to avoid a brutta figura for the man elected pope.

      • Liam,
        We suggest you distinguish between a) your interpretation of the oath, b) any historic practice of the cardinals and c) the actual oath as worded. The oath says, “with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way, either during or after the election of the new Pontiff.” That leaves virtually no room for interpretation.

        As the clergy sexual abuse crisis sadly revealed, the “historic practice” of many cardinals with priests who abused children was horribly wrong. Two wrongs do not make a “right.” You will not find support here trying to justify a wrong action by a cardinal, just because the historical practice by their peers may have been to do it that way.

    • Joe Murphy, Jr. says:

      With each leak and tidbit by each cardinal who seems unable to resist the temptation to blabber we get more and more of the story – which is supposed to be secret.

      This article tells how Cardinal Ouellet was a front-runner this time and threw his support to Cardinal Bergoglio for the final round of voting.

      This story doesn’t say who leaked that information – I assume it wasn’t Cardinal O’Malley. But if we can’t trust these cardinals to make and keep an oath of secrecy, what can we trust them to do?

    • Michael says:

      You can’t be serious. The intimate emotional/state of mind of the man who was about to become Pope … revealed by O’Malley and other egotists is fine because similar violations have happened in the past. Remind me to tell that to the next cop who pulls me over for speeding.

      Revealing what once was secret information doesn’t impact the process of picking a new pope? It doesn’t undermine the Catholic Church in any way? Seriously? You know that revealing the secrets of a criminal case before a grand jury is a crime in Massachusetts for a much less important matter — no matter when you do it – and no matter how many people have done it before you.

      Your loyalty to the Cardinal is laudable but misplaced.

      Suddenly, you (think you) know the purpose of a rule that has been in force several hundred years before you were born.

      Wow, your ego is almost as big as Scott Landry’s and O’Malley’s.

      Why does O’Malley consider the Pope “… a prisoner in a museum,’’ and his life “not a wonderful life.’’ This behavior/statement of the Cardinal is outrageous.

      Cardinal O’Malley … WHAT IS A WONDERFUL LIFE?

      Is faking like you are trying to defend traditional marriage while utterly caving in on same-sex “marriage” wonderful?
      Is handing Catholic Hospitals over to abortionists wonderful?
      Is creating the worldwide precedent to allow same-sex couples the right to adopt innocent children wonderful?
      Is handing Catholic Schools over to homosexuals wonderful?
      Is honoring Mayor Menino (a self-identified “Catholic”) for disrespecting Catholic Church teaching on several grave issues wonderful?
      Is letting Voice of the Faithful walk all over you wonderful?
      Is letting people sit in on private church property for years making you look like a fool, wonderful?
      Is blowing massive amounts of money on highly overpaid bureaucrats who infest the leadership positions in the Archdiocese of Boston while destroying the foundation of the Church wonderful?
      Is honoring (well actually sitting back and watching from afar to have plausible deniability with God while others were honoring) Ted Kennedy, with a funeral built for a saint wonderful?
      Is rubbing elbows with Obama (need I say more) wonderful?
      Is acting like you care “in season and out of season” as long as the grilled duck is still in season on the latest dinner menu at the Governor’s mansion wonderful?

      Please instruct me? I do not understand. Why is becoming the Vicar of Christ on earth and spiritual leader of the Catholic Church not wonderful?

      This is the most outrageous thing Cardinal O’Malley has done in his short time here in Boston!

  2. Michael W says:

    Our beloved Cardinal’s most important oath is to advance himself.

  3. bitsnbytes says:

    BCI, could you clarify your question by making a list of which statements you’re concerned about? You can exclude statements about anything after Cdl. Bergoglio’s acceptance, because the election was done then.

    • bitsnbytes,
      See what is marked in bold. The title of the article, “…Here’s a cardinal’s-eye view” suggests the story is mostly from the perspective “a cardinal.” We all know that there was no winner after three rounds of ballots cast. But the subsequent details disclosed were indeed related to the election of the Roman Pontiff and directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting. “it was becoming clear which way the conclave was headed…when the cardinals broke for lunch, Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston sat down next to his Argentine friend, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio. “He seemed very weighed down by what was happening. At lunch, O’Malley sat down besides Bergoglio. “He is very approachable, very friendly,” he said. “He has a good sense of humor, he is very quick and a joy to be with.” But with the vote going his way, Bergoglio was uncharacteristically somber…After the election, Francis seemed to be at peace.

  4. Liam says:

    And this is certainly post-conclave dish:

    • Liam,
      What you posted here is not related to the election of the pope–this is, as you called it, “post-conclave dish” which would not appear to be governed by the oath of secrecy.

  5. Lazarus' Table says:

    BCI, if everyone honored even the presumed expectation of confidentiality/secrecy, where would you get alot of the material for your blog?

    I’m guessing much more took place during the conclave –privileged conversations, debates, even arguments– that have not been reported to respect the rights & reputations of persons. Nothing was revealed that jeopardized the latest nor future conclaves. The ‘values’ behind the oath of secrecy was, I believe, honored.

    • Lazarus’ Table,
      You make valid points, but there is a difference between BCI and a papal conclave.

      Our question remains, as in the subject of the post, “Did Cardinal Violate Oath of Secrecy?” Objectively, did they maintain secrecy on everything directly or indirectly related to the election, which would include the emotional state of the man who is about to be elected pope? Maybe we are making more of this than should be, but, we still see this as a vow before God. There is a big difference between that and a presumption. Furthermore, here in Boston we have the problem that the Cardinal has abdicated his canonical responsibility to govern. Does he not take seriously his responsibilities as a Cardinal Archbishop–whether they be to teach, sanctify and govern in his diocese or to uphold secrecy after the conclave?

      As relates to BCI and any private information we obtain, as you are no doubt aware, there is no vehicle through which people who observe fiscal or moral corruption can have the issues investigated AND addressed. (The Ethicspoint process itself appears to be corrupted). So, when we publish something that may not be accessible to the public, it is usually because people have tried and failed to get the Boston Archdiocese to take action. BCI is the place of last resort to have action taken to preserve the faith. That is very different than the situation of Cardinals violating their sworn oath of secrecy by talking about the conclave afterwards.

  6. Ferde Rombola says:

    There is no question Cardinal O’Malley violated the oath he and the others took at the conclave. I don’t see what the excuse-makers are complaining about. Perhaps they can tell the rest of us how they understand the words of the oath. Perhaps we’re missing something that suggests the oath wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. As to our Cardinal, isn’t itclear now why he is so clalier about his duties as our bishop? He just doesn’t take thise things seriously. This is a game of ‘let’s pretend’ to him. We really do need a bishop in this archdiocese. And soon.

  7. If Cardinal Sean (or any other cardinal or person working at the conclave) violated the oath of secrecy, then they are excommunicated. All evidence now points that he did, and therefore he is now outside the Church. Let’s see if Pope Francis will enforce this…In any case, if Cardinal Sean is outside the church, then he technically is no longer the Archbishop of Boston!

    Shame on Cardinal Sean et al. for spilling the beans. God help us if he is allowed to come home as archbishop.

    • Liam says:

      Nifty, except that only the pope has jurisdiction over making this determination. Our opinion has no weight.

    • Michael says:

      No Liam, God has jurisdiction over the issue. And for someone who has thrown around ONLY your opinion, it is rather disingenuous of you to act like opinions don’t matter.

  8. Chris says:

    1st RULE: You do not talk about FIGHT CLUB.

    2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about FIGHT CLUB.

    • Stephen says:

      Jack O’Malley is the Catholic Tyler Durden.

      The Cardinal certainly did NOT!
      Re; the silly oath = Modernist drivel designed to be ignored, and thus ignored.
      “…swear to observe with the greatest fidelity”
      You mean not just regular fidelity?

      “…secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting”

      If a Cardinal passed gas, could you share that information?

      God help us. 12- step programs offer more clarity!

      “What you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.”

      The Modernist slide continues.

  9. Liam says:

    PS: Which pontiff remarked that his election was like facing the guillotine?


  10. Terry Kerr says:

    After the conclave, EWTN reporters interviewed Cardinal Collins of Canada.He was asked about the secrecy of the process. I was surprised when he said it was not a secret thing-private yes,but not secret.

  11. 509jrb2301 says:

    Another scandal from Cardinal O’Malley. Regrettable, but unfortunately not too surprising.l
    I’d like your help on a similar matter. Is there a list of emails I could use to communicate with the priests or at least some of them the following:

    Open letter to +Cardinal O”Malley, Archbishop of Boston, his bishops and his priests.

    Please stop killing he Catholic Church c in Boston.

    O course, you don’t mean to kill the Church here; it’s your living. Yet that is what you are doing. Who can deny the Catholic church in Boston has been dying a slow death for the last few decades? Who else should be held responsible?

    You say the culture? You say the economy? You say the general collapse in morals? You say the changed demographics? You say anybody but you!

    Yet it is you who were given responsibility for the Church here by virtue of your ordination

    Listen then, while I make the case that you are responsible rather than other peripheral issues.

    You are charged with teaching the faithful of the diocese Catholic doctrine and morals in its entirely. So what are you teaching us about the great evil of contraception? Do you teach how contraception insults God? How it ruins marriages and families​? How it leads to a culture of death?

    Have you even mentioned the subject to the people of Boston?. Ever?

    Why not?

    Is it your prudential judgment that by condemning contraception publicly you would merely drive people out of the Church? Would it not be better to have parishioners, however ill-formed n doctrine, within the Church. Once outside would not the Church collapse financially? for lack of their contributions?

    Shame on you! Look at Jesus. How much of his Father’s message did he compromise? At proper times and in proper places he insisted that the whole message be communicated even should all his disciples abandon him, even at the cost o his life.

    That my dears is your vocation. You are to pack the confessionals by telling your people that the are sinners and in the greatest danger of hell and in desperate need of forgiveness.
    And leave a little room for God’s grace.

    Care for another example? Look at your liturgical practice? What is so difficult about “saying the black, doing the red.” But what do we laity see? Evey priest say mass his own way. Are you so focused on your own petty egos that you can’t see the enormous scandal your are causing? If you the priest feel free to break liturgical laws., is it really so bad for us the laity to break moral laws.​
    Before completely killing the church in Boston, repent. Beg God for a clear knowledge of your sins. Beg forgiveness. Go to confession at least once a week. You may yet avert God punishing hand.

    My prayers go to each an every one of you. May our heavenly mother bless each of you!


    Your help is appreciated. Please send the information to the email address below.

    Many thanks in Our Lord.

    • Richard says:

      Yes… and it all started with Theologians in Boston during the Kennedy era trying to think of creative ways to keep Teddy Boy in power… namely at one time Teddy was pro-life…perhaps wobbly… and then… to win an election (I think in the early 80s, Ted completely shifted to be pro-abortion. Word has it that there were some higher ups in the church and creative theologians that would visit Teddy and provide some ‘remarkable rationales that would allow Teddy to flip… and I do not want to accuse them of being sycophants… they were the leaders who wanted to build and preserve the greatest power base possible, in a sense, Teddy just followed along… could anyone expect, party boy Harvard cheater to take a firm moral stand with a bunch like this?… but what do you call it when you want power over substance…Hubris… a Joe Biden disease… years later when a reporter asked Teddy Kennedy how he felt about being out of step with the Church…he responded “thats their problem”!

  12. Aged Parent says:

    I am amazed at how many shills for O’Malley this fine blog attracts, judging from some of the comments. I congratulate the editors on their patience in responding to them. I would have given up.

  13. Romanis says:

    I think we should leave the Holy Father to decide if cardinal O’Malley or any other member of the conclave broke their sacred oaths in some form or the other and not be the judge of what is right or wrong. Pope Francis is wise enough and he is the only person whose opinion matters in regards to this. That neither he nor his Vatican has said anything in reproach to any Cardinal since his election, speaks far more than any commentary made here or elsewhere.
    Also to note that Francis himself alluded to O’Malley when he cited what Cardinal Hummes said to him – ‘the situation was becoming dangerous’. If we were to follow the high legal standards set by the BCI than the Pope himself might be in violation.
    The Holy Father preaches forgiveness and wants to move on, I think the BCI and others should too.

  14. Mack says:

    When Pope Francis said that he really wants a Church of the poor, that gave me some hope. I hope that it might make O’Malley think twice about the exorbitant salaries RCAB is paying those top execs. My other hope is that the Pope will ask O’Malley to take over some office in Rome so that we can get a new bishop ASAP. Maybe not realistic, but one can always hope!

    • JUST WONDERING says:

      ‘JUST WONDERING’ thanks, Mack, I like and I agree with your comments. My ONLY concern would be if His Holiness would
      name Bishop Deeley to take over. JUST WONDERING what this would cause. I believe a second BLOG for BCI!

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