Insider Questions: Is Cardinal O’Malley Really “Papabile”?: Part 1

February 21, 2013

All of the articles and buzz about the prospect of Cardinal Sean O’Malley becoming pope are asking the wrong questions and missing so much, it is almost impossible to know where to start. The latest, a column in the Boston Globe, says “One thing that is striking about Cardinal O’Malley and which makes him supremely “papabile,” or one who might become pope, is his sense of humor.”

Really?  Someone thinks a supremely important character trait for being Pope is a sense of humor, and it gets a column in the mainstream media?

First off, the responsibilities of the successors of the apostles are to teach, sanctify, and govern.  Before anyone continues promoting Cardinal O’Malley for pope–especially those in the media–they should ask themselves, “How would I grade him on those points?” How is he as an episcopal leader? What has his efficacy been as an episcopal leader in these areas and in making the salvation of souls a top priority for the Boston Archdiocese?  This is not about perceived humility. It is not about sense of humor. It is not about resolving sexual abuse cases. It is about efficacy as an episcopal leader and shepherd/leader of the flock to save souls.

Everyone will have their own opinion.  Here are some questions the media and other pundits should be asking, and the BCI perspective.

How is Cardinal O’Malley at Teaching? Does he give good homilies and write good pastoral letters (when written and propagated)? Yes. But how does he score for walking the talk and clarifying teachings when there is confusion? (e.g. “Catholics” who support pro-abortion Catholic politicians, Ted Kennedy funeral scandal, Gay Pride Mass at St. Cecilia in Boston, abortion referrals with the Caritas/Centene fiasco, Catholic identity in Catholic schools, pro-abortion advisers to Cardinal O’Malley). BCI gives him a B-/C+ for teaching.

How is Cardinal O’Malley at Sanctifying? We know that in order to sanctify, the bishop must be a holy person himself. (We are not in a position to grade that in Cardinal O’Malley and do not question his personal holiness). From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we know that the bishop (with his priests) sanctifies the Church especially through the Eucharist and by their ministry of Word, their ministry of sacraments, and by their good example. Furthermore, the bishop is commissioned to be a leader or motivator of building holiness for the priests of the diocese.  How is Cardinal O’Malley at the latter? We see little evidence that Cardinal O’Malley has invested a great amount of time and energy to make care and sustenance (spiritual and/or physical) for the presbyterate a high priority. BCI gives him a B for sanctifying.

How is Cardinal O’Malley at Governing? “Leadership” as defined by an expert in the field, means attributes like integrity (alignment of words and actions with inner values, walking the talk, sticking to strong values, and building an entire organization with powerful and effective cultural values), dedication (spending whatever time and energy on a task is required to get the job done, giving your whole self to the task, dedicating yourself to success and to leading others with you), magnanimity (giving credit where it is due and accepting personal responsibility for failures), and other traits.  On just the first three attributes–integrity, dedication, and magnanimity, what is the report card for the episcopal leadership of Cardinal O’Malley? BCI would rate it not very good. Depending on the day, BCI gives somewhere between a D and an F for governing.  Why is that?

Whether Bishop of Boston, Bishop of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, or Bishop of Rome, we extend the words of the late Bishop John D’Arcy to offer that the bishop’s role is as a loving, but tough-minded shepherd–a shepherd after the heart of Christ. “A bishop must teach the Catholic faith ‘in season and out of season,’ and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.”

Is that Cardinal Sean O’Malley?  Not as evidenced in recent years. Here are additional questions from BCI that we feel pundits and writers should be asking about Cardinal O’Malley based on objective evidence:

1) How does he handle  the load of his existing role?  Not well. We all know how in 2004 he wrote a letter to Boston Catholics in which he said, “At times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job, but I keep waking up in the morning to face another day of reconfiguration.”

2) How engaged or unengaged is he as Archbishop of Boston in governing? (which most of the mainstream media are not aware of). Anyone who has attended meetings with him in recent years can attest to the concern.  Cardinal O’Malley is often largely, if not entirely, silent during important meetings. People presenting important concerns to him face-to-face report getting no response in the meeting, or in follow-up actions.

For those who would say the above is subjective, we beg to differ. These are objective observations.  In addition, a look at the number of important official documents that were supposed to have been signed by Cardinal O’Malley himself in recent years, but that were apparently signed with his name by someone else, makes it fairly clear that he is not entirely engaged in governance of the diocese. Analysis by a local handwriting expert shows evidence that important documents–including relegations to profane use of churches and perhaps even the sale agreement for St. John’s Seminary–were likely signed by someone other than the Cardinal O’Malley who tried to make it look like the signature was that of Cardinal O’Malley. Here is the forensic_handwriting_analysis report.

Certainly there are thousands of documents that cross the desk of the Archbishop of Boston and he cannot possibly review and sign them all. But one might reasonably ask, if the Cardinal is not sufficiently engaged to take the time to review and personally sign important official documents such as a relegation to profane use for a church, what else is he not engaged in?

3) How sound has the fiscal management of the Boston Archdiocese been?  To what extent has the Boston Archdiocese been upholding their fiduciary responsibility to donors to spend their contributions most effectively and efficiently to build the Kingdom of God and save souls?

  • How much debt does the Boston Archdiocese have?  Do they run a balanced budget? The Boston Archdiocese is nearly $140M in debt, with no way of repaying the debts to St. Johns Seminary and the Clergy Funds. Central Operations ran an $11M operating deficit over the last 2 year.
  • Are employees overpaid? They paid their top 16 lay executives $3.7M in salaries and benefits in the past year. Just two late-career executives are paid a combined $700K in salary and benefits a year.  the Superintendent of Schools is paid $341K alone in salary and benefits. The number of lay executives paid more than $150K/year today (16) is more than 5X the number in 2006, when just 3 execs were paid more than $150K. The amount paid to folks making $150K+ a year ballooned by 6X from 2006 to 2012. The Archdiocese acknowledges many are overpaid, and to add insult to injury, they even gave raises to many overpaid execs last year. The diocese is in clear violation of the Motu Proprio signed on November 11, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI and officially in effect December 10, 2012, that says salaries need to be in due proportion to analogous expenses of the diocesan curia.
  • How is the financial health of Boston parishes? 40-50% of parishes are in the red and cannot pay their bills.
  • How carefully are administrative expenses managed to preserve funds for ministry? Administrative expenses have been in the range of 33-36% of all Central Operations expenditures in recent years, an increasing share of expenditures from 6 years ago.
  • How are capital reserves? They have been drained. Parish Reconfiguration funds have been tapped out by spending $12.3M in recent years to subsidize Pastoral Center departments normally funded by the Central Fund. And during the past six years, insurance reserves that were $15M in 2006 have been depleted to zero or near zero (see this 2010 BCI blog post and p. 16 of the 2012 Annual Report).  If the model of over-paying lay executives and deficit spending were to carry over to the Vatican and global Catholic Church, what would the impact be?

BCI will continue in a separate post to discuss other questions that should be asked by the media and pundits.  Those questions surround the culture of deception in the Boston Archdiocese, hiring choices for senior roles (full-time and advisory), the creation of scandal by publicly defending decisions or actions that are objectively indefensible–with a failure to acknowledge mistakes, ignoring of Vatican recommendations or directives, and the apparent lack of courage of conviction to match actions with words. These have all been chronicled by BCI previously, but we will summarize them in our next post.

Ultimately, the election of the next Pope is in the hands of the Holy Spirit.  But for those writing and conjecturing about who is “papabile,” they should at least be asking the right questions.


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