The international buzz about Cardinal Sean O’Malley has a few facts correct and a lot of them missing or wrong.
A lot of people are confusing style with substance. In this post, we try to lay out everything as best we can, so you, the reader, can separate fact from fiction. By the end of the post, you will have a summary of the experiences in Boston over the recent years of Cardinal O’Malley’s tenure.
We start with a discussion about what folks are reporting the Cardinals are looking for in the next Pope, then the positive references cited about Cardinal O’Malley, then the facts, results, and wrong or missing information about his track record in Boston in the areas of teaching and governing.
Attributes Cardinals Say We Need in Next Pope
The key attributes we keep hearing repeatedly quoted in the press as desirable for the next pope are the following:
- Great governance, leadership and managerial skills: to shake-up and overhaul a Vatican curia tainted by internal political infighting and the “Vatileaks” scandal, restore financial transparency to the Catholic Church’s operations and assemble a solid team of people around him to support his teaching and apostolic ministry
- Great teaching skills—someone who can proclaim the Gospel and truths of our faith to all people, in-season and out-of-season, and who teaches not just by his words but also by his actions.
- Great communication and evangelization skills: somebody with the charisma and communication skills to attract new members to the flock, inspire young people, and communicate the truths of the faith and joy of living their faith.
- Holiness—a man who has lived a life of holiness, and who has deep faith and a deep prayer life and who can lead others to holiness
- Multi-lingual and multicultural skills: someone who can relate well to the universal church and is sensitive to the transition of Christianity from a primarily European and North American faith experience to one that has spread across Africa, South America (40% of the world’s Catholics now live in Latin America) and the Pacific rim
- Track record of effectively dealing with the problem of clergy sexual abuse, and putting in-place strong policies to deal with the problem
Positives Cited About Cardinal O’Malley
- Humility: member of Capuchin order, an offshoot of the Franciscans known for service to the poor; has calm, pastoral manner; wears brown Franciscan robe and sandals; sold Cardinal’s residence after arriving in Boston to pay off debts, seems uninterested in the trappings of high religious office
- Reputation for being strong dealing with clergy sexual abuse: came into difficult situation in Boston; seen as good at fixing this problem in multiple dioceses, one of the first bishops to introduce a “zero tolerance” policy towards priests who sexually abused children
- Technology-savvy with communications: regarded as representing a more modern face of the church, largely because he maintains his own blog (www.cardinalseansblog.org) and Tweets
- Multi-lingual and multi-cultural: has a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature, speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Creole; founded the Spanish Catholic Center in Washington, DC where he ministered to Latinos, an organization which helps immigrants to the United States.
- Committed to the Pro-life cause: preaches against abortion, viewed by many as theologically orthodox
The Facts About Cardinal O’Malley’s Record in Boston
We focus in this blog post just on a few of the attributes that Cardinals are quoted as looking for in the next Pope—strong governance/management and teaching. We will reference specific examples as we go, and focus on the actual results of what has happened in Boston on the ground, rather than the PR spin and what the Boston Archdiocese spin-meisters would have people believe.
At the beginning of Archbishop Sean O’Malley’s tenure in Boston (starting July 30, 2003) and through the initial 2-3 years, most people were excited and optimistic. He inspired with his first homily and initial comments about how St. Francis was called to “rebuild my church.” He decided to not live in the previous Cardinal’s residence, opting for smaller quarters at the Cathedral rectory. The large number of sexual abuse claims were settled. Much needed reforms at St. Johns Seminary progressed under the leadership of then-Rector Fr. John Farren. He preached against abortion and publicly campaigned against “same-sex marriage.”
Then several things happened. A diocesan-wide parish reconfiguration effort was undertaken which resulted in 62 parishes closing or merging. And Cardinal O’Malley brought in a new team of advisors and lay senior exec cabinet secretaries. Most were paid on the order of tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars more annually than their predecessors (and than their peers earn in other dioceses), and many had records of publicly opposing Catholic Church teachings in various ways or not even being Catholic. If anyone thinks Cardinal O’Malley is the right person to shake-up a corrupt and politicized Roman curia and get the Roman Catholic Church globally in better shape, they should think again and look more closely at the Boston results on the ground.
1) Mass Attendance is Down Dramatically
One of the errors propagated in the press is that Mass attendance is up in Boston under Cardinal O’Malley. This article in Lastampa implied that by saying, “faithful are returning to Church.” That is false. The reality is that Mass attendance dropped by 23% between 2000 to 2009. Between 2000 and 2012, it dropped by 34%, from 376,000 to 245,000.
This 2011 article from Catholic News Agency gives stats through 2009.
“Statistics from the archdiocese indicate that 40 percent of its parishes are barely meeting their financial needs or operating at a loss, while the number of active diocesan priests is expected to diminish by nearly half – from around 400, to only 180 – by 2021. Mass attendance in Boston dropped by 23 percent between 2000 and 2009.”
This 2011 Boston Globe article gives more stats:
“In the Boston Archdiocese, weekly Mass attendance has plunged from 376,383 in 2000 to 286,951 in 2009, according to the church’s annual count.”
Today fewer than 16 percent of Boston’s 1.8 million Catholics attend Mass weekly.According to other statistics published by the Boston Archdiocese in the Boston Catholic Directory, between 2006 and 2012, Mass attendance dropped from 280,000 to 245,000–a 12.5% drop in just the past 5-6 years.
2) Fiscal Management: Debt
The Boston Archdiocese is nearly $140M in debt, with no way in sight or in the plans of repaying the debts to St. Johns Seminary and the Clergy Funds. They ran an $11M operating deficit over the past 2 years.
3) Fiscal Management: Deception over “Balanced Budget” vs Operational Deficit
Some publications opining favorably on Cardinal O’Malley’s track record in Boston think that Boston has had a balanced budget in recent years. It is true that the Boston Archdiocese announced they had a “balanced budget” in 2011 and 2012, but unfortunately, that was a flat out lie.
Here are press pickups of the announcements for the 2010 and 2011 years. We hear Cardinal O’Malley said, “The Archdiocese of Boston has greatly benefited by the financial management of recent years that has achieved and sustained a balanced budget.”
The problem is, that statement was false. Look at the financial reports by following the links referenced here for the 2012 fiscal year, and here for the 2011 fiscal year:
Despite a “balanced budget” announced for the 2011 fiscal year, the recently released 2012 financial statements show (page 24, and page 73–Column 2) that the Central Operations of the archdiocese had an operating loss of $6.8 million in 2012 and $6.3M in 2011 (page 24). BCI pointed out the deception last year, and at least this year, they did not say they achieved a balanced budget–they just said they had a goal of having one.
4) Fiscal Management: Excessive Compensation and Poor Stewardship of Donor Funds
The top 16 lay executives are paid an outrageous $3.7M in salaries and benefits in the past year. This was covered in the mainstream media last year in “Up in Alms Over Salaries.” 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.
5) Financial Health of Boston parishes
40-50% of parishes are in the red and cannot pay their bills.
6) Financial Management: Capital Reserves
How are capital reserves? They have been drained in the past six years. 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?
7) Deception over Catholic Schools Policy to Admit Children of Homosexual Parents
The basis for a 2011 Boston Catholic Schools policy to formally admit children of homosexual parents was a massive deception.
As many people know, in May 2010, a Hingham, MA pastor rejected admission to his parish Catholic school for the child of two lesbians. It created a national uproar at the same time Cardinal O’Malley was away in Portugal. His Catholic Schools office declared that the pastor was wrong and not acting consistent with archdiocesan policy:
“The archdiocese does not prohibit children of same-sex parents from attending Catholic schools,” said Mary Grassa O’Neill, the archdiocese’s secretary for education and superintendent of Catholic schools. “We will work in the coming weeks to develop a policy to eliminate any misunderstandings in the future.”
The Archdiocese of Denver, then under Archbishop Chaput, had a policy which, for the good of the child, did NOT allow children of homosexual parents in Catholic schools, and Boston was supposed to have studied the Denver policy as part of forming their new policy. That never happened. Months later, the archdiocese released their policy with the first words being a blatant lie.
“In creating this policy we are guided by the words of the Holy Father, by Canon Law and by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops”
The problem is they were guided by their OWN INTERNAL decision to admit children of homosexual parents, not at all by the words of the Holy Father. At the September 2010 Presbyteral Council meeting with Cardinal O’Malley, Schools Superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neill told clergy that her committee had looked at the choices–either they “would discriminate” in admission policy for Catholic Schools against children of homosexual parents or they “would not discriminate”–and they simply chose “we would not discriminate.” Then they went and found citations that would give the appearance of supporting their conclusion. In reality, the words they cited –and were supposedly inspired by–were wildly out of context and could not possibly have provided inspiration if read in context. The policy cited this:
“No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.” Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to Catholic Educators in Washington DC. April 17, 2008.
The context by the Holy Father was an exhortation to get people to contribute generously to the financial needs of Catholic schools so Catholic school education would available to students of all financial means. He had spoken about the sacrifices of so many that set the foundation for a network of Catholic Schools. He said:
“Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society. This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”
This deception undermines the ability for faithful Catholics to trust both the Cardinal and his Superintendent of Schools.
8) The People Cardinal O’Malley Surrounds Himself With
In his most recent Boston Globe interview, Cardinal O’Malley said that governance of the Vatican, is also an issue. “We want the Holy Father to have a good team of people around him in a way that will support his ministry and allow him to focus on his teaching office, which we see as so important,” he said.
How has he, himself done in this area? Not well at all. He has created a bureaucratic diocesan hierarchy and organization where internal politics rule far above anything having to do with the saving mission of the Catholic Church. He has surrounded himself by people he has brought in himself whose actions in many cases show they have distanced themselves from the faith or care little about the Catholic faith. When people have complained about the bad eggs in the cabinet and problems with some of his senior cabinet officials, in all but one case, he has ignored them and kept supporting the problematic officials. To his credit, he brought in a new Vicar General, who moved out the former Chancellor. That is the only one of many needed changes he has allowed.
Consider just two of his many appointees:
Fr. Bryan Hehir, Secretary for Social Services
This piece, The Eminence Grise, explains many of the problems. Fr. Hehir has had his fingers in nearly every public scandal or fiasco since he returned to Boston to work for Cardinal O’Malley in 2004:
- Commending the “intelligent and courageous leadership” of the Catholic Health Association in 2010 for their role in passing the abortion-funding Obamacare and undermining the authority and voice of the U.S. bishops at the same time the U.S. bishops were criticizing the CHA for their actions that were a “wound to Catholic unity”
- Honoring the pro-abortion Mayor Thomas Menino at a 2005 Catholic Charities fundraiser
- Inserting himself into decisions on parish reconfiguration of 2004 and mucking-up that process, including keeping some parishes open slated to be closed and insisting that parish vigils not be broken up–thus costing millions of dollars to maintain and heat the occupied properties
- Hiring a lobbyist to head the Mass Catholic Conference who had given donations to pro-abortion politicians
- Advising Cardinal O’Malley to attend the Ted Kennedy coronation funeral
- Engaging and keeping as an advisor, Jack Connors, despite his involvement raising tens of millions of dollars for pro-abortion Democratic politicians
- Being involved in the initial Caritas/Centene deal that would have had Caritas profiting from referrals to abortion services
- and the list goes on.
As written in The Eminence Grise, “At a moment when the Church is striving to launch a “new evangelization” in this Year of Faith, the Archdiocese of Boston under Fr. Hehir’s leadership is more concerned with conforming to the secular culture, appeasing a hostile liberal media, and protecting renegade pro-abortion Catholic politicians and their apologists in the Catholic community. Hehir calls this “rebuilding trust” with civil society, but that is a ruse for enabling dissent, as Fr. Hehir’s record over 40 years illustrates. Here are other examples:
This piece, Matthew, MARX, Luke and John: Marxism in the Catholic Church, gives just a piece of the picture:
Father J. Bryan Hehir, who in 1983 delivered a series of lectures at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) entitled, “Matthew, Marx, Luke, and John” illustrates the continuing left-wing drift of the Catholic Church…The Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive-socialist-Marxist think tank based in Washington, D.C…spawned or established alliances with other Marxist groups. When assembled together in a vast Left-wing network, these progressive-socialist-Marxist “shining stars,” as the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) calls them, present an all-encompassing solar system of radical organizations. With ties to communist regimes in Havana and Hanoi, the IPS has been at the center of this network for many years…
This presentation from Religious Left Exposed gives more details, as does this blog post. Hehir’s course on “Matthew, Marx, Luke, and John: Theology of the Oppressed” taught attendees about liberation theologies and discussed “ancient and medieval precedents of peasant insurgency and rebellion, along with topics such as “the future of the Christian alliance with Marxism.” Another speaker in the 1983 series was the radical lesbian feminist theologian, Mary Hunt. Hehir also spoke with her on a panel in a 2002 program at Regis College, where he said, “in 20th century Catholicism, teachings on sexuality have been “a chronically afflicted area.” You can read more about that program and Mary Hunt here.
Yet despite many people telling Cardinal O’Malley he should remove Hehir, he remains, with more power and influence than the Vicar General, Bishop Deeley. Hehir helps consolidate power in the Terry Donilon/Rasky Baerlein/Jack Connors coalition, does his best to thwart efforts around spreading the truths of the Catholic faith, and ensures the continued inefficacy of the Mass Catholic Conference and or any efforts to communicate Catholic moral views in the public square and political process.
Cardinal O’Malley is closely allied with this multi-millionaire businessman who, while sitting on the Archdiocesan Finance Council responsible for fund-raising, is working against the Catholic Church by raising tens of millions of dollars for anti-Catholic pro-abortion politicians like Obama and by actively supporting medical centers that perform abortions (Partners Healthcare, where he was chairman) or training medical personnel to perform abortions. To read all of our pieces that mention the scandalous association with Jack Connors, click here. Meanwhile, the Boston Archdiocese has a “Code of Conduct” that says, “Church Personnel will continually and objectively examine and evaluate their own actions and intentions to ensure that their behavior promotes the welfare of the Archdiocese and each applicable Archdiocesan Affiliated Organization and exemplifies the moral traditions of the Church.”How does raising money for Obama and giving personal funds to support abortion-on-demand promote the welfare of the Archdiocese and exemplify the moral traditions of the Church. If Cardinal O’Malley feels OK keeping him around as a key advisor despite the scandal, then who would he bring in to advise him in the Vatican?
Add to the above, the sham searches and hiring of people like Terry Donilon, former Chancellor Jim McDonough, overpaid Exec. Director of Benefits and ex-Catholic Carol Gustavson ($166K), overpaid Schools Superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neill ($341K/year), overpaid General Counsel Beirne Lovely ($300K+/year), Obama and Joe-Biden supporting PR firm Rasky Baerlein and it is no surprise we have the mess we do. It is said in Latin, qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent. (“He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas”).
9) Scandalous Ted Kennedy Funeral, Failure to Teach through Actions and Words
The participation of Cardinal O’Malley in the Kennedy coronation-style funeral with its celebrity eulogies and politicized prayers of the faithful created grave scandal and gave pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians massive air-cover and justification to believe they can oppose Church teachings and still be a considered a “good Catholic.” His subsequent blog post where he gushed over the funeral ceremony, praised Kennedy, criticized pro-life Catholics, failed to acknowledge the problems with the funeral liturgy he presided over and failed to teach the truth about Kennedy’s sinful support for abortion created additional scandal. It showed Cardinal O’Malley clearly failing to teach through both actions and words. Read the comments on this January 2013 National Catholic Register article or watch this Vortex.
Is this sort of failed and confused teaching what we can afford in the next Pontiff?
10) Deception Around Maintaining Catholic Identity at Caritas Christi Healthcare after Sale to Cerberus
When Caritas Christi was sold to Cerberus, the premise and promise in the stewardship agreement that set out conditions of the sale was to preserve the Catholic identity of the hospitals forever.
Christopher Murphy, a spokesman for the network, said the stewardship agreement would be designed to permanently maintain the hospital’s Catholic identity….“The main point is that it’s designed to last forever,” he said. “That’s the prevailing hope of everyone involved, that . . . the Catholic tradition of Caritas Christi stays in place forever.” (Boston Globe, April 28, 2010)
“The Stewardship Agreement memorializes Steward’s commitment to maintain the Catholic identity of the Caritas Christi Healthcare system and its fidelity to the mission of the Church’s healthcare ministry.” (Fr. Richard Erikson, Vicar General, The Boston Pilot, May 14, 2010)
“We announced yesterday that an agreement has been reached with Cerberus that ensures the Catholic identity of the Caritas Christi hospitals… this stewardship agreement was a key component for us because it will preserve the Catholic identity of Caritas.” (Cardinal Seans blog, May 7, 2010)
That was before we learned–late in the game–about the buyout clause that allowed the new owner to drop the Catholic identity after just three years for $25 million. See “In Hospital Deal, How Much Is a Catholic Identity Worth? Just 3%“.
This is yet another example of the spin and style communicated one thing, while the substance behind it was not there.
11) Deception over Lay Pension Plans and Failure to Follow Through on Promise
Between 2010-2011, a huge controversy erupted when the Boston Archdiocese decided to cut lay pension plan benefits to current and former employees. The unfunded pension liability was in the range of $70-75 million. We covered this extensively in this series. Pension Plan trustees were accused of breach of fiduciary responsibility with a request by the former Chancellor that they be removed. You can also read more in this National Catholic Register article. The archdiocese was sued over the pension matter by the Daughters of St. Paul, and the Cardinal retaliated in a move that resulted in a change in provincial leadership for the religious sisters. To mitigate the firestorm of controversy, Cardinal O’Malley issued a statement where he reaffirmed his commitment to the pension plan.
“As long as I have breath in me, I will do everything in my power to care for the thousands of people who have given their lives in the service of the Church,” the cardinal said in a March 30 statement to The Pilot.
The problem is, in the 2 years since then, the Cardinal still has breath in him for his press briefings and Vatican media campaign, yet his team have done nothing to follow through on his promise. Nothing has been done to re-fund the 70-some million-dollar pension plan obligation they backed out of, and the amount owed to the beneficiaries is nowhere even on the books as a debt to be repaid.
12) Energy, Motivation and Intestinal Fortitude for the Job
How does Cardinal O’Malley handle the load of his existing role? Not well. When Parish Reconfiguration was underway in 2004-2005–an initiative where he had a committee doing everything and never met with closing parishes or even celebrated Masses at closing parishes–we all know how he wrote this 2004 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.” If he was sufficiently depressed and uninspired to handle the challenges of his job in Boston, is he really up to the job of being Pope?
There is much more we could cover but we will pause for now. The bottom line is that a lot of journalists and pundits are opining on the papability of Cardinal O’Malley without all of the facts. Cardinal O’Malley and his team and colleagues may actually believe he would make a good pope. We hope and pray that all involved consider both the good about Cardinal O’Malley and the shortcomings.
If the biggest tasks at hand for the new Holy Father require great skills in governance/leadership/management to shake-up and overhaul the Vatican curia, and great teaching skills to clearly proclaim the Gospel and truths of our faith to all people, in-season and out-of-season with both words and actions, it should be clear that Cardinal Sean O’Malley is not the right man for the job.
We pray that the Holy Spirit guide the Cardinal electors to choose a next Pope who is truly a Vicar of Christ who will lead and guide the Church to achieve her mission of salvation.