Many local Catholics said the fact that Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley was not elected pontiff of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics is bittersweet.
“I would have loved to see O’Malley become pope, but I’m pleased that he will continue to serve us locally,” said Ken Campbell, food director at Lazarus House Ministries in Lawrence.
When he flew to Rome for the papal election, O’Malley was not considered a serious contender. Once there, the Italian media became enthralled by the Capuchin Franciscan’s plain style and reputation for cleaning up dioceses plagued by sex abuse scandals. Days before the election, O’Malley was considered a top contender for the papacy — the odds had risen from 50-1 to 14-1.
“I’d have been absolutely thrilled if it had been O’Malley,” said Frank Audy, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Lawrence and Methuen. “He has been such a magnificent leader. He is very gentle, humble, educated and committed to preaching the Gospel.”
Audy admits he was disappointed that O’Malley was not chosen by his fellow cardinals, but glad he remains in Boston.
“He’s the right man for our diocese and has some unfinished business to do here,” he said.
But Maria Sanchez of Lawrence is glad O’Malley didn’t become bishop of Rome for a different reason. She is still angry the Archdiocese of Boston closed St. Mary of the Assumption School despite the fact that parents had raised enough money to keep it open.
“After that, I lost my confidence in O’Malley and the church, because it seemed they were more interested in money and not offering a solid Catholic education to children,” she said.
Former Boston Mayor and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn said the humble Pope Francis, a Jesuit, is similar to O’Malley. In the end, Flynn said, the heavy buzz around O’Malley gave the world a chance to know him and his work.
“I thought he brought great pride and recognition to the city of Boston and the United States,” he said.
Others like Michael O’Keefe of Methuen praised O’Malley for reaching out to victims of sexual abuse.
“His gentle voice and compassion helped heal many who had been hurt by the church,” said O’Keefe.
Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for many of Boston’s priest sex abuse victims, said O’Malley’s reputation for healing wounded dioceses is vastly overstated. In fact, he said, O’Malley has worked to obscure the abuse problem in Boston, by refusing to release a full list of abusive priests in the archdiocese and by not including priests who belong to religious orders.
O’Malley is a “company man” and wouldn’t have been an advocate for sex abuse victims as pope, he said.
O’Malley thanked God for the selection of Bergoglio, who became the first pontiff from the Americas and chose the name Francis.
“We pray that the Holy Spirit, who led us to choose the Holy Father, will guide him in witnessing the eternal truths of our faith,” O’Malley said in a statement.