The Spine

Catholic Anxieties


When Pope John Paul II designated Sean P. O'Malley as archbishop of Boston, there was a certain serene joy that enveloped the world of liberal Catholics and of liberal non-Catholics, as well. O'Malley was a Franciscan, named for St. Francis of Assisi, the priest of the poor.  The new cardinal dressed in a simple rough brown linen robe with, if I recall rightly, a brown beret, a white rope belt and sandals.  Now, notice: he was also not appointed cardinal, as usually happens when Boston's archbishop is named. This was a promotion he had to await from Pope Benedict XVII.  So O'Malley was immediately thought of as a simple priest, without much pretension, and perhaps also -- or so some people hoped -- a little giving on the rules.O'Malley stood in sharp contrast to Bernard Francis Cardinal Law, who served as the prince of the church resident in Boston for almost 20 years.  Law was prissy, imperious, and seemingly above the calamitous controversy into which the Church was put when many of its clerics were found to have had sexual play with young boys, many of whom sued.  At best, Law's case was one of indifference; at worst, it was panic.  In any event, this litigation cost the Boston archdiocese zillions of dollars and put it in to near-bankruptcy from which it was saved only by selling off church properties, reducing its services and closing down parishes.  Among my friends who are pious Catholics, their depression has hardly begun to lift.  This, on top of the shortage of priests, etc.So the very forthcoming O'Malley was a big relief.  He even started a blog, personally honest if not intellectually deep.  He seems like a very nice man.  Except, of course, that he is very firmly against abortions.  It is always a surprise to secular liberals and liberal Catholics when someone who they thought kin makes a big fuss about abortions.  This week was not the first time that O'Malley had done that.  But his statements in an interview did have sense of a absoluteness, as Michael Paulson reported in Thursday's Globe: "In his sharpest comments about the political landscape since he was installed as archbishop of Boston four years ago, O'Malley made clear, that despite his differences with the Republican Party over immigration policy, capital punishment, economic issues and the war in Iraq, he views abortion as the most important issue facing policymakers."  Embryonic cloning and same sex marriage are "intrinsically evil."  The Globe's headlines read: "O'Malley draws line with Democrats" and "Backing abortion rights candidates 'borders on scandal'."By Sunday, Lisa Wangsness had the Democratic answer in Sunday's Globe: "Cardinal's criticism is met with silence by Democrats."  Almost no one wanted to speak, not the state party chairman, nor the two Senators K, nor Boston's mayor, nor the state Democratic congressmen, "on both sides of the abortion issue."  If I'm not mistaken, there is only one side to the abortion issue in this company.Has the Church been defeated on its own grounds and in its own terms?  After all, it's almost impossible to see many Catholic Democrats break with their voting habits now and on these matters.

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