What a pleasure it is to see a writer do it right. So it’s a pleasure to read John L. Allen Jr.’s interview with Cardinal Sean O’Malley in the Boston Globe.
Allen, an associate editor of the Globe, brings years of skill and experience in having covered the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter in interviewing the archbishop of Boston.
The story, which Allen wrote along with religion reporter Lisa Wangsness, picks the brain of Pope Francis via the man who, as it says, “is widely considered to be Pope Francis’ closest American adviser.” The journalists set a balanced tone right from the first three paragraphs:
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley says he shares in the sense of wonder at how swiftly Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention and softened, with his sometimes startling words and personal gestures, the image of the Roman Catholic Church.
But he cautions that those with high expectations that the shift in tone presages major changes in church teachings on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and other flashpoint issues are likely to be disappointed.
“I don’t see the pope as changing doctrine,’’ O’Malley said in an interview with the Globe, though he said the pontiff’s focus on compassion and mercy over doctrinal purity has reverberated powerfully throughout the church.
That’s another sign of an original reporter. Allen is aware of the tone in many secular media, anticipating liberal changes in the Roman Catholic Church. But unlike many colleagues, he chooses reporting over parroting.
He is also scrupulous in telling us what limitations he accepted for the interview. One is not to bring up a flap at a local Catholic school, where someone wasn’t used to provide food service after revealing that he’s gay. That’s analogous to Bob Costas’ agreement to confine his Wednesday interview with President Obama to matters related to the Winter Olympics.
Nor does Allen assume everyone knows O’Malley’s prominence in clerical circles. He offers this crisply written background:
O’Malley’s read on Francis carries special weight.
He is the only American cardinal Francis knew well before his election. O’Malley has traveled widely in Latin America, and once stayed at the Buenos Aires residence of then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. They conversed comfortably in Spanish, a language O’Malley speaks fluently.
The 69-year-old archbishop is the only American on the pontiff’s all-important “G8” council of eight cardinal advisers, who will have their third session with Francis later this month to ponder reform of the Vatican bureaucracy and other matters.
He adds later that it was O’Malley who announced in December that Francis was forming a commission to deal with sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
The interview offers some tantalizing tips on future developments under Francis. One is to boost women’s leadership, even at the Vatican level: