The Chinese New Year has just passed and we are now in the Year of the Water Snake, according to my Chinese friends who take the zodiac with varying degrees of seriousness, this means we face a year characterized by “toil and transformation”.
“Your pope offered his resignation, almost as the year began,” one friend said to me. “It’s going to be a busy year of changes for all of us.”
I don’t subscribe to zodiacs, myself, but one can’t help noticing that one Cardinal never included in the lists of papabile we have seen over the years is Boston’s Sean O’Malley — whose name is suddenly arising. It seems that as America is no longer perceived to be quite the super-power she has been in the past, the idea of a pope from the U.S. is actually being discussed. In this Boston Herald piece, Deacon Greg and I and Patrick Madrid are quoted off of our twitter feeds (journalistic “transformation”, indeed) where Madrid wrote:
“If @CardinalSean is elected our next #pope (something I’m sure he’d never want!) I’d like to suggest he choose to be called Pope Patrick I”
For those of us who claim a connection to the auld sod, that would be a pondering just too Irish-delightful for words: In the Year of the Snake, the rise of a Pope Patrick I. Would he drive the snakes of toil and turmoil from the church, from society, from the curia?
I’m just having fun here, but the O’Malley uptick is real. John L. Allen, collecting some of the new, international O’Malley buzz writes:
I can confirm the O’Malley buzz from personal experience. Right now, it’s tough for an American journalist to walk into the Vatican Press Office without fielding questions from colleagues about him.
On the plus side, many cardinals have said they’d like a pope with a global vision, sensitive to the church outside the West where two-thirds of Catholics today live. O’Malley has a Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese literature, and has long experience of ministering to both Hispanics and Haitians. He worked in Chile as a priest, and served as the Bishop of St. Thomas in the Caribbean. He’s deeply attached to many of the devotions popular at the Catholic grassroots across the developing world.
O’Malley’s simplicity isn’t just a matter of wearing his brown habit, or insisting on being called “Cardinal Sean.” By reputation he’s not given to building empires or playing political games, and on the back of the Vatileaks mess, ongoing questions about the Vatican Bank, and other perceived Vatican imbroglios, that profile could strike some cardinals as just what the doctor ordered.
Despite his overall image as a moderate, O’Malley is by-the-book when it comes to matters of Catholic orthodoxy and is especially committed to the pro-life cause, making him attractive to cardinals concerned that the church hold the line on its positions in the culture wars.
O’Malley is also passionate about the “New Evangelization,” expressed not only in his use of Twitter and blogs, but in his general approach to the role of a bishop.
Certainly O’Malley’s image as a house-cleaner on the sex abuse crisis doesn’t hurt.
My friend Maria Morena Johnson notes on Facebook:
Few know of Cardinal O’Malley’s work throughout Latin American and the Caribbean. He’s highly regarded in those regions and thus would actually come with ties to the whole hemisphere. Interesting man, and fascinating background.
Well, I still say predicting the pope is a sucker’s bet, but it is very interesting to consider: an American-born pontiff may come our way thanks to our diminished standing in the world. Our president’s instincts toward isolationism, his disinterest in diplomacy, economics and manufacturing and his stated ambivalence towards “superpower” status might be the butterfly wings of the secular world, to cause a hurricane amid the sacred one. More things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies, and so forth…
Even so, an American Pontiff is of course still the longest of long shots, for many reasons, most especially the heating up of the Cardinal Mahony story — but never forget that the last dramatically unexpected conclave, in 1978, brought forward precisely the longest of long shots in Karol Józef Wojtyła, our Blessed John Paul II.
If you want to keep up with the key players in the upcoming drama of March, John Allen’s daily look at the presumed papabile are absolute must-reads. Today he profiles Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who bears an odd physical resemblance to the Wojtyła.
The day before that, Allen brought us Milan’s Cardinal Angelo Scola.
In Rumer Godden’s exquisite novel, In this House of Brede — my all-time favorite tale, which I have not recommended to you in a long time — the nuns of her Benedictine Abbey ponder the election of a new abbess after the passing of one who has held the office for three decades. In many ways, this experience is very much like the conclave we are about to watch:
Dame Agnes, Dame Maura, Dames Ursula, Beatrice, Colette, Catherine: each in turn seemed focussed in a strong light that, while it showed their virtues, showed each blemish, too, “as if none of them will do”…
“One must,” said Philippa. “It will resolve itself.”
With prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit, of course. As to O’Malley, well, we have no idea what will be. But perhaps we need a Capuchin son of Saint Francis, one with parish and pastoral experience, and no aspirations for himself, to help us with some restoration.
A Novena for Benedict on the last 9 days of his Papacy
We take our thrills where we can get them!.
Ed Morrissey on new conclave rules that we may see