Archbishop O’Malley, who answered questions this week about his elevation to cardinal, sits in his office at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in July 2004, one year after his appointment as archbishop of Boston. Pilot photo by Gregory L. Tracy
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BOSTON — Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley granted a phone interview to The Pilot Feb. 22, the day he was named cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI. The archbishop was traveling outside the archdiocese that day.
Q: Your Eminence, that’s your new title...
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: Well, that will be hard to get used to, although...
Q: When did you learn about the appointment?
Cardinal-designate: I found out on Monday. I received a telephone call from the Nunciatura two days ago.
Q: What was your first reaction?
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: I was overwhelmed of course at the thought [that] the Holy Father would ask me to become a cardinal. I was surprised — I thought that with the large number of American cardinals we have, just for many reasons, I didn’t expect it, so it made it very surprising. I was very touched to have been asked, very humbled by the experience. I was not expecting it.
Q: How will this appointment affect your role as archbishop of Boston?
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: It is hard to say. I know that it might mean some responsibilities beyond the archdiocese. I certainly will try to be careful so as not to be pulled away too much. Boston is a very large archdiocese and I am very aware of the many responsibilities for the Church in Boston. Certainly it brings home to all of us Catholics in Boston though, that we are part of a larger Church, and that although sometimes we can be provincial in our outlook, that, as Catholics, we participate in the body of Christ present everywhere in the world and we do have responsibility for one another.
Q: How will this affect you personally?
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: It’s hard for me to forecast at this point. I’m not the kind of person that likes a lot of “hoopla.” I’m afraid that being a cardinal does make more demands on a person, and I hope that with God’s help and the prayers of the people that I’ll be up to the task.
Q: There are several Franciscan cardinals, but I could not find any current Capuchin cardinal...
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: No, we have not had a cardinal for a while. The last one was the Cardinal Archbishop of Montevideo in Uruguay who’s been dead for many years. In the history of the order there have been Capuchin cardinals, but right now there are none.
Q: How do you feel about being both a Capuchin priest and a cardinal?
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: I’ve always said and I told the Holy Father, I think that Capuchins should only be bishops in the missions, but we are to be available for the service of the Church, in whatever the Holy Father asks us to do. He is the one who has to be judge of that.
Q: You have said in the past that your initial vocation was to become a missionary. Instead of moving toward the periphery of the Church, you are being called more and more to the center. How do you interpret that fact?
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: Well, man proposes, God disposes, I guess. That certainly is what has happened in my life. I went to the monastery convinced that I was going to go to the missions, and I went with great illusion and yet it’s been very, very different from what I thought. However, no matter where I have been stationed and no matter what capacity, I found it a great joy to be able to serve the Church which I love so much and to serve God’s people.
Q: Which contributions do you expect to bring to what the Holy Father called today the “Senate” of the Church?
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: Well, I don’t know, I suppose I can try to help the Holy Father to appreciate what the situation of the Church is in the United States and also an appreciation of what American religious are experiencing today. Hopefully these things will be a contribution to the Holy Father, but I feel very inadequate to be projecting great contributions on my part — but I’ll certainly do what I can to be helpful to the Holy Father in his ministry which is so crucial for the Church.
Q: What do you think this appointment means for Boston Catholics after all they have gone through in the last few years?
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: It is a recognition that Boston is a very important center of Catholicism, and that the Church of Boston needs to be vitally connected to the universal Church through their archbishop. I hope that the news will be good news for the people of Boston. One of the things that gave me enough courage to say yes at this appointment was that I hoped that for the priests and the people of Boston [it] would be good news.
Q: Your name was in the journalistic “long list” of candidates. In fact, even the day before the appointment some Vaticanists were not expecting your elevation to the College of Cardinals at this time because there were other candidates presumed to be more pressing. What does this appointment say about the Holy Father’s interest and commitment about the situation in Boston?
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: I am very struck by the fact that Boston is included in the very first consistory that Pope Benedict has called, and a consistory where there are relatively few cardinals being named, so I think that indicates that the Holy Father has great regards for Boston and concern for Boston.
Q: When you visited the Holy Father back in November, was the possibility of becoming a cardinal part of the conversation?
Cardinal-designate O’Malley: We certainly didn’t talk about the College of Cardinals or any appointment like that. No, we did talk a lot about Boston, about the United States, but he never made any indication of his plans to appoint me to the College of Cardinals.