VATICAN CITY — On Saturday, it was announced that Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has been appointed as the newest member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Already a member of the Pope’s “council of cardinals” and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Cardinal O’Malley’s appointment to the CDF, announced in a Jan. 14 communiqué from the Vatican, adds yet another major role to the list of his duties.
Headed by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the CDF is also home to a new judicial section established by the Pope last June to handle cases of “abuse of office” on the part of a bishop or religious superior accused of being negligent in handling instances of child sexual abuse.
Cardinal O’Malley was tapped to be one of the Pope’s cardinal-advisers when Francis established the council of cardinals, who conceived and proposed the new judicial section, in 2013.
Just a few months later, the Boston shepherd was asked to head up the Commission for Minors, assisted by Msgr. Bob Oliver, who had previously served the Archdiocese of Boston as assistant to the moderator of the Curia for Canonical Affairs.
Cardinal O’Malley’s addition to the CDF, then, is evidence of just how much confidence the Pope has in him.
Considered “papabile” by many, meaning he is viewed as a candidate to be the next pope, Cardinal O’Malley speaks fluent Spanish and brings with him years of experience in dealing with the issues of sex abuse and immigration, both of which have been major priorities for Pope Francis.
Born in Lakewood, Ohio, in 1944, the cardinal studied at St. Fidelis Seminary and the Capuchin College in Washington, D.C., before making his profession with the Capuchin Order of the Franciscans in 1965. He was ordained a priest five years later.
After his ordination, he went on to earn a master’s degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature from The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., where he taught from 1969 to 1973.
He then began serving as executive director of the El Centro Catolico Hispanico in the Washington Archdiocese, before eventually being named as episcopal vicar for the Hispanic, Portuguese and Haitian communities in the diocese.
In addition, the cardinal also served as director of the archdiocese’s Office of Social Ministry in 1978.
This position, combined with his experience as episcopal vicar, is what sparked his passion and commitment to the issues of social justice and the care of immigrants, particularly those who had just arrived in the United States.
One illustration of the challenges new migrants often face was shared by Cardinal O’Malley at the 2013 Knights of Columbus convention in San Antonio, Texas, an archdiocese that is no stranger to the issue of immigration.
Cardinal O’Malley, who was a keynote speaker, shared the story of counseling an immigrant who had left his wife and six children in their home country and traveled to the United States in order to make money to send home to support his family.
The man had come to Cardinal O’Malley in desperation, after receiving a letter from his wife accusing him of abandoning her and their children. He explained that he didn’t understand his wife’s letter, because he immediately put every paycheck he received into what he thought was a mailbox to send to his family.
However, when asked which mailbox he had used, the man pointed to a blue bin that was a trash can, leaving the cardinal at a loss for words as to how to tell the man where his hard-earned money had really gone.
It was experiences like this that inspired the passion he shares with the Shepherd of the Catholic Church for those struggling to integrate into new cultures.
Cardinal O’Malley was later appointed coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands in 1984, and in 1985, he was named diocesan bishop of the Caribbean diocese. Just seven years later, John Paul II appointed him as the sixth bishop of Fall River, Massachusetts.
He was then appointed by John Paul II to the Special Assembly for Oceana of the 1998 Synod of Bishops and served as apostolic visitator for several seminaries in Central America and the Caribbean.
In 2002, he was named bishop of Palm Beach, Florida, whose previous bishop had resigned six months earlier after admitting he had abused minors. Less than a year later, in July 2003, he was named archbishop of Boston, just after a broader scope of the Church’s sex-abuse crisis had been uncovered by the media.
Benedict XVI elevated him to the cardinalate in 2006, at the same time naming him as a member of the Vatican Congregations for Clergy and for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
After the immediate aftermath of the clerical abuse crisis in Boston had largely passed, toward the late 2000s, Cardinal O’Malley began focusing on other needs within the diocese. He implemented plans to conserve parish resources, launched a campaign for Catholic schools aimed at strengthening and expanding those that already existed, and stabilized the archdiocese’s pension systems for both clergy and lay employees.
He also placed a strong emphasis on vocations and outreach to youth, which was reflected in his expansion of the archdiocese’s use of the internet and social media, through which they encouraged participation in gatherings such as World Youth Days and the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
In addition to his growing number of responsibilities in the Vatican, Cardinal O’Malley is also an active member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and former chairman of its Committee for Pro-Life Activities.
Other significant roles he has held include head of the Commission for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, as well as being a member of the USCCB Administrative Board, a member of the committees on Migration and Pro-Life Activities and the subcommittees for the Church in Africa and the Church in Latin America.
The list of committees and commissions Cardinal O’Malley has served on extends even further, including several from his years as bishop: Missions (he was chairman); Priestly Formation; Hispanic Affairs and Migration.
He has also served on the board of directors for Catholic Relief Services, the Association for the Development of the Catholic University of Portugal and the board of trustees at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.