Seán O’Malley, a Pope Francis Ally, plays the game as best he can

You don’t knock the big guy. Your position is tricky enough when you serve an autocrat.

O’Malley believes that the pope understands how important the issue of sexual abuse is: “His encounter with victims has made a very profound impact on his life and his ministry,” the cardinal said. And yet, the Church faces enormous structural and cultural barriers to establishing worldwide policies and procedures to deal with abuse, which O’Malley acknowledged. As for the meeting in February, “My worry is that the expectations in the United States are that this meeting is going to address all of our local concerns here,” he said, “which is not necessarily the case.”

A very sensitive one, at that. So O’M reads his mind or thinks he does, even after being double-crossed.

He detailed his proposal to establish Vatican tribunals to deal with bishops accused of wrongdoing—one of the major problems the Church has yet to address. The pope “was convinced to do it another way,” O’Malley said. “We’re still waiting for the procedures to be clearly articulated.”

Was convinced.

He often described problems in the Church passively, without directly assigning agency or fault. For example: American bishops have asked the Vatican for an investigation into Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal who was consistently elevated despite widely acknowledged rumors of sexual misconduct, until he was removed from ministry last summer.

After months of requests, an investigation appears to be under way. “Certainly, many of us have personally expressed to the Holy Father and the secretary of state the need to do something quickly,” O’Malley said. “I keep getting assurances. But we’re waiting for the documents to be produced.”

Personally expressed does not do it, hence leaks, which are dishonorable, or going public, which is not cricket and gets you defenestrated. Thus patience.

Best he can do in the present moment:

As for the meeting in February, “My worry is that the expectations in the United States are that this meeting is going to address all of our local concerns here,” he said, “which is not necessarily the case.”

Not necessarily does not do justice to the odds in this case. Especially in view of the insulting public undercutting of the U.S. bishops in November, engineered in part by his man Cupich, who could not get himself elected to the office a year ago.

Which is how an autocrat can finesse unseemly independence. You have your man among them, who after the blow was administered, has the chutzpah to jump up and lecture his unsuspecting fellows about what a great idea it was to abandon their best laid plans to do something on their own, as if they had not just got their lesson without his rubbing it in.

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