As cardinals gather in Rome to elect the next pope, Catholics across the Archdiocese of Boston ask themselves: Could Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley be the next leader of the church?
O’Malley, 68, has shrugged off suggestions he is in the running to be pontiff, although speculation in Rome is that he could be a dark horse. But the popular Capuchin friar likely would be a shoo-in if the electors were parishioners from the archdiocese rather than his fellow cardinals.
At the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday, Catholics praised O’Malley’s temperament, humility, prayerfulness, and the healing he brought to churches devastated by revelations that priests sexually abused children while their superiors concealed their sins.
Brian Frawley, who manages the cathedral gift shop, said the cardinal is in touch with the average person and with events in the larger world.
“If he was pope, he would be the pope of the people,” Frawley said.
Frawley, 60, said many at the mother church of the archdiocese are excited by the possibility of O’Malley becoming pope.
“He’s qualified,” said Frawley, who lives in Cambridge. “He’s handled a scandal already, here, so I think he could handle any of the scandals worldwide.”
O’Malley was appointed archbishop in 2003, replacing Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned amid the abuse scandal. O’Malley said recently that the next pope must adopt a standard for disciplining bishops who protect abusive priests.
John Radeck lives in Augusta, Ga., but attends Mass at the cathedral when he visits his son in Boston.
Radeck said he believes O’Malley has a good chance at the papacy but other cardinals may have equally impressive credentials. Still, he said, being in the cathedral Sunday morning somehow gave him a positive feeling about O’Malley’s prospects.
“I like the way he’s handled the scandals,” said Radeck, 59. “I like the fact that he’s fairly young and has a chance to lead the world Catholic Church in a modern direction while still maintaining the traditions.”
Parishioners leaving a Spanish-language Mass at the cathedral spoke glowingly of O’Malley, who speaks Spanish fluently, holds a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature, and ministered to the Latino community in Washington, early in his career.
Roxbury resident Santa Guerrero was confident in O’Malley’s prospects of becoming pope.
“For me, I have my feeling that he will be,” said Guerrero, 43. “Every time I see him on the TV, I say, ‘He will be pope.’”
Francisco Valdez, 53, said he is concerned about the future of the church but believes O’Malley is prepared to deal with controversies.
“He’s my man,” said Valdez, a Roxbury resident. “I’m very, very happy with him.”
In South Boston, some parishioners leaving Mass at St. Monica Church said they hoped to see his fellow cardinals elect O’Malley.
“It’d be good,” said Louie Binda, 77. Binda placed the odds at “eight-to-five” that O’Malley would be elected and said he thought the cardinals would pick an American or an Italian.
Some visitors to Boston, without personal connections to O’Malley, considered his elevation unlikely.
New Yorker Barbara Schoetzau said she doubts any American could be the next pope, but noted there is also speculation about Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.
“In New York, all the journalists are talking about and asking about everyone is, ‘Could it be Dolan?’ And Cardinal Dolan has been a cardinal for all of one year,” said Schoetzau, 64.
Kris Schmid, visiting from Old Saybrook, Conn., agreed that papal boosterism was not limited to Boston.
“I think if you go to the hometown of any of the top 20 contenders, it’s probably the same thing,” said Schmid, 47.
Some who know and admire O’Malley acknowledge that the odds are against him.
Maggie Costa, 67, a retired teacher at the Cathedral Grammar School, described O’Malley as “mindful, humble, intelligent” and “prayerful,” and said he has been willing to address problems when others in the church turned a blind eye toward them.
But she does not think he, or any American, has a shot at being the next pope.