Kevin Cullen

The soul of the church

Wanting Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley to become pope doesn’t make you a ­Catholic as much as it makes you a homer.

We’re very provincial and parochial here in ­Boston, especially those of us who went to parochial school. But O’Malley is not a bad guy and wouldn’t make a bad pope.

At least he cares about the poor. He was dealt a bad hand when he came here, as he had been in Palm Beach and Fall River ­before that, expected to clean up the mess of sexual abuse and coverup left by his ­enabling and, in some cases, abusive pre­decessors.


O’Malley did a decent enough job reaching out to victims of abusive priests and cynical bishops, though I know a lot of victims’ advocates who think he needs to do more. And don’t ask the good folks occupying St. Frances X. Cabrini Church in ­Scituate, which O’Malley wants to sell off, to sing his praises, either.

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O’Malley’s humility is another reason he should be considered. Groucho Marx once said he’d never want to be in a club that would have him as a member, and the group of 115 cardinals gathered in the ­Sistine Chapel contains some people who have no business selecting the next pope.

It is beyond scandalous that the likes of Cardinal Roger Mahony, recently forced to retire as archbishop of Los Angeles, could in good conscience, and with a straight face, get to pick the next leader of the ­Catholic Church. Mahony is one of a dozen bishops at the conclave who were among the most cynical enablers of priests who abused young people. Mahony shouldn’t be in the Sistine Chapel. He should be in San Quentin.

The face of Jesus Christ is not to be found in the likes of Mahony. Instead, it is found in the good works of the great and humble priests who work with the poor and the marginalized, the sick and the forgotten.

When I think of Jesus, I think not of preening, dogmatic bishops but of ordinary priests like Jim Scahill in East Longmeadow, John Unni in the Back Bay, or the Peter and Paul of Dorchester, Jack Ahern and Doc Conway.


At St. Cecilia’s, Father John Unni pastors people who have been told by their church’s leaders that they are disordered. He loves people, all people, unconditionally.

While the bishops were protecting rapists with Roman collars, Father Jim Scahill was comforting victims, holding their hands and praying with them, and crying with them. He defied a bishop whom he later helped expose as an abuser.

A couple of years ago, Father Jack Ahern walked out of his church on Columbia Road and found that someone had cut off the head of the statue of Jesus out front.

The cops found the perpetrator, and while some people would have been looking for restitution, Father Jack was looking for a hospital bed for the poor guy because he was mentally ill.

Like his great pal Father Jack, Father Doc Conway works with the most vulnerable kids in the city, along the murder mile that runs from Meeting House Hill up to Geneva Avenue.


Doc learned Portuguese so he could work with the Cape Verdean kids. I always get a kick out of seeing some new kid’s eyes widen when a priest with the map of ­Ireland on his face approaches and Doc says, “Ola! Tudo bem?”

Priests like Jim Scahill, John Unni, Jack Ahern, and Doc Conway would never be considered papal candidates. But they walk in Jesus’s footsteps. They are the soul of their church.

If Jesus walked into the Sistine Chapel today, he’d do three things.

First, he’d tell them to sell all the paintings on the walls and give the money to the poor.

Then he’d tell those Swiss guards to ­escort Mahony and the other enablers from the room.

And, finally, Jesus would look around, put his hands on his hips and ask, in genuine surprise, “Why are there no women here?”

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at