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Cardinal O’Malley to stay on after formally offering resignation to pope

Cardinal Sean O'Malley blessed the palms during Palm Sunday Mass at the newly reopened Holy Cross Cathedral in April.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley blessed the palms during Palm Sunday Mass at the newly reopened Holy Cross Cathedral in April.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Cardinal Sean O’Malley offered his resignation to Pope Francis over the weekend, but the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston won’t be leaving his adopted hometown anytime soon, a spokesman for the archdiocese said Wednesday.

Church law requires bishops to submit resignations when they turn 75, and Saturday was O’Malley’s birthday. But it is commonplace for bishops to continue working several more years before retiring.

“The pope looked at him and said, ‘I think we’ll keep you there for a few more years,’ ” Terry Donilon, the spokesman, said in a phone interview. “The cardinal is really quite touched by the pope’s confidence in him, and his support.”

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Many bishops send in their resignation letter, and they don’t necessarily receive a response from the Vatican, Donilon said. But O’Malley was in Rome last week for meetings, and he had the opportunity to present his papers directly to the pontiff (who is 82).

The archbishop of Boston has set no timetable for stepping down, Donilon said.

“He really enjoys being home in Boston,” he said. “He travels to Rome for these meetings, and he travels the world for the mission of the church, but he just likes being in Boston. It’s good for the diocese, it’s good for the priests, to know he’s going to be here for a while.”

For the cardinal’s episcopal motto, Donilon said, O’Malley selected the Latin phrase, “Quodcumque dixerit facite,” which translates to, “Do whatever he tells you.”

O’Malley’s policy, Donilon said, is to do “whatever God asks of him and whatever the pope requests of him.”

Donilon pointed out that the cardinal’s 16 years in Boston are longer than his previous appointments as bishop of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, of Fall River, and of Palm Beach, Fla. He said O’Malley often remarks that without the work of the priests and laity across the archdiocese, he wouldn’t be able to do his job.

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“He loves being archbishop of Boston, and living in Boston, and working with the people across the diocese, so I think he’s quite pleased that the pope wants him to stay on,” Donilon said.

O’Malley was also moved, he said, when he learned friends and supporters had taken out a full-page advertisement in the Sunday Boston Globe to celebrate his 75th birthday. The cardinal got wind of the ad early and called Donilon from Rome Saturday night, he said.

“I’m really touched by this,” O’Malley said, according to Donilon. “This is really quite a nice gesture.”


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.