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Edited transcript of Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley's Q&A

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley sat for a wide-ranging interview on Catholic issues yesterday.
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley sat for a wide-ranging interview on Catholic issues yesterday. (Globe Staff Photos / Dina Rudick)

Transcript of Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley's question-and-answer session with Globe journalists, including opinion columnists, editorial writers, reporters, and editors, on Thursday at the Globe offices.

O'MALLEY: Certainly the consistory that was celebrated in the Catholic Church was a very significant moment for Catholics, and an important moment for the Catholic Church in Boston, the recognition of the importance of this Catholic community. We often lose sight of the fact that in the United States, we're only six percent of the Catholics in the world. The other 94 percent are dispersed through the rest of the globe, and the ministry of the Holy Father is really what keeps us all connected. And the College of Cardinals is at the service of that ministry, and therefore, for us in Boston, to be included in that, is very significant. And I am quite grateful to The Boston Globe and the local media for making it possible for the community here to be a part of the events in Rome, for the wonderful coverage that you gave to the events. In my years of a priest, I've founded two newspapers, none as illustrious as the Globe of course (laughs), one, a community paper, in Spanish, which is still thriving in Washington, another one in the West Indies. And I'm very partial to the printed papers and I think that a newspaper has a very special responsibility and an opportunity to help build community, to bring people together, to inform them, and also to encourage positive initiatives. And so, we do want to be in communication with the Globe and the rest of the Boston media.

Yesterday, of course, we had a very important event. We had promised transparency, and everyone was anxious to find out exactly what the situation in the church is, and where the pot of gold is buried (laughs). And thanks to Jack (McCarthy) and so many other very competent laypeople we were able to make a presentation that I think answered people's questions and allowed them to understand what our situation is, and also some of our hopes for going forward, and there are signs of hope that we're trying to underscore. And once again, we're grateful to the media for allowing us to get that message out. It was important for people to be a part of what we did yesterday, and the local media did a wonderful job, I think, of transmitting what our message was, and helping people to have a greater understanding of what the situation in the church is. So, with those initial thoughts, if you have questions, and I'm sure you do…

Q: I'm wondering whether you've considered the possibility, as some other dioceses have, of declaring bankruptcy, and whether you would consider that.

O'MALLEY: I think that we are so big and so complex, for us to declare bankruptcy, things would have to be much worse than they are. I don't see that as a present option for our situation. I think that particularly, with the turnaround of the hospitals and so forth, all of that would be thrown into a bankruptcy. We're just too big. And, actually, when the crisis began, at the time Boston was seriously considering bankruptcy, and the Holy See asked us not to go that route. And in retrospect, I think it's probably been the right decision. And certainly, as I learn more of the complexity of the archdiocese, I think a bankruptcy procedure would be so complicated and so disastrous that we'd be better off to try and muddle through as we are.

JOHN KANEB (Archdiocesan finance council): I would add something to that. I was on the finance council for a long time, and that time includes the period to which the cardinal refers about that examined option. Most importantly, in my view, the need for considering that option has passed. We're not in good shape, but we're not in the shape we were concerned we might have come to at that time. We were facing, at that time, not only an unknown, but an unknowable liability, with sexual abuse, falling revenues. We hadn't hit bottom. We didn't know where the bottom was. I believe we have hit bottom, and I believe that we're actually climbing out of the hole. A deep hole, and we're not very far up, but personally I don't even think about bankruptcy, and I thought about it a lot.

Q: One thing I'm still struggling to get my head around is how it can be that after closing all these parishes, the archdiocese is not in better financial shape, which I think is very confusing to a lot of our readers. I realize that the rationale for closing parishes was not exclusively financial, but did closing parishes improve the financial situation of the archdiocese?

O'MALLEY: Oh, certainly. It has helped us, and we have put money into the retirement funds we wouldn't have had. We were able to continue our operating expenses. The money that we had borrowed from Knights of Columbus has been depleted. If we hadn't had the money from reconfiguration, we might be considering bankruptcy, I don't know. We'd be in much worse shape, obviously. But once again, I think people see these large amounts of money and say, well, this must be enough to solve the problems of the archdiocese. But unfortunately, it is not. It has been a big help. If we had not had these funds now, we would be in much worse straits.

Q: Given the range of the health of the parishes that remain open, some would seem financially very viable, and others seem much less viable. Are there other parishes that will be closed?

O'MALLEY: I think sporadically there will be. The committees that came up with the suggestions for which parishes should be closed tried to take into account the geography and where we needed to be to serve the population throughout the entire archdiocese. But there are some parishes that are very small, perhaps that are being staffed by a religious community that is no longer willing to continue to staff it, and the archdiocese certainly wouldn't be in a position, then, to take over those communities. There's a couple of churches where people have been told that when their pastor, who's 86, retires, that they will not get another pastor. So I think there will be some sporadic closings, but the churches were not closed just on the basis of which ones were financially viable and which ones weren't, but rather looking at the pastoral needs, and the need to be present all over, in every neighborhood, and what resources would be available to serve those populations. Obviously, there are all always going to be parishes that will need to be subsidized and others that will have an abundance of them, because of the makeup of those parishes.

Q: I live in Presentation Parish in Brighton, about four houses away from the church and about eight houses away from the school. Closing parishes make some logical sense to me and I've seen the numbers, read the stories. I'm interested in why parochial education, why the schools are not more of a moneymaker for the archdiocese, and why the schools would be closed. Because, you would think, in the city of Boston, there would be a lot of interest in alternative education and the Catholic school movement.

O'MALLEY: Would that the schools were a moneymaking proposition (laughs). The schools foundation, I think, is giving like $6 million worth of scholarships to kids. Bishop Lennon is going to Cleveland, and I was teasing him because they not only have state vouchers for the Catholic schools, they have county vouchers for the Catholic schools. Without the religious sisters and brothers teaching in the schools, the cost of Catholic education has risen considerably, and a lot of that is subsidized by the parish or underwritten by scholarships. But, obviously, Presentation School was in very, very bad shape. And I think, while they had quite a number of children in the preschool, not counting them, the number in the actual school itself was like 45. And all of them, there was space in the neighboring parochial schools to take them. Certainly the study that's going on right now with Meitler (Consultants) and the 2010 initiative is going to throw a lot of light on how we might be able to strengthen the school system and use our resources better.

Right now, the Catholic schools are where the old archdiocese was, where the heavy Catholic population of large families concentrated in those neighborhoods. And now a lot of those schools are in competition with each other, trying to draw from the same pool of prospective students. So we need to come up with a strategy and thank goodness we have a very good group in place that is studying there right now. By the fall, we want to have a better handle on where Catholic education needs to go.

Q: I'm a parishioner at Our Lady's, and so the question I have is a particular one to this parish, but it sort of impacts because the revenue from collections are down. Why did you remove the pastor? No one has yet got a satisfactory explanation to why. So the question might be, why was he removed, and wasn't that a bad idea?

O'MALLEY: Well, we don't publicly discuss personnel difficulties; we respect people's privacy. But I was very sorry about the way that he exited the parish, and that was not at all my intention or my hope. In my conversations with him, for the good of the parish, I was hoping it would be different. I feel confident that the two priests that are starting there this week are very fine priests and you'll be very satisfied with them as your pastor and hopefully they'll be able to bring some healing to that parish.

Q: I was hoping you could speak a little bit to the recent controversy about Catholic Charities and its position on gay adoptions. It seems that some other dioceses around the country are handling this in a different way, or maybe it hasn't affected them directly so far. But I was hoping you could talk a little bit about your own understanding of the message of the Holy See.

O'MALLEY: Well, the activities of the church, particularly our social services and other activities, need to reflect what the values and the teachings of the church are. And certainly, the institution of marriage is very central in what the church's message is. So, obviously the church opposes a re-definition of the institution of marriage, and we see that the very best way for children to be raised is in a loving relationship of a married man and woman. And, although the numbers of adoptions that have been involved with Catholic Charities were very, very few, and certainly would not have had any kind of impact on what will happen in the commonwealth, I think it's sad that here there isn't a greater understanding and respect of the need for a religious group to be consistent in the services that we give and the doctrine that we teach. And because of that, realizing how contentious it would have been to fight this, and there were different paths we could have followed, either legislatively or going to the courts and looking for relief. But we knew that it would only cause greater divisions, more controversy, and in the long run, would only cripple the mission of what we're trying to do. And that's why the decision was made to -- very sadly -- to give up adoptions, which had been -- although of the 200,000 people served by Catholic Charities, a small number -- it was the centerpiece of the activities of Catholic Charities, and one of the rationales for founding Catholic Charities throughout the country, not just here. And it was precisely in order that, as orphaned Catholic children would be placed in Catholic families who would care for them. But rather than try to fight it and create more tension and controversy, we thought that the wiser course of action, for the good of Catholic Charities and for the faith community would be to give up adoptions. I suspect that in many parts of the country there would have been a greater understanding on the part of the government and public, and Catholic Charities would be able to continue, but obviously in Massachusetts, that's not the case. So, sadly, we made that decision.

Q: In that issue, (Catholic Charities) board members who disagreed with church policy left, quit the board. Is the larger, the bigger message, that if you consider yourself a Catholic, but you disagree on that particular policy, that you should not consider yourself a Catholic, you should leave the church, just like the board members left the board?

O'MALLEY: No one asked anyone to leave the board. That was something that they decided that they wanted to do. Obviously, we know that there are Catholics who have dissenting ideas on church doctrine, and in many ways, it's a great challenge to us to try and to educate and motivate people to understand what the church's teachings are. Our teachings, when they're seen in isolation, are, I think, difficult for people, but they're part of a whole. They're part of a Catholic ethos, and our desire to be faithful to Christ and to the commandments, to certain core values. And we need to do an awful lot more to help our people to understand what the church's teachings are. I know in the past, we relied a lot on sort of authority. The church says this, and so people have accepted that. And particularly in today's climate, where the church's teachings are being challenged, one of the things that we must do is to engage more in a dialogue and try to explain to people what our doctrines are. That doesn't mean that there are syllogisms that are going to lead people to understand, necessarily, everything that the church teaches. It does require faith. But we're hoping that people will come to understand that the church's teachings are not vindictive or mean-spirited or silly. We have a whole theology and philosophy and a way of looking at the dignity of the human person that is part of the reason that we teach what we do teach.

KANEB: My son is chairman of the Catholic Charities board, and he disagrees with the church's teaching. And he's still a chairman of the Catholic Charities board. And I don't believe everybody who disagreed resigned, and certainly no one was asked to resign.

Q: If you disagree with the policy, should you take yourself out of the church?

O'MALLEY: Well, I would hope that those who disagree would try to understand more where the church's teachings are coming from, and I know that it's incumbent upon us, who are teachers, to do a better job of communicating and helping people to see what the church's teachings are, and particularly, in this modern time, when things change so quickly, and where people are exposed to so many different ideas, it's very challenging.

Q: Cardinal, I was going to ask you, if it is particularly challenging in Massachusetts? You've made two references, one to gay adoptions, and the other to vouchers…Is there something in the culture here that you feel is hostile, that makes it more difficult to lead the Catholic community?

O'MALLEY: Well, I think it's challenging to teach in this environment, but this is a very important environment for the church to be involved in teaching in. Here, we have so many intellectual centers. This is the Athens of the West, and they say that St. Paul's most eloquent sermon was given in Athens, and it's the one that had the least impact of any of his preaching (laughs). I think that that's a challenge. I did teach at a university, and as I used to say, never were fiercer wars fought over less turf. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I think certainly this is -- it is a great challenge for us as Catholics, in an atmosphere where our doctrines are being challenged and questioned. But I think that makes us stronger in responding to those kinds of challenges. Obviously, in a little town in the Midwest, where none of these things are even an issue, it's much easier to be a country pastor. But where our people are bumping up against these kinds of questions, and are looking for answers and strengthening their faith and their commitment, I think that's an exciting aspect of being in the church in Massachusetts.

REV. JOHN CONNOLLY (cathedral rector): The particular historical moment in which we find ourselves, post-sexual abuse crisis, has obviously had quite an impact. Cardinal Sean was bishop of Fall River, so he's gotten used to Massachusetts, and there was quite a difference between a bishop of Fall River and the archbishop of Boston.

O'MALLEY: Yes, you say Massachusetts, but Massachusetts is a big state (laughs). Being bishop of Fall River was much different.

Q: There's been some commentary, and I'm sure you've heard it or absorbed it, about your style, and to what degree are you comfortable meeting with politicians, Catholic or not, and in putting forth your message and influencing broader public debate. And one thing I wondered about your elevation to cardinal is, whether that would become more of a forceful role of yours. Is that how you see it, or do you prefer a different approach?

O'MALLEY: Well, I'm not sure -- I'll say that my favorite thing is not dealing with the media, with politicians. However, in my many years as a priest and a bishop, the many times I've…it's necessary and it's part of the role and I understand that and I try and interact the best that I can. I am very aware of the different roles that we have in society and I am not trying to impose our religion on anyone else. But I want to make sure that we get fair hearing from the politicians and from the media, when we try to reach out and, when it is appropriate, when the issues involved are the kind of issues that the church needs to weigh in on, particularly when there are ethical questions involved.

Q: Could you give us a little idea of what similarities and differences there may be with yesterday's disclosure and what would have been necessary had Senator Walsh's bill passed, particularly around the areas of executive salaries.

JOHN H. McCARTHY (advisor to archbishop on financial transparency): Well, what would be required if the archdiocese were to comply with the executive salary disclosures would have been to provide the compensation for the top five individuals. We are providing, on the web, the total compensation of the top five individuals, but not naming any individuals. It's just under $750,000 for all five together. The reason that the chancellor, who made the decision with the cardinal, not to disclose the individual names, was, unlike other not for profit organizations, where it's a requirement, and therefore someone who goes to work for the organization knows that their salary will be disclosed, it's kind of unfair to say to you, now that you work for us, we're going to disclose your compensation. We will, however, with the new fiscal year, advise people that that will be the practice, and going forward, the diocese does plan to disclose the compensation of the top five individuals.

The other piece of information that will be required will be the compensation, or the payments made, to the top five vendors. Those will be disclosed on the web site.

The other thing, I think, as I recall, that the Marian Walsh bill required, which would go far beyond what's required of any not for profit organization, was a listing of all of their properties, and I think that that's something that generally all not for profit organizations were opposed to. There are 1,500 -- 1,505 properties if I understand correctly. We have disclosed the number of properties. I think the other thing that she wanted disclosed were the values, and there were some questions yesterday during the press conference about what the values were. It's a difficult thing to determine. You have 1,500 properties. Most of these are special-purpose properties -- they're churches and schools -- and the real value is in the land. The only way to determine what the correct price is, what the true value is of any property, is to have a negotiated sale between a willing buyer and a willing seller. Everything else is just an appraisal or a reasonable guess. A reasonable guess about 1,500 special purpose properties doesn't come up with a terribly meaningful number.

So I think those would be the significant differences between what was disclosed. The other thing I want to tell you is the significant difference between what was disclosed and what was requested be disclosed, is we disclosed about ten times as much information, perhaps even more, than what would have been required by the Marian Walsh bill. There would have been no discussion and analysis of the financial statements required. It would have required the disclosure of the audited financial statements. What was disclosed was a 24-page analysis of those financial statements, as well as an open press conference and a free opportunity for the press and any others to discuss it. Yesterday, for I couldn't tell you how many hours, we met with five different groups representing parishioners -- the pastoral council -- groups representing clergy (almost 600 between priests, some deacons, and the religious superiors of sisters). We also had a town meeting with the staff of the chancery at the central office. Not only was information made available, it was made available in a very personal way, and much more information than would have been required.

JAMES F. O'CONNOR (advisor to archbishop on strategic planning): I think the information that was disclosed is equal to or greater than what any public corporation in America would disclose. Q: Is this going to be an annual disclosure, or is it a one-time deal.

O'MALLEY: We intend to continue to update all of these reports at this level.

Q: I'd like to ask you a question about the number of Catholics. About half of the four million people who live in the boundaries of the archdiocese are Catholic. But Mass attendance figures are much much lower than that. Can you talk about what the actual census would be of Catholics who attend Mass regularly, and whether there's been drop-off in those numbers, and what impact that has on your finances?

O'MALLEY: There has been a drop-off in contributions. Obviously this has been the genesis of the situation that we find ourselves in now. I don't like to say that because someone doesn't come to church that they're no longer a Catholic. The numbers that self-identify as Catholic are very, very large. Many of them do not practice frequently. There are some people that come for the major feast days and for important family celebrations. But, typically, where you have a very large Catholic population, a percentage of that population are going to be more cultural Catholics and less practicing. But, certainly, the problems of the last couple of years have had an impact. We've seen some reversal in that in the last year. And we hope that, as we approach our 200th anniversary in 2008, we would like to launch programs of evangelization, spirituality that would invite people to reconnect with the church, those who have stepped away, particularly those who have stepped away over these very painful issues of the past couple of years. But it certainly is a concern that Mass attendance is down. That trend is almost a national trend. When I was kid I think it was like 80 percent of Catholics went to church. But I think it was true in other denominations too. Theirs may not have been as high. And part of it is the breakdown of family life, and the ability of people to move away from their parish and local congregations, and they don't connect in a new place. A lot of studies have been done on what the impact of mobility is and what that has on the churchgoing population. Certainly all of these are factors. However, as I say, our hope is that, in the context of our 200th anniversary as a church, as an archdiocese, it will be time to try and re-evangelize our people, and invite them to a life of greater participation in the church.

And one other thing that doesn't enter into statistics, which kind of blows my mind, is a lot of the people who are sending their children to religious education are not coming to church, they're not being counted. So there are different kinds of participation, and that's one that I find very disturbing, but at least there's that contact, that they want their children to receive the sacraments and to be catechized, and yet never darken the door of the church themselves.

Q: If the numbers are down, the numbers of people who attend Mass, and we know vocations are down for the priesthood, could you explain, I didn't really understand the rationale, for keeping two seminaries open in Boston. One of those seminaries is in Weston, and one thing you can guestimate about real estate values is the value of land in Weston.

O'MALLEY: Actually the value of that land, we've appraised (laughs). It's not as much as I had hoped (laughs). Now, if you would like to make an offer! (laughs)

Well, that seminary has evolved into being a national seminary for second-career men, it has an accelerated course, and there are men there from 30 dioceses. The seminary's filled, it's self-sufficient at this point.

St. John's, beyond whether the building is kept open or not, we need to have more vocations, we need to have more priests, and it's my hope that as we nationalize Pope John (seminary) that we can regionalize St. John's. And we're trying to get the neighboring dioceses more interested. We're putting bishops on the board, and inviting them to have retreats there. Bishop McDonnell was there, had a retreat, 35 young men for his diocese, in New Hampshire. So before we would close the doors on that seminary, because if we close it it'll never reopen, I would like to see us try to and regionalize it. I think that in this part of the country there is no other seminary that really is serving that population. There are enough dioceses around that hopefully we'll be able to make a go of it, and if we don't, well, then we'll look at other options.

But the two seminaries are very different and, as I say, Pope John's is self-sufficient, and it's not a drain on the economy. And, despite what people may think, the real estate isn't as valuable. There's a lot of wetlands there. But the future will tell what will happen, whether we'll be successful in trying to regionalize St. John's. There's also a lay ministry program, and we also have the diaconate program and the MAM (Master of Arts in Ministry) program there. And there's regionalization going on in those -- the bishops in the other dioceses are interested in becoming part of the MAM, and we're looking at the possibility of distance learning and things like that. And our committees have been working at a plan that would help us to make St. John's self-sufficient, so that's one of the things that we're looking to.

Q: To go back to the question about the Catholic population here, I wonder if you could talk a little about what the impact of immigration has been on the diocese and also about your experience here, what the differences in the way immigrants and people who are born in this country view you and the archdiocesan management?

O'MALLEY: Well, the Catholic Church in the United States is a church of immigrants. Obviously Boston is very heavily Irish and Italian, but now we have a lot of new peoples coming in, and many of them are Catholics. The other day at that immigration rally there was a retired Episcopalian bishop next to me, who is the acting rector of Trinity there, and he said, "Oh, these are your people." And I said, "They sure are." Haitians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Salvadorans. Most of the immigration coming in, they are coming from Catholic countries, and many of them have very strong associations with the church, and we are trying to serve them the best that we can. In the past, of course, we had a lot of priests in the St. James Society; now we have far fewer and they're aging. But many of them, after serving in Peru and Ecuador and Bolivia, came back and then became pastors, were involved in Hispanic ministries here. We're very grateful the Brazilian bishops have been good, they have sent us a contingent of priests, because there are probably a quarter of a million Brazilians in the archdiocese, and that's, they've arrived in the last few years. The Haitian community, the Vietnamese Catholics. And like so many other immigrants, the church is a place for them to build community and they come together there. And it's a very important part of our population. It's a part of the population that really is seldom counted, because they don't use envelopes. But they certainly are arriving and are continuing the come and they're having children. When I look at some of these parishes, and I see one parish where they had three times as many baptisms as funerals I said, "Oh, there must be a Hispanic population there, or Brazilian." That's part of our reality, too.

Q: Can we talk a little bit about the people around you? For lack of a better term, I think in this room you have sort of a new management team. I'd be interested in your thinking about what you were looking for in putting together a leadership group, a group of advisors, and how your own thinking has evolved in terms of what you had and what you needed, and perhaps reaching out to people who felt alienated from the archdiocese.

O'MALLEY: Well we're trying to make everyone feel that they are welcome. I know there's a lot of suspicion that there's some kind of a blacklist. But I think if people love the church and want to be a part of it, we want them to step up. As far as forming a team when I came to Boston, I really didn't know anybody, and I was grateful for all the people in place who were very helpful to me, and tried to explain to me and help me to understand the situation. We have, of course, asked for more auxiliary bishops from Rome. I really would like to see the role of the auxiliary bishops become more important. The diocese is so big that, if the regions were stronger, it would help us to have greater unity. So we would like to see their roles evolve, and we're trying to restructure the priest council, in such a way that it can help the flow of unity between, dialogue between the priests and the archbishop. We've given importance to the vicariates, and asked the priests to take those meetings seriously, and instead of having people elected to the council by class or by age, we're bringing them from geographic regions so they can go back to their constituency and be channels of communication in both directions with the clergy. But by strengthening the regional bishops we hope that we will be able to strengthen even more those vicariates. We have changes coming up with a new chancellor; the search committee tells me that we have some very good candidates they want me to interview next week so hopefully we'll have a response very quickly, and we're also looking for a new development person. So, at this point in time, we are getting a new group of people in the chancery. And with the finance council it became clear to me that, in the past, the function of the finance council was to approve the sales of real estate and to approve the budget. And that's very important, but in the crisis that we're in, we need a lot more help. The budget that we're presenting is in double-digit deficit. So we have formed different committees that are working as part of the finance committee to help us with planning, and involved a variety of experts, people like Jack (McCarthy) and Jim (O'Connor) and so many others that have come on board. We've tried to use the leadership from our Catholic colleges; they've been a wonderful resource. There's a lot to be done and we're anxious to have as many people on board helping as we can get.

Q: If we can just follow up on that, as you choose the people though who are closest to you -- the new vicar general, a new secretary of education, the people who are really working with you on a day-to-day basis -- are you evaluating where they are on a theological spectrum, are there certain personality styles you're looking for? What is it when you sit down to interview with people who really are going to be running the archdiocese on a day-to-day basis, what are you looking for?

O'MALLEY: Well the first question I ask is, "Do you smoke?" (Laughter). It's a whole range of things, certainly. Certainly their experience, their ability to work with people, their outlook, their energy, their capacity to work, their capacity to work with people, their love for the church. I don't want people who see this simply as a job. I'm looking for people who have a sense of mission, that they really want to do this because they love the church and they want to further Christ's mission. That's what I'm looking for.

Q: Do you feel a need to reach out? With due respect to your colleagues here, they're awfully white and awfully male and awfully gray. You're saying you're an immigrant church, and if that's true, are you planning to make a conscious effort to reach out to Hispanics, reach out to Haitians, reach out to women.

O'MALLEY: I have talked to the different people on the boards, like Catholic Charities, and asked them to make sure that we get a representation of all the different immigrant communities that we need to serve. Ann Carter, who's here, is on the search committee for chancellor. I told them my preference for chancellor would be a religious woman. I don't know whether they've been able to come up with someone. When I was a bishop before I had a religious woman as a chancellor. It was a wonderful fit, it was a way of holding up this vocation in the church, which, unfortunately is being greatly diminished. But we are a church of great diversity and we'd like to see that reflected in the leadership and the boards of the Catholic church.

Q: I was wondering, following up on that, setting aside your obligation to accept, of course, the prohibition of women as priests, whether you find the rationale for that doctrine compelling, and what would happen to the Catholic Church were it to be changed?

O'MALLEY: Well, to me it's a matter of faith. The church's teachings go back to the time of Christ and the apostles, and it's not something that we can change. If I could have the opportunity to say to our Lord, "Well, you know we really need to have women priests today, it would be so much easier for the church, could you change this for us." But we believe there are certain things that are givens. And this is one of the things that we believe is a given.

And in the church, you know, we don't divide the world into warring genders and different factions. We see that everyone has different gifts that they bring to the church. A woman like Mother Teresa is more important than any priest or bishop that I can think of. And the contributions of women in the church -- where would the church be? Most of our educational programs and health care institutions and so many others are run by our Catholic women and Catholic religious women.

I see that it is difficult, in today's climate, and it's not politically correct, and it's a place certainly where our faith bumps up against the popular culture, but it's a place where I think we need to do a better job of trying to help people to understand and accept what the church's teaching is.

Q: Could that change? How deep is it?

O'MALLEY: Two thousand years deep.

Q: But money lending was against the rules for hundreds of years for hundreds of years, and you can do that.

O'MALLEY: Well, usury is still considered unethical. We've changed the figures, but the concept of usury is still something that the church opposes. I think that the consistent teaching of the church for two thousand years, even when it has been challenged, and over the years there have been, numbers of times it has been challenged, and we've always come back to the same practice. And what worries me is if people do not understand that this is Christ's will for the church, and that if they the way that you do, that it can be changed, then it becomes a justice issue in their minds, and that worries me. I don't want people to think that the church is being unjust. I want people to see that we are being faithful, even when it is difficult, even when it is challenging.

Q: I want to ask about Boston College. There was a feeling there that your predecessor was too imperial, and insisted on orthodoxy to a degree that impinged on the college's intellectual freedom. I'm wondering how you get along with the college.

O'MALLEY: Well, I think I get along with them. They gave me a degree last year. It didn't cost me anything. (Laughter) Certainly my meetings with the college presidents have been very encouraging. I think Father Leahy is sensitive to the needs for Boston College to deepen its Catholic identity and part of that means to be concerned about teachings. But we are in ongoing dialogue with all our Catholic colleges around issues of Catholic identity.

One of the encouraging things that they tell me, and this is Sister Janet (Eisner, of Emmanuel College) and Dr. (Mary Jane) England (of Regis College), all of them say they can't remember a generation of young people that's more religious than the ones who are at our universities right now. Not that they necessarily know a lot about the faith, but there's an interest and an openness and a desire for a connection with the church and with the spiritual life and I think that's very encouraging. A few weeks ago I had a Mass for the profession of a young Iraqi nun at the BU chapel on a Saturday afternoon, packed with youngsters. And what really blew my mind, was they were all dressed up. I thought I was back in the West Indies (laughter). Neckties and dresses. I thought, is this some sort of a time warp? How did this happen? And they were there for a two and a half hour celebration, to be with this sister. And these were students at BU, which Dr. Silber used to tell me is really the largest Catholic university in Boston.

Q: Cardinal, could ask you one social justice issue related to the financial crisis? One of the things that I think that's on the table might be diminishing the pension benefits for priests who are retired. I know that the national conference of bishops has issued many statements over the years about economic justice, and about the right of laborers to unionize, to negotiate their wages, to have living benefits. We live in a culture, you've talked a lot about the culture and how corrosive it is to Catholic values, is it corrosive to this value as well? We live in a time when General Motors can cut the benefits of its workers, when Polaroid can steal the pensions of its workers. What message would it send if the Catholic church cuts the pension benefits of priests?

O'MALLEY: Well, we are committed to taking care of the needs of our priests, and we will do that. No matter what it takes, we will take care of the priests.

CONNOLLY: I realize there's a natural tendency, and again it's about who we are and where we live and what point of history we're at, when you're dealing with an institution as large and as complex as the Catholic Church, and particularly the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Boston, an easy analog is the corporate world. I think that when you look at the pensions, and the takings from folks who are blue-collar workers while executives are getting huge amounts of money, the analogy just doesn't really hold here. A priest who is newly ordained in 2006 will have as a starting salary of roughly $20,000. The cardinal-archbishop of Boston gets, as every priest in the archdiocese gets, an annual salary increment of $75, a year. The point I'm simply trying to make is this. The commitment in priest pensions is to give them the care and services and the health care, especially as we get older, to which we've become accustomed, and which we need. And I think that the demand will be met, and can more easily be met, than perhaps some of our financial revelations of yesterday made clear, because as I've come to learn in this process, under general accounting principles, when you have to book the problems with the priest pension funds, what you are not allowed to book is the annual Easter and Christmas collections that will be coming in the future. So as difficult and dire as the situation is now, it's not as bad as some would think.

KANEB: The cardinal has stated unequivocally, we're going to take care of the needs of our priests in retirement. I know relatively little about the various benefits available, but I do know enough to know that there are some programs, whether it be housing in retirement, or types of health care that one can access, that are more liberal than I've seen in any secular organization, and I hope that we will reach a resolution with the vast majority of priests. Using justice as a tool to try to get where we should go, I think if we could go to detail on this, which we can't, any reasonable person will agree that as the health care systems have changed, options have opened for retired people or older people, certain of these things just don't match up with reality, and wouldn't match up with reality in a government organization or a caring private enterprise.

O'MALLEY: And we're facing, too, sort of a bubble. There was a time when there were huge ordination classes, fifty and sixty years ago, and those are the classes coming up for retirement, and of course in the future it's not going to be quite as grave as it is now. It's something that we were working on. But certainly the priests who have given their whole life to serving the church are not going to be abandoned.

It's interesting to see that the largest collection that we have in the archdiocese is for the retired sisters. Because for so long the sisters didn't have any pension programs. And now that those communities are aging. And just by announcing that to our people, throughout the country, that's not only the case in Boston, but everywhere. And I'm sure that whether the Easter, Christmas collections are enough, these funds will be there to support our priests.

Q: The church has so many missions, being such a complex organization, and really you're supporting education and health care in ways that others have never tried to do. And I realize all those are important. But circumstances have changed, needs change. As you try to figure your way through what to do to get out of the financial situation, is there a thought of now scaling back, or eliminating some of those missions?

O'MALLEY: Certainly all of these missions are part of who we are. Whether we will able to do everything in the future, I don't know, but certainly we are committed to our health care system, and thank God, the situation there has turned itself around, and is going to be all right. And hopefully with the study of the schools, the 2010 initiative, we'll be able to reenergize our efforts along those lines. So I don't see us cutting back in those areas.

KANEB: You asked earlier about people coming back, or new people coming in. Perhaps an outstanding example of that is my friend Jack Connors. As you may remember, he had some very pungent things to say about the incumbent archbishop a few years ago. Obviously, Archbishop O'Malley welcomed Jack back as soon as he showed up, and Jack is now a major part of reconstruction, rethinking.

Q: Cardinal O'Malley, it seems like since you've been here it seems like you've presided over a period of just incredible, continual transition, challenge, big challenge after big challenge. Transitions -- none more breathtaking than using the word illustrious to describe this newspaper -- which is not a word that has come easily to the lips of many before you (laughter). But I wonder, it's obvious how you've changed Boston, since you've been here, and how it's changed while you've been here, but I wonder how serving here has changed you. Many people would have been ground to dust by now by all that you've put up with. How have you changed, or grown?

O'MALLEY: You think I'm not ground to dust? Thank you! (Laughter) I think it makes me focus more on what is essential, and that is my vocation, to try to follow the Lord, to try and be faithful, and to realize that a lot of other things that you thought were important, really aren't that important. 'I think in general, for many Catholics, the crisis has caused us to focus more on what is essential, why we are a church, why we are Catholics, who our God is, and the vision he's given to us. It's not about me. It's about Christ, his church, his mission. I'm just a small part of it. I'll do my best. Sometimes it will be inadequate. Sometimes, I'll maybe find an acorn.

Q: Are you glad you came to Boston?

O'MALLEY: You know, every change has been difficult. When I was in Washington, and was told I was being changed to the West Indies, I thought I was going to die inside. But you don't look down, you don't look back, and you go. And when I got there, it was challenging. As bishop, I was junior, by thirty years, to the next youngest priest in the diocese, and having never worked there…But then when I left there, I felt this tragic, Oh, my grace, how could I ever leave? And I felt the same way when I left Fall River. Wherever you go, the hardest thing is saying goodbye. But when you get to a new place you find that there are people there, and there are needs, and it's the same church. So I'm very happy to be here, and if I were sent somewhere else, I would probably have the same separation anxiety that I felt when I left the other places that I've worked.

Q: Are you glad you came here today?

O'MALLEY: Well it wasn't as bad as I thought.

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