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Spotlight Report

O'Malley expected to become cardinal

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 9/27/2003

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of Boston could be getting his red hat much sooner than expected. Or at least that is the buzz in Rome.

Unconfirmed reports in Italian newspapers said yesterday that Pope John Paul II is preparing to announce, as soon as tomorrow, that he plans to elevate a group of bishops to the College of Cardinals on Oct. 22. Numerous observers said they expect O'Malley to be among the next group to be so honored by the pope.

O'Malley's spokesman, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, downplayed the reports.

''It's just pure speculation,'' Coyne said. ''The archbishop hasn't received any notification about this.''

But church scholars said that O'Malley is likely to be among the next group of bishops created cardinal because of the prominence of Boston in the church, and because the pope wants to support O'Malley as he works to heal the wounds caused in the Archdiocese of Boston by the abuse crisis.

''O'Malley will get it on the first shot,'' said the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame. ''There's no reason to delay it.''

Boston's last four archbishops have been promoted to cardinal, and because of Boston's history and size, scholars say there is a presumption that O'Malley will be promoted as well.

An elevation in the next month would be remarkably swift for O'Malley, who has been archbishop of Boston only since July 30. Many Vatican-watchers had assumed that the next consistory, at which cardinals are created, would not be held until February.

But the reports out of Rome yesterday suggested that the pope, whose health has been declining, wants to act now to add new members to the College of Cardinals, which will elect the next pope.

The reports said that the pope could choose a date for a consistory in mid-October, when many bishops will already be in Rome for festivities honoring John Paul II's 25th anniversary as pope, which is Oct. 16, and for the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which is Oct. 19.

The predictions that an announcement could come tomorrow first appeared in state-run RAI and other Italian media, according to the Associated Press. The AP said that the College of Cardinals contains 109 men under the age of 80, which is the age limit for voting in an election for pope.

All but five were named by Pope John Paul II.

Cardinals, often called princes of the church, serve as advisers to the pope. Their main function is to elect a new pope when a pontiff dies, but they also serve on multiple committees at the Vatican overseeing the administration of the global church.

There are currently 13 US cardinals, including Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the former archbishop of Boston, who resigned last December because of the clergy sexual abuse crisis. It would be unusual, but not unprecedented, for one American city to have two cardinals -- Washington, D.C., has two cardinals, one of whom is retired.

Michael Paulson can be reached at

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