As I see it, there's been a bit of identity theft under way almost from the moment Sean O'Malley became Boston archbishop. I'm not sure exactly how that happened. But I think you'll agree with me that the Archbishop O'Malley portrayed in the news media out of Boston is a different breed of cat from the man we knew as Bishop Sean, who used to list his private telephone number in the Fall River telephone book under his real name and address.One of the Boston priests told me some weeks ago that, as he saw it, Sean was "starting to take the diocese back, little by little."
Bishop Sean of blessed memory bears no resemblance to the Boston archbishop I've been reading and hearing about. That fellow comes across time and again as ham-handed and tone deaf. And his mind seems so made up in advance I wouldn't expect his phone to ring at all. Unless it's a wrong number. Or the pope is calling.
I get the impression from the clips out of Boston that if the pope didn't invite the archbishop to Rome every now and then, the friendless friar would be without any social life at all.
Now, I am exaggerating, of course. The archbishop's image isn't really that bad. And some Boston writers (the Globe's Michael Paulson comes to mind) actually try to present a nuanced portrait of the man. Still I'm not exaggerating when I say that something drastic has befallen the image of the Sean O'Malley whom we came to know and appreciate here on the SouthCoast.
A strong and coherent man rarely comes across as we watch or read the news from Boston. Most of the time we get a woolly concoction: two parts holy Hamlet, one part Uriah Heep with a dash of bitter Mr. Potter tossed in.
According to the news these days, the archbishop is either shutting down a beloved school days before graduation or making old women cry by snuffing out the parishes where they were baptized when he's not shutting off the heat or calling in the cops to chill a protest.
Hey, and, watch out, if you have a popular pastor. Archbishop O'Malley has a knack for plucking him right out of the bosom of his parishioners without warning, proper process or coherent explanation. And don't let the brown habit fool you. As he's been portrayed, this Franciscan would convert the Holy Name Cathedral to condominiums if the price were right. Forget the talk about the priest shortage; it's all about the bucks. Everything else is a distraction.
Our Bishop Sean was nothing like that. He had a sense of humor as dry as a good martini. This was a man who knew how to laugh. Someone up in Boston must have stolen the laughter, too. Imagine anyone seeing our Sean O'Malley worrying about what something costs or what it's worth. Material things didn't matter. He was far too spiritual.
The holy man we remember is still coming through the news filter; but the news process is all about being fair and balanced. Critics get equal time and they have the archbishop reneging on his promises, stonewalling, squelching dissent and telling lies. The effect is a wash. Holiness becomes tantamount to so much hypocrisy. And what's a prelate anyway but a politician in clerical robes. It matters not that he's playing for higher stakes, that he literally does give a damn. Imagine the nerve of a victims' lawyer like Mitchell Garabedian comparing Sean O'Malley to Bernard Law the other day, as if he had a clue about the moral gulf between them. But he gets away with it.
It's sad to see how little the archbishop seems to be doing to defend himself.
Again and again, he turns the other cheek.
Here's hoping the reds accelerate that, more than just a bit.