FORT WORTH, Texas – When it comes to addressing the abuse crisis currently engulfing the Church in various parts of the world, no prelate knows Pope Francis as well as Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
This summer has been especially difficult in the United States, with the revelations of abuse committed by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington, and a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report detailing the alleged abuse of over 1,000 minors by over 300 clergymen of the past 75 years.
“I think the Holy Father is anxious to help the Church in the United States,” O’Malley told Crux on Saturday afternoon. “Right now, the Holy See has to respond to the questions about McCarrick’s advancement, and that will help the United States, and I think the Holy Father wants that to happen.”
The prelate, who heads the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, spoke to Crux as the V Encuentro, a gathering of some 3,500 Hispanic Catholics attended by some 120 American bishops, was coming to an end in Fort Worth, Texas.
Among other things, he discussed the ambience of “joy” palpable through the Sept. 21-23 meeting despite the crisis, and also about the future of the Hispanic ministry in the United States, joking that in some places, what is needed is an “Anglo Ministry.”
O’Malley spoke with Crux on Sept. 22. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.
We’re coming to the end of a four-year process, but some would argue it’s only the beginning of the Encuentro’s impact in the United States. What’s your opinion over what happened here in Fort Worth?
I’ve been to all the Encuentros [first one was in 1972], and each of them had a very positive impact on the Church. What I liked about this one is the emphasis they put on the youth. Because now we have a generation that was born here, and they need a very special attention if they’re going to be a part of the faith community. I was very encouraged by the dinner last night [Friday], when they had time with the bishops. I think that was a very special moment. And to see that something like a third of the participants are youth, I think that’s very important.
And the Hispanic community is where the growth and energy is, along with the other ethnic communities, so it’s a challenge but also an opportunity.
The Church in the U.S. is very divided by ethnicity. Is now the time in which the Hispanic community is not only constricted to a “Hispanic Ministry office” and actually part of the ministry of the Church in the U.S.?
You know, it varies from place to place. There are places where there has to be an Anglo ministry! A lot depends on individual communities. More and more, Hispanic communities are becoming more central in their parishes.
No longer the 2 pm Mass on Sundays…
Exactly. Or the “downstairs” church.
The Encuentro is taking place at the end of what has been a long and grueling summer for the Church in the U.S. due to the abuse crisis. How did you see the mood of the people here?
I think surprisingly positive. Obviously, they’re very aware of what is going on, but it doesn’t seem to have dampened their appetite for this – for community and to be part of the Encuentro process. It’s been very encouraging, and that is why I said this morning [for Saturday] in the Mass “this is an oasis.”
Some have mentioned that for the Hispanic community the abuse crisis is not as in the forefront as it seems to be for the Anglo community. Would you agree?
I wouldn’t phrase it that way. Even the polling we did for the USCCB a couple of years ago showed that Hispanics are concerned about this. These are young families, with lots of children, so safeguarding is very important to them. But they do see a bigger picture. So, I think that despite the concerns about safeguarding they see the positive aspects of their faith and what it means in their lives and community.
Would it be fair to say they’re more able to see the forest than the fallen tree?
That’s one way of putting it.
It’s just that it’s been evident that the call for safeguarding was palpable here this weekend, but the mood is very different than the one you might find outside. Maybe it’s a bubble, but if you read the media, twitter or blogs, there seems to be only one issue in the Church today, and that is: How do we address this crisis that we thought we’d dealt with in 2002… Yet here the spirt was one of celebration, joy, encounter, moving forward without ignoring.
You met with the Holy Father 10 days ago. How did you even end up in that meeting – that was supposed to be the leadership of the bishops’ conference meeting Pope Francis to address the McCarrick situation – yet Cardinal Sean O’Malley was there…
I just wanted to be there so badly! [Laughter]. The president [Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Huston] asked me to go with them, so I did. They’d given me the letter beforehand, so a week before I gave a letter to the Holy Father, to help set up the meeting. But I was only an observer, the other people there were the official representatives of the conference.
We had meetings during the summer, conference calls and so forth, and they always included me, even though I’m not on the administrative board this time around.
But you’re a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors…
Right. So, they included me, and asked if I would accompany so …
How invested do you see Pope Francis being in helping the Church in the U.S. address the crisis?
I think the Holy Father is anxious to help the Church in the United States. Right now, the Holy See has to respond to the questions about McCarrick’s advancement, and that will help the United States, and I think the Holy Father wants for that to happen.