O’Malley, the ‘cappuccino priest,’ a hit in Rome
By Rachel Zoll, AP, Mar 12, 2013
VATICAN CITY (AP)—The archbishop of Boston, dressed more often in the humble brown robe of his religious order than a cardinal’s regalia, has emerged as an unlikely star amid the drama unfolding in Rome.
Vatican analysts for the leading Italian newspapers have repeatedly listed Cardinal Sean O’Malley as one of the favorite contenders in the conclave starting Tuesday.
As recently as two weeks ago, O’Malley hadn’t appeared on the lists of papabili, or cardinals with papal potential, that church watchers pore over each morning like sports scores, even though only the cardinal-electors know how they will vote. Vatican observers said no American cardinal could win: A superpower pope risked mixing church and U.S. interests. O’Malley is also a Capuchin Franciscan, and few members of religious orders have led the church.
But O’Malley arrived to a country in an anti-establishment mood.
A comedian, Beppe Grillo, had grabbed a quarter of the parliamentary vote, leaving the political leadership of Italy in limbo.
The Vatican central administration, or Curia, had been weathering a string of scandals. Benedict XVI’s own butler had leaked the former pontiff’s private papers, revealing feuding, corruption and cronyism at the highest levels of the bureaucracy. The secretive Vatican bank had recently ousted a president for incompetence and is under pressure for greater financial transparency.
In the cardinal, Italians saw a white knight. From O’Malley’s lengthy track record, one story seems to have captured the most attention: after he arrived in Boston in 2003, then the epicenter of the church scandal, O’Malley decided to sell the Italian Renaissance mansion that had been home to the previous four Boston archbishops. The millions of dollars from the sale would help pay settlements to victims.
The bearded, soft-spoken cardinal has even earned a nickname—the cappuccino priest—a play on the Italian name for his order, the same word for the coffee drink.
“Give me the cappuccino priest, not the Italians,” said Giuliana Piaella, 57, a waitress serving lunch at a Rome restaurant. “He’s a clean-looking guy, perfect age, and has a serious face. He has a calm face, full of self-confidence. He wears open sandals, which show his humility. Catholics don’t do that anymore. We need someone who’s close to the people.”
Marco Politi, a papal biographer, said O’Malley is benefiting from the Italian love for Franciscans and from the desire for a pope from another country, who Italians believe will not get involved in Italian politics.
“O’Malley comes across as a humble man in robes who communicates well,” Politi said. “They admire him for selling off the expensive archbishop’s palace to pay debts, and that he lives in a simple home.”
O’Malley, a native of Lakewood, Ohio, studied at a Franciscan seminary, then joined the religious order and was ordained at 26. A graduate student at the Catholic University of America, he earned a master’s degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature.
O’Malley now speaks eight languages, including Italian, Portuguese and Haitian Creole, according to his spokesman Terrence Donilon. He asks parishioners to address him informally as “Cardinal Sean.”
Despite all the attention, Donilon said Tuesday the cardinal “expects to be going home.”
Speaking last week at the North American College, the prominent seminary for American priests in Rome, O’Malley played down his prospects, pointing to his brown robe.
“I’ve worn this uniform for over 40 years and I presume I will wear it until I die,” he said. “Because I don’t expect to be elected pope, so I don’t expect to have a change of wardrobe.”