What O’Malley sees

When Pope Benedict XVI announced to the world that he was resigning, immediate speculation turned to who would become the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

One of the names to pop up, at least in the Northeastern U.S., was Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston. While O’Malley has dismissed such speculation, such a possibility seems to have merit.

O’Malley has shown to be a responsive leader when it came to the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church in recent years. That willingness to take the lead when it comes to seeing the church confront the issue was on display this week. In a Boston Globe article, O’Malley said the next pope should follow Benedict’s lead in having the bishops adopt clear policies for handling those accused of abuse. Those policies should also include what happens should it be discovered that a bishop has been protecting priests who are abusers.

“There needs to be a path for disciplining bishops. Right now, it’s not terribly clear, but it’s something the next pope will have to deal with,” O’Malley wrote. “Without a protocol in place, it falls to the Vatican to decide what to do with each errant bishop on a case-by-case basis. My point is always that if you don’t have policies, you’ll be improvising, and when you improvise, you make a lot of mistakes.”

As he said in his installation homily back in 2003, “To those victims and their families, we beg forgiveness and assure them that the Catholic Church is working to create a safe environment for young people in our Churches, schools and agencies. It must never be business as usual, but rather a firm commitment of every diocese, parish and school to do all we can to avoid the mistakes of the past and create safeguards for the future.”

It was O’Malley who had a significant role in the bishops in the U.S. adopting a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse for clergy. Yet the work is far from finished, including how effective the pope and church have been in addressing the issue. A New York Times/CBS News Poll found that Roman Catholics in the U.S. don’t think the church has done enough on this issue — the biggest problem, they say, facing the church. In fact, seven out of 10 respondents in the poll say Pope Benedict and the Vatican have done a poor job of handling sexual abuse.

The electors of the next pope may not choose O’Malley but they would be wise to tap someone who will heed the Boston archbishop’s views on this matter.

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