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Cardinal O’Malley, Comfort, and Common Sense

If I were creating a world, I’d love to have it without spiders. But that’s not the world we live in. Of course, you’ll call me an ecological dimwit—spiders are indispensable to proper environmental balance, and they’re objectively beautiful things. But they scare the hell out of me; and I’d simply prefer them not to be around.

Now try this one: If I were founding a church, I’d love to have women priests. But Christ founded it, and what he has given us is something different.

This is the recent claim by Cardinal Seán O’Malley that’s creating hubbub. Of course, you might call him an ecclesiological dimwit—male priests are part and parcel of the Church’s apostolic tradition, and priestly vocations as such are objectively beautiful. But it’s a scary proposition (especially when you have the 60 Minutes camera and editing team ready to pounce), and personal preference can be very fickle, indeed.

It doesn’t take a degree in sacred theology to parse O’Malley’s remarks. Nor, alas, will it require one to condemn them. What’s at play here is an all-too-human limitation of comfort and common sense. What’s not at stake is a fair hearing for the Church’s timeless teaching, which the cardinal presents eloquently, and that can withstand even the capriciousness of her assailants—and her faithful members.


Readers are invited to discuss essays in argumentative and fraternal charity, and are asked to help build up the community of thought and pursuit of truth that Ethika Politika strives to accomplish, which includes correction when necessary. The editors reserve the right to remove comments that do not meet these criteria and/or do not pertain to the subject of the essay.

  • Stoney

    Eloquently?? He’s saying he knows better than Christ. And his comments that the investigation of hereticsl nuns is a disaster is an outrage. Another politician masquerading as a shephard of the Church.

    • Andrew M. Haines

      It seems he said precisely the opposite: that he knows more poorly than Christ, and that deference to reality and mystery—not personal preference—is the the mark of Christian morality.

      • Stoney

        What am I missing here, where did he say “..but Christ knows better than us”? How did you come to your conclusion? Just saying the (incomplete) reason Christ instituted an all-male priesthood, doesn’t mean he agrees with it. Even if you are correct, it’s still highly irresponsible and perhaps scandalous, for a bishop to express his private feelings that are in direct contradiction of Church teaching.

        • C

          If you watch the video of the interview, you will see Cardinal O’Malley — in his typical dry sense of humor — grin, and, as Andrew says, in a subtle demonstration of self-deprecating humility, make the “if I were founding a Church” remark.

    • naturgesetz

      Stoney — Andrew Haines has completely refuted your claim that he said he knows better than Christ. As for the “heretical” sisters, heresy is a technical term, and is not synonymous with every expression of dissent from a teaching. “Disaster” was a strong word, but he was speaking off the cuff. It is true that the hierarchy did not effectively present to the wider world what the problems were with what the sisters were doing and saying, and the result was not a triumph of presenting the Church’s teachings fully to the world.

      It was significant that in introducing the topic (without Cardinal Seán on camera), that CBS falsely characterized the issue as one of Vatican unhappiness with the sisters’ focusing on social justice rather than right to life issues. That they could get away with it is a result of the Church’s failure to use the situation effectively as a “teachable moment.”

      Yes, we know the doctrines. We are not the ones the Church has been unable to reach.

      • Stoney

        Something tells me I would trust CBS’s characterization of the investigation more than I would O’Malley’s, lol.

        • naturgesetz

          It’s not CBS’s characterization vs. O’Malley’s, it’s CBS’s vs. the facts as I saw them unfold. It wasn’t about social justice. It was about dissent over sex-related issues of various sorts.

          You must be quite young if you still trust the networks more than the participants.

          • Stoney

            2 thoughts for you, naturgesetz:

            1. Nuns on the Bus
            2. Sister Carol Keehan

            They didn’t just appear out of thin air.

  • Matt

    Obviously he’s speaking tongue in cheek. Speaking to the American media is like speaking to a mentally challenged child, especially in matters of theology and he was trying to put it bluntly that he is just passing down the faith of Christ, not making it up himself. I don’t think his words were precise,but I’m sure he doesn’t actually believe that there is nothing more to the male priesthood than Christ’s preference. Come one, this is silly.

  • Um. How’s that ivory tower?

    A cardinal has a pastoral role. Avoiding scandalous statements, whatever their intent, is always a good idea.

  • Lee M

    I have never approved of Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s becoming a Cardinal. He’s liberal. I don’t like liberals. He allowed Senator Edward Kennedy’s grandkids to use his Funeral Mass as a Soapbox for Gay Marriage. I think for allowing that at a Mass, he should not still be a Cardinal.