Women have always played an important role in service to the community and to the Catholic Church. They are at the helm in various Catholic hospital systems, universities and foundations. The great unanswered question for many women is whether they will ever be allowed to become priests. Short of that, however, there is every expectation of women taking on increasingly weighty positions of responsibility in the curia, the governing structure of the church. That, according to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the first cardinal to speak at a New England Council (NEC) breakfast, just another example of his willingness to reach beyond the borders of everyday diocesan activity.
The Cardinal spoke in a compelling way about the social gospel of the Church. The scope of its services makes it a key player in the economy of Massachusetts, of considerable interest to the gathered business leaders at NEC. If the Church did not deliver the services it does, other institutions, including local and state government, would have to take up the slack.
The Cardinal talked about the early days of his work in Washington, working among struggling newcomers, where he was immersed in the terrible difficulties faced by immigrants coming to a strange land for better opportunity. For 20 years, he celebrated mass in Spanish, Portugese and Haitian Creole, but not English. Today in Boston he still serves people of many different linguistic and ethnic groups.
The Catholic Church has always been an immigrant church, helping newcomers grow out of poverty and into the middle class. Many of the 200,000 needy served last year by Catholic Charities are immigrants, a population that has grown more than 27 percent since 2000. The Church’s service to immigrants and others in need of social services, its pivotal role as the largest private educator in Massachusetts, its employment of more than 10,000 people (not counting priests and religious), its career training and homeless services, its creation of affordable housing, make it a powerful force for a better society.
Pope Francis has invited Cardinal Sean O’Malley to serve on a small council of cardinals to advise him. He is the only American serving in that select group. The Cardinal is equally respected in Massachusetts, and the reaction to his recent visit to the New England Council says much about his popularity. As Council CEO Jim Brett put it, the Cardinal’s “ecumenical outreach is genuine and generous.” Compare the way he has dealt with the Church’s sexual abuse problems (in Boston, in Ireland and in Rome) to that of his predecessor. O’Malley is spiritual, ecumenical, warm, funny, smart, and articulate. His charisma is a major improvement to the brand of the Catholic Church as it reaches out to the secular world and tries to deal with society’s manifold problems.
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