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Why not O'Malley

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Sep 28, 2003

Why was Boston's Archbishop Sean O'Malley not on the list of new cardinals?

I think there's a simple explanation.

There have never been two cardinal-electors-- two cardinals eligible to vote in a papal conclave-- from the same archdiocese.

(Oops! Correction: There was one case. In 1998, Cardinal Hans Groer of Vienna-- who had resigned in disgrace-- was still under 80 when Cardinal Christoph Schönborn received his red hat. But take note: Pope John Paul asked Groer to resign from the College of Cardinals.)

Although he has resigned, Cardinal Law is still canonically attached to Boston.

Therefore, giving a red hat to Archbishop O'Malley would mean breaking a precedent-- which the Vatican is generally averse to doing.

But if this analysis is correct, there's an interesting situation in Boston. For nearly a century that archdiocese has been regarded as a "cardinalial see;" the archbishop is expected to be, or become, a cardinal. But Cardinal Law is only 72; he will remain a cardinal-elector for eight more years.

So unless the precedent is broken, or unless Cardinal Law gets a new canonical assignment (a position at the Vatican?), Archbishop O'Malley will not receive his red hat in this decade.

Frankly, that seems unlikely. Something's got to give.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Sep. 29, 2003 7:14 AM ET USA

    Cardinal designate Erdos Peter of Hungary will double up with his predecessor who just turned 75.

  • Posted by: RC - Sep. 28, 2003 9:34 PM ET USA

    Before Sunday morning, the local media portrayed Abp. O'Malley as rather likely to be named a cardinal this time: they didn't seem to have any clue about the constraint Phil describes.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 28, 2003 9:30 PM ET USA

    Why does something have to give? It's just as likely that something doesn't have to give. The Pope seems to think that some*one* doesn't have to give and someone doesn't have to get. Boston may be important to Bostonians and maybe even to northeasterners in general, but to Rome--what is Boston? And perhaps a diocese in meltdown would be better off with less publicity for awhile. A century as a cardinalial see isn't so important--a decade of not hearing from the Archdiocese of Boston--priceless.