O’Malley expands, reflects on ‘60 Minutes’ interview

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Four days after he was featured on the CBS news program “60 Minutes,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston took column space in his archdiocesan newspaper Thursday to expand on his interview and reflect on the experience.

Acknowledging that TV interviews don’t rank among his favorite things to do, O’Malley said he was “privileged” to participate with “60 Minutes” (the segment noted that it took more than a year to secure his agreement). He said he was “very impressed” with the news team and noted correspondent Norah O’Donnell and her producers were all Catholics.

“From the beginning of the process I was aware that the questions would not be about the weather and the Red Sox,” he said in a column at BostonPilot.com. 

Rather, the questions, he recalled, “touched on three provocative issues that are seldom addressed by members of the hierarchy, but which once raised capture everyone’s attention.”

Those issues were the ordination of women, the separate Vatican visitations of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and women religious communities, and the accountability of bishops related to clergy sex abuse -- specifically Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. A large portion of the interview also focused on O’Malley’s ministry in the church, as well as his interactions and impressions of Pope Francis.

As for Finn, O’Malley said Thursday he was not surprised the question came up. During the interview, he acknowledged to “60 Minutes” that Finn, convicted of a misdemeanor in 2012 for failing to report suspected abuse, would not be able to teach Sunday school in the Boston archdiocese, adding “it’s a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently.”

In his column, he appeared to seek clarity to his response: “While it is the case that the sexual abuse policies adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would preclude someone convicted of not reporting a crime from teaching religious education or having any position supervising children, some of the advance reporting about this matter did not reflect the nuances of my answer to the question. In response to Norah, I said that the Vatican must attend to this situation. The Holy Father is aware of this need, and recently an Episcopal Visitator was sent to Bishop Finn's diocese. The Holy See had the sensitivity to send a Canadian bishop to conduct the visitation.”

“We are all aware that Catholics want their leaders to be held accountable for the safety of children, but the accountability has been sporadic,” O’Malley continued. “We need clear protocols that will replace the improvisation and inertia that has often been the response in these matters. Bishops also deserve due process that allows them to have an opportunity for a fair hearing.”

The cardinal called the Finn situation “a painful one” and prayed that the apostolic visitation in September would help.

“After all that American Catholics have been through in the past decade, survivors and the community at large understandably are demanding transparency and accountability. As a Church, the safety of children must be our priority. At the same time, we need to provide justice for all and avoid crowd-based condemnations,” he said.

O'Malley also expanded Thursday on his comments regarding women’s ordination and the visitations of LCWR and women religious communities. Read the full column here.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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