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Friday, March 24, 2006


This painting by Jean-Leon Gerome shows Capuchin monk Father Joseph walking down a staircase at Versailles, deeply absorbed in his missal and oblivious to the groveling courtiers trying to curry favor with him. Father Joseph, the 'Eminence Grise' is an archetype of a type of Cardinal. His friend Cardinal Richelieu is another - silken, cynical, worldly, political. And yet it was to the Capuchin Father Joseph that Richelieu and the King deferred and a word from the simple Friar could change the course of French policy, and thus the simple monk in all his humility was feared by the French Court.

We have our own Richelieu and Joseph in the Boston Archdiocese in the form of Cardinal Law - the urbane Richelieu - and the simple yet powerful Capuchin, now-Cardinal Sean O'Malley. Yet Porcupine is troubled by a thorn upon the blossom of Cardinal O'Malley's universal acclaim.

In 1992, when he was only Bishop of Fall River, he summoned the devout Catholic and newly elected legislator Shirley Gomes to his offices and demanded that she change her vote on an bill about abortion. She declined, and he stripped her of her Eucharistic ministry as a consequence. In 2004, while Archbishop of Boston, he demanded that Catholic Rep. Barbara L'Italien change her vote on allowing contraceptives to be covered as medication. Rep L'Italien also declined, and was also punished. Rep. Gomes is a Republican and Rep. L'Italien is a Democrat, so this is not a partisan matter - no matter what he said about Cheney at his elevation press conference.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this stance. He is a Prince of the Roman Church, and as such should demand that Catholic members follow its teachings. Yet - he has never publicly rebuked such prominent pro-choice Catholic legislators as John Rogers, Frank Hynes, Doug Peterson or John Kerry - no, the public humiliations are only for the females.

Theology teaches that the Deadly Sins are not characterized so much the act as they are by obsession. For instance, a person feverishly weighing every ounce of food consumed is as guilty of Gluttony as a jaded gourmand consuming a seventeen course meal. It is the obsession with what ought to be a routine concern that distracts from God, not the form that obsession takes. So, a person who rejects appropriate recognition with extraordinary modesty and protestations of unwothiness is as guilty of Pride as the more easily recognized arrogant and snobbish. It's always harder to see the Uriah Heeps clearly.

Now that he is Cardinal, will O'Malley begin to call the men to task also, or will he continue to reserve his condemnation for the more usual and easily disregarded targets of the Roman church, the women?

Perhaps that is how we will be able to tell if our own Father Joseph is indeed a haughty prelate.


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