Speculation over the new Boston archbishop's choice of domicile ended with Archbishop Sean O'Malley announcing he will live in the rectory of the cathedral and give up the more luxurious official residence. "A bishop should be close to his cathedral," O'Malley wrote recently in the archdiocesan newspaper. "The parish is the venue of the pastoral life of the diocese, and living in a rectory is a statement about this reality."
He said his predecessors "were not worldly men who sought a 'fancy pad' but "were uninterested in material things." He said they lived in the official residence in a tradition begun by Cardinal William O'Connell (archbishop from 1907-1944).
"There was a day when many of the trappings surrounding a bishop were an expression of the longing of immigrants," he wrote. "It was the way Catholics said: 'Our church is an important institution and we are important.'" The church no longer needs all the symbols of the past, wrote O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan, "especially when those symbols now seem ambiguous at best and a contradiction of some of our gospel values at worst."
Rev. Francis F. Baiocchi
Finally, a bishop who gets the message! But for every O'Malley in the church, there remain dozens of bishops who continue to revel in their episcopal rank and privilege, maintaining lifestyles far removed from the people whom they ostensibly serve. Mainstream Catholics in this country are no longer an immigrant population trying to maintain an ethnic identity : whether that be Milwaukee Germans or Bostonian Irish. We have come of age. Yet our bishops remain stuck in a medieval time warp with their trappings of monarchical dress and castle-like domiciles.
We might wonder how many of the hundreds of American bishops will follow in Sean O'Malley's footsteps to live simpler lives closer to the people they pastor. (What would your guess be?) Shepherds who isolate themselves from their "flock" and then address their people mostly for fundraising and anti-abortion rhetoric are still far too numerous in the United States and elsewhere.