Cardinal O’Malley visits Denver’s Annunciation Parish

Boston’s archbishop addresses immigration, life issues

Even though the horizon looks bleak when it comes to immigration and end-of-life issues, there is hope, says the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley.

The cardinal, who is also the newest member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke to the Denver Catholic en Español during a visit to Denver last month, motivated by the first communion of his nephew.

The Capuchin cardinal, 72, made time during his quick trip to visit the parish served by the Capuchins here in Denver, Annunciation Parish, where he celebrated the morning Spanish Mass on May 28th.

Pope Benedict XVI elevated Boston’s archbishop to a cardinal in 2006, and in January, Pope Francis appointed him as a full board member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is also a member of the Pope’s “council of cardinals” and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Cardinal O’Malley has a master’s degree in religious education and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature from Catholic University of America.

Denver Catholic en Español: You began your priesthood serving the Hispanic community as the executive director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Spanish Catholic Center in the early 1970s. How did you get to that position?

Cardinal O’Malley: I was in Washington from 1965 to 1984. When I was in Washington there was a great migration caused by the war in Central America. When I was a deacon, I was told that I was going to work on Easter Island in Chile with the Capuchins. But before my priestly ordination, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., told my provincial: ‘I have only one priest that speaks Spanish. Leave that brother here,’ so I spent 20 years in Washington working with the Hispanic community.

DCE: How do you view the situation of the Hispanic community of that time compared to the current situation?

CO: It was the time of the wars in Central America, and many of them were farmers and refugees. They fled from violence and misery. Their farms were destroyed by the wars. It was dangerous. There were a lot of Salvadorian immigrants. At that time, I got to know Blessed Óscar Romero very closely. Most of the parishioners were undocumented people. We can see that so many decades later we are in a similar situation.

Cardinal Se‡n O’Malley celebrates Mass during the Ascension of Jesus Christ at Annunciation Catholic Church on May 28, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DCE: What do you think of the Hispanic Catholic community in the United States?

CO: I see that the Hispanic community growing, numerous, and active. I admire the enthusiasm, the religious devotion, the family values, their work, and their participation.

DCE: The Hispanic community faces many challenges with regard to immigration, how do we resolve this issue?

CO: We urgently need a new legislation to deal with immigration issues. We should have more generous quotas and work visas for those who want to work in the agricultural sector so that they can be with their families. Now there are many people who are trapped and cannot go back to visit their families, or re-enter the country for the next harvest. President Bush tried with a bill that was sponsored by John McCain, a Republican, but even with that it was not approved. Obama couldn’t either. And like that, many years have passed and this has become more urgent than ever. We must solve the problems of the people and stop these deportations.

More than 60 percent of undocumented immigrants that live here have been here for more than 10 years, and many of them have children who are US citizens. Many of them own a home. The government must have a policy that favors families and should consider the situations of many undocumented workers who have been hard workers and who have contributed a lot to the country. Talking about them as if they were all delinquents is very unfair, and the Church, which has always been an immigrant church, must raise its voice in defense of the undocumented.

DCE: What message can we give to those who fear being deported?

CO: The hope is that there are many people who already realize the need to have more just [immigration] laws, and a pathway for people to have documents. The president said that when they managed to close the border and deport the criminals, he would treat the undocumented immigrants who are here with mercy. I hope this happens soon.

Cardinal Se‡n O’Malley greets parishoners after Mass celebrating the Ascension of Jesus Christ at Annunciation Catholic Church on May 28, 2017, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DCE: You are known for fighting in favor of the life of the unborn and the terminally ill, what challenges do you see in this country regarding life issues?

CO: The appointment of the new Supreme Court justice [Colorado native Neil Gorsuch] gives us hope. The president promised to name someone who was pro-life and it seems that he kept that promise. Also, the new judge has written a book on physician-assisted suicide. He is a man who understands the seriousness of these ethical problems. It is a very serious and very difficult challenge also because every year there are more states that submit referendums to legalize euthanasia. This is a result of the extreme individualism of the culture. We must take care of each other. Every human being at the beginning and at the end of his life needs someone to take care of him. It’s the human condition!

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.