Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

‘Literally unconscionable’

We are distressed to learn that today the Obama administration has decided to leave unchanged a requirement that all healthcare plans — including those offered by Catholic entities — provide sterilization, contraception and some drugs that can cause abortion.  Instead, they have decided to merely delay the implementation of enforcing this new rule for one year.

Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke out very strongly today against this move.  I join Cardinal–elect Dolan in expressing deep disappointment at this unprecedented infringement on religious liberty in our country.

As Cardinal-elect Dolan said, "To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable.  Is as much an attack on access to health care is on religious freedom.  Historically, this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty."

I want to share with you the full text of the US Bishops statement on the issue, as well as a video statement released by Cardinal-elect Dolan:


WASHINGTON—The Catholic bishops of the United States called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients  and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. Today’s announcement means that this mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change at all; instead there will only be a delay in enforcement against some employers.


“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The cardinal-designate continued, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable.  It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty."

The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception – including controversial abortifacients – be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.

At issue, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders insist, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for the conscience of Catholics and all other Americans.

“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals. “I have hundreds of employees who will be upset and confused by this edict. I cannot understand it at all.”

Daughter of Charity Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, voiced disappointment with the decision. Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care annually.

“This was a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection,” Sister Keehan said.

Cardinal-designate Dolan urged that the HHS mandate be overturned.

“The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” he said. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.”

Here is the link to the video message:

I urge all of you to contact your elected officials and urge them to protect our right to religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment.  It is important that Catholics not be deceived into thinking that this issue is simply another battle in the "culture wars."  Rather, it is an attack on the right of all people of faith to live their faith in freedom.

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As many Catholics are already aware, Pope Benedict has declared a Year of Faith to coincide the Synod on the New Evangelization, the anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the archdiocese, in order to be able to take advantage of this call to the New Evangelization, I have asked Bishop Arthur Kennedy to assume the role of Episcopal Vicar for the New Evangelization in the archdiocese as of July 1. The creation of this new position parallels the Holy Father’s initiative in Rome, where the new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization has just been established.


Bishop Kennedy

We envision this to ministry to entail promoting Catholic identity in our schools and institutions; being involved in the ongoing formation of clergy and catechists; and helping to promote all aspects of outreach and evangelization in the archdiocese. For example, we have already had an initial meeting with many of the diocesan staff involved in evangelization to discuss the implementation of the Pastoral Letter on the Sunday Eucharist.

Bishop Kennedy brings a great deal of experience with the sort of work he did at St. Thomas University in Catholic Studies and his wonderful service to St. John’s Seminary. Bishop Kennedy has a great ability to see the connection between faith, culture and the consequence of faith in people’s lives and we know that he will bring that gift to this new ministry.

We are very grateful for Bishop Kennedy’s generosity in taking on this new assignment and indebted to him for the outstanding job that he did as rector of St. John’s Seminary. The seminary is flourishing, and we are very proud of the fine priestly formation that is imparted there.

At the same time, we are grateful to Bishop McManus and the Diocese of Worcester for allowing Msgr. James Moroney to assume the role of rector.


Msgr. Moroney

Msgr. Moroney is well known to the priests of the archdiocese because of his roles as retreat master, teacher and leader of the priest convocation. He is also a nationally known authority on Sacred Liturgy and has given workshops in most of the dioceses of United States. In his marvelous way of teaching the liturgy, Msgr. Moroney always connects the spirituality of priestly life with the instructions on ritual, language and history.

I am sure that the bishops will have great confidence in entrusting their seminarians to our seminary under his direction.

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Last Friday, I was visited by Father Kevin Deeley, who is returning after a number of years of service in the Navy.


Our chaplains, when they return from the service, bring with them a wealth of experience that enriches our own diocesan life. I am sure Father Deeley will be no exception. He will be helping out in St. Raphael Parish in Medford as Father Kevin Toomey is on sabbatical.

We welcome him back to the archdiocese!

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Saturday morning, I attended a board meeting of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. We discussed a number of important issues, including the initiative to legalize physician assisted suicide in Massachusetts.


All the bishops are committed to working on an educational program to help Catholics understand what the Church’s teachings are on end of life issues and the sacredness of human life. Also, we have committed to work with other groups, such as Massachusetts Citizens for Life and various disabilities organizations, which are likewise opposed to physician assisted suicide. We are very happy that the Massachusetts Medical Society spoke out so strongly against endorsing physician assisted suicide.

Another topic we discussed was a new Health Care Proxy, which we recently approved. A health care proxy allows a person to designate someone to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable. This is important because it gives people the option not to prolong their life through extraordinary means. There is often a misperception that the Church teaches that life must be prolonged by any means. Sometimes, when people are gravely ill and their time has come, natural death is the desired outcome ––far superior to using drugs to end their life.

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That afternoon, I was able to visit Father Ed O’Flaherty who has recently resigned as the head of our Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.


We wanted to thank him and assure him of our prayers during this time convalescence.

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This year the National Catholic Office for the Deaf held their Pastoral Week Conference in Boston, from Jan. 13 through Jan. 17.



As part of that conference, I celebrated Mass for them at Sacred Heart Church in Newton on Saturday evening.

It was a full church. There were people there from all over the country, including many priests involved in deaf ministry. It is always very inspiring to be with the deaf Catholic community, where there is a great spirit of camaraderie.



It was also wonderful to see some of the young people at the Mass, the servers and others, who had been with us in Madrid for World Youth Day.


We are very blessed to have Father Sean Carey, who is himself hearing-impaired, working in this ministry.


With Father Carey and Father John Connelly, the pastor at Sacred Heart

We are so grateful for all that Father Michael Medas and Father Jeremy St. Martin have done to advance that ministry. Father Jeremy has recently become pastor in Townsend and is giving up directorship of the office. We thank him for his service and wish him well on his new assignment.

They presented me with the gift of a painting called "The Blood of the Lamb," which shows the sign for the blood of the lamb in American Sign Language.


– – –

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Poor Clares by St. Clare of Assisi. So, on Sunday, I visited with the community of Poor Clares in Jamaica Plain. We had Mass with the sisters and number of other people attending.





Afterward, I met with the sisters. We are very blessed to have two communities of Poor Clares here in the archdiocese.


It is always a joy to be with them. I have always been close to the Poor Clares and, as I often say, I celebrated my first Mass with a Poor Clare community.

– – –

On Monday, Father Kevin O’Leary and I paid a visit to Schoenhof’s Bookstore, a wonderful foreign-language bookstore in Harvard Square. I had received a number of gift certificates as presents, so I wanted to be sure to redeem them.

It was quite a fruitful trip. I was able to pick up a number of books including some of those by Pope Benedict in Italian.

I lament the fact that bookstores are disappearing right and left, but I hope that this bookstore, which has a very special niche providing books in every language imaginable, will remain for a long time to come.

– – –

Tuesday, we had over 100 men attend the St. Andrews Dinner that we hosted at St. John’s Seminary —one of the largest we have hosted to date.


As I pointed out to the people, last Sunday’s Gospel was the one which gave rise to the whole notion of the St. Andrews dinner. It was the one in which John the Baptist points out Jesus to his disciples, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God." One of those disciples was Andrew, who not only followed Jesus, but went and got his brother, Peter, saying "You have to come and meet the Messiah!" Peter went and, of course, he was also called.

The idea is that our vocations are mediated by people inviting us to consider if the Lord is calling us to a life of ministry. These dinners are to invite young men who are living the Catholic faith to see the seminary a little closer, listen to the vocation stories of the seminarians and perhaps consider, in their own life, what the Lord is asking them to do and how best to live the call to holiness and to serve the Catholic Church.

There were a number of young men from various parish schools, and a number of priests and parents accompanied them. The young men were able to be part of the Holy Hour and Vespers with the seminarians, and the young men ate with them. Afterward, there was a session in which the seminarians gave witness talks and told their vocation stories.

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Wednesday, we had one of our meetings of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. The members of the Council are always very articulate and engaged in conversations and topics that most affect our archdiocese. This is an important opportunity to hear from people in the parishes and in the different regions.

During this meeting, we had a very lively discussion around three issues: the Improved Financial Relationship Model, physician assisted suicide and the Pastoral Letter on the Sunday Eucharist.

We also had some new members who were there for the first time, so we welcome them and thank them for their service to the Church. We also want to thank Sister Marian Batho for all she does coordinating the APC.

– – –

This week I received the sad news that a good friend, Sister Manuela Vencelá, had passed away. A Carmelite Sister of Charity, she was called home to God in death.


Those of us who knew sister are so grateful to God for her life and her vocation. She was my assistant director at the Centro Católico in Washington. For many years, she ran our employment agency and was like a pastoral associate in the parish.


She was a sister who was extremely generous, hard-working and devoted to service of God’s poor — especially the refugees and immigrants who found their way to the Centro Católico and the Capilla Latina.

– – –

Finally, I want to end this week looking forward to a couple of important events taking place this weekend.

On Saturday, we will have the joy of ordaining seven men to the diaconate at our Cathedral: Eric Cadin, Felipe Gonzalez, Matthew Guidi, John Healy, Brother John Luong, Adrian Milik and Brother Michael Sheehan, FPO.

These men will be transitional deacons who, in a few months, will be ordained to the priesthood. I invite all of you to pray for them as they take this significant step towards the priesthood.

Then, on Sunday, I will be one of the of hundreds of pilgrims from Boston — including almost 500 young people — traveling to Washington, D.C. to attend the March for Life. I have attended the March each year, and I encourage everyone to be a part of this very important annual event to witness to the dignity of human life.

Yet, we realize that not everyone is able to attend the March. For this reason, four years ago, we established the Holy Hour for Life, in which the people of the archdiocese come together to pray in solidarity with the pilgrims in Washington, D.C.


This effort has now grown to include more than 200 parishes in the archdiocese, most of them holding the Holy Hour Sunday at either 3 or 7 p.m. I encourage you to check the list of participating parishes and join us praying that all human life will be respected from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death.

Cardinal Seán