Archbishop Edwin O'Brien's appointment as Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre took most everyone by surprise. There had been talk that Archbsihop Pietro Sambi, who served as nuncio both in the U.S. where the Order raises much of its funds, and in Jerusalem, where the Order undertakes much of its work, would be named to the post, but that talk ended with Sambi's untimely death. There had earlier been talk that Cardinal Justic Rigali was angling for the post, but the release of a second Grand Jury Report detailing a failure to abide by the Dallas Norms on Rigali's watch scotched that talk. Then, there was talk that Cardinal Franc Rode would get the nod, but his advanced age seemed to preclude that possibility.
Archbishop O'Brien is difficult to pidgeon hole, which is always a good thing. He was a close friend of one of my mentors, Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, whose views on ecclesiastical matters were decidedly broad-minded. O'Brien took a strong stance against the Legionaries of Christ, even before the full, ugly details of their founder's misdeeds were acknowledged. On the other hand, after serving as Apostolic Visitor of U.S. seminaries, O'Brien said gays should be barred from the seminary per se. This struck anyone who had visited the North American College during his tenure as somewhat clueless. Did O'Brien really not know how many of his seminarians had same-sex attractions?
Most of the priests I know in Baltimore liked O'Brien. He is not a bomb thrower to be sure. He is genuinely conservative but also genuinely pastoral. His appointment means he is not only likely to be a Cardinal at the next consistory but that he is likely to get a slot on the important Congregation for Bishops, the dicastry that suggests espiscopal appointments to the Pope. It will be very curious to see whether he follows the lead of Cardinal Levada on that body, prefrring moderate men with sound theological instincts, or if he follows the more aggressive posture of Cardinal Burke. I suspect O'Brien will be more likely to be allied with Levada.
Baltimore now joins Denver as a vacant archdiocese which, with the still pending announcement of a new nuncio, may be vacant for some time. Both appointments will give Pope Benedict XVI opportunities to shape the American hierarchy in the years ahead.