Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley a real contender for head of the Catholic Church

The extraordinary possibility of an Irish American pope seems to be taking flight this week.

In a poll of experts by Corriere della Sera, Italy’s equivalent of The New York Times, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley was the favored pick.

An online poll of readers also placed O’Malley in first place.

It is extraordinary that Italian experts and ordinary readers would be plumping for O’Malley given that the Italians owned the papacy for centuries and are very keen to have it back after a Polish and German incumbent.

But an American? That seems to upset the applecart in a profound manner.

Americans have never been taken seriously in the conclave, rather like at the UN where an American will never be Secretary General, the belief is that the world's main superpower has enough power without heading up other world organizations.

But O’Malley has struck a chord in Rome. He is a Franciscan, an order that Italians adore, he is humble, unlike so many of his pontificating would-be pontiff cardinals, and he has clean hands on the child abuse sex scandals.

All of which, in a conclave where experts say there is no outright favorite, makes him a real contender.

And he is not the only American. The New York Times published a lengthy positive piece on Cardinal Timothy Dolan contrasting his sunny demeanor and easy way with the press compared with that of many of his dreadfully dour colleagues.

Dolan certainly has a self-deprecating Irish humor that serves him very well and a manner and a presence and intellect that would take care of the communication issue, which bedeviled the retired pope.

Dolan still has murky issues with his handling of the pedophilia scandal in Milwaukee when he was Archbishop there, which may hurt his chances.

But if the conclave decides on the need for a new and more open papacy with an emphasis on spreading the message Dolan could fare very well.

I think that O’Malley may be the more serious candidate, however.

The first priority should be a pope who can clean house with a new broom after the scandal filled years.

O’Malley did that in Boston after the dreadful cover-up of pedophile priests orchestrated by Cardinal Bernard Law.

Could he do it in the Vatican?

A few weeks ago such a question would have been absurd.

Now it is definitely a possibility.