"Most High, glorious God, cast Your Light into the darkness of my heart, and grant me a right faith, certain hope and perfect charity, sense and understanding, Lord, so that I may know and do Your holy and true command."
- St. Francis of Assisi: Prayer before the Crucifix
Monday, September 22, 2014
Are we looking at the American Pope Francis in Chicago? | John L. Allen Jr. | CRUX
In American Catholic terms, Chicago always has been a land of giants. There have been nine Catholic archbishops in the Windy City, and for better or worse, they’ve all been larger-than-life figures.
In the early 20th century, Cardinal George Mundelein was an FDR enthusiast who mobilized the resources of the Catholic Church to respond to the Great Depression, and frequently sparred with the infamous “radio priest,” that Rev. Charles Coughlin, over his anti-Semitic and quasi-fascist demagoguery. The archdiocesan seminary in Chicago today bears Mundelein’s name.
To take another example, Cardinal John Cody, who ruled Chicago with an iron first during the 1960s and ’70s, was a lightning rod described by the priest-novelist Andrew Greeley as a “madcap tyrant.” Cody’s notoriety was also flavored with scandal He is alleged to have funneled large sums of church money to support a woman believed by many to have been his mistress.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the prelates who have ruled Chicago have been impossible to ignore.
More recently, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin embodied the progressive reform energies unleashed by the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s. During the 1970s and ’80s, Bernardin played a key behind-the-scenes role from Chicago as a power-broker in the national bishops’ conference, leading it to oppose the Reagan administration over military policy and to embrace the cause of the poor.
In many ways, Bernardin was the American John XXIII, the “Good Pope” who called Vatican II.
By contrast, Cardinal Francis George is more the American Benedict XVI, a brilliant intellectual committed to a robust defense of Catholic identity and tradition. During his own run as president of the national conference, George led the bishops in their fight with the Obama administration over the contraception mandates imposed as part of health care reform, framing the issue in terms of religious freedom.
All of which brings us to 65-year-old Blase Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis on Saturday to succeed George as the ninth Archbishop of Chicago.
The question is, are we looking at the American Francis?
There’s nothing a pope does as fundamental to shaping culture in the Catholic Church as appointing bishops, and that’s especially true for major pace-setting venues around the world. Chicago is on a short list with Milan, Paris, and Westminster as spots where popes have a chance to put their stamp firmly on the church in a wide chunk of the world.
To date, Francis has made a handful of those tone-setting choices, in Cologne, Germany; Madrid, Spain, and Sydney, Australia. His pick for Chicago brings the total to four, and by now we have a fairly clear picture of what Francis wants.
First, he wants moderates rather than ideologues, men who will defend church teaching but whose first instinct isn’t political confrontation, and who keep lines of communication open with all camps.
Second, he wants bishops of the “Social Gospel,” meaning leaders with a special concern for the poor, for immigrants, and for those at what he’s called the “existential peripheries” of the world.
Third, he wants men who see themselves as pastors rather than bureaucrats or diplomats, shepherds who, in his memorable image, “carry the smell of their sheep” because they’re close to the ordinary people they’re called to serve.
By all accounts, that’s what Francis has got in Cupich, an Omaha native whose previous job was as the bishop of Spokane in Washington.
Cupich is identified with the moderate wing of the American bishops, which has always been uncomfortable with the perception that Catholicism had become the new leader of the religious right. He irked some pro-life activists, for instance, by asking his priests and seminarians not to pray in front of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics, seeing it as an unnecessarily provocative gesture.
The new archbishop is also a man of the church’s social mission, with a clear commitment to reaching out to the suffering. Among other things, he’s led a committee within the bishops’ conference dedicated to reform on the child sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church, saying a few years ago that he’s come to see the encounter with victims as a “template” for everything he does as a priest and a bishop.
On a personal level, Cupich is known as gracious and accessible. Actually, one of the few reservations people had about him when his name was mentioned for Chicago was whether he has a big enough personality to play on that stage.
Of course, people had the same question about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires prior to his election as pope, and we know how that turned out.
By virtue of Chicago’s history, and because from here on in Cupich will be known as Francis’ man — his first major appointment in America — the success or failure of the Francis revolution on these shores will rest to some extent on Cupich’s shoulders.
Seeing if he grows into the role will, therefore, be the primary Catholic drama in the Windy City for a long time to come.