Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Enter the American Bergoglio

"Enter the American Bergoglio" (New Oxford Notes, New Oxford Review, November 2014):

The Catholic world has been abuzz over the news that Blase Cupich will succeed Francis Cardinal George as the ninth archbishop of Chicago. Cupich, who has led two small American dioceses — Spokane, Washington, and Rapid City, South Dakota (where he succeeded Charles Chaput) — will take the reins this month of the third-largest archdiocese in the nation.

An examination of the reactions to episcopal appointments from America’s flagship progressive Catholic weekly often yields a pretty good indication of where a bishop stands. The fact that the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) speaks glowingly of Cupich and has even dedicated a special section of its website to the new archbishop-elect ought to tell us something about George’s successor. The fact that Cupich granted NCR an “exclusive” interview ought to tell us even more.

David Gibson of Religion News Service confirms NCR’s adulatory assessment, describing Archbishop-elect Cupich as “a prelate closely identified with the Catholic Church’s progressive wing.” Although liberal Catholics of the in-with-peace-and-justice/out-with-sexual-morality persuasion may be overblowing Cupich’s lean to the left, Pope Francis’s first major appointment in the U.S. has certainly raised eyebrows in many quarters.

Vatican-watcher Rocco Palmo, whose Whispers in the Loggia blog tends to be reliable, called the appointment “the most shocking major move the American hierarchy has seen since the turn of the millennium.” Though Palmo has not been forthcoming in citing specifics in support of his hyperbolic assertion, he did explain that the choice of Cupich reflects the Pope’s desire for a Church “geared toward the ‘periphery’ as opposed to being locked in its ‘sacristies.’” It’s instructive to note that Palmo’s comment — and his semantics — complies with the curia’s continuing conversational condemnation of Joseph Ratzinger and his decades of influence in moving the Church’s pastoral program toward an embrace of orthodoxy — a change from the more immediate post-Vatican II efforts to explain away most of the Church’s teachings on personal morality.

In the same vein as Palmo, Time magazine believes the nod to Cupich “signaled that the pastoral revolution that has marked [Francis’s] papacy will be institutionalized long after his tenure ends as the Bishop of Rome.”

That, however, is hardly what makes the Cupich appointment either interesting or out of the ordinary. No one knowledgeable could have honestly believed that Francis would appoint a bishop who wasn’t in lockstep with his pastoral approach. Although Archbishops Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, Peter Sartain of Seattle, Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, and even Mundelein Seminary’s rector and conservative hero Fr. Robert Barron were bandied about as possible successors to George, these choices were much too “Ratzingerian” to be realistic.

What makes the Cupich appointment interesting — and so surprising — is, first, its timing. Cupich will be the first successor to take the reins from a living Chicago archbishop in the archdiocese’s 172-year history. (Even the ailing Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was not replaced before his death.) And Cupich will be the first Chicago archbishop since George Mundelein in 1916 who was not previously a metropolitan archbishop elsewhere. George, for example, was archbishop of Portland, and Bernardin was previously archbishop of Cincinnati. In other words, the Pope went out of his way to pick Cupich, unceremoniously reaching out to the “peripheries” of the American hierarchy to find the perfect Francis match.

According to Sandro Magister, longtime Vatican-watcher and religion editor of Italy’s L’Espresso, Pope Francis dismissed the recommendations of both Cardinal George, who is said to have requested a priest from the Chicago archdiocese as his coadjutor, and the Congregation for Bishops, even after Francis removed Raymond Cardinal Burke from that dicastery. “The appointment of Cupich,” wrote Magister (Oct. 4), “is thought to have been recommended to the Pope with particular enthusiasm by Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga and above all by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, a representative of the ‘liberal’ old guard of the U.S. episcopate.”

There’s no doubt about it: This important appointment signals the Pope’s priorities for the direction he’d like to see taken in the U.S. Church. John L. Allen Jr. of the Boston Globe (and late of NCR), another longtime Vatican watcher, wrote that Cupich’s theology and pastoral approach so closely matches Francis’s that Cupich could be called the “American Pope Francis.”

As for the mainstream media, we looked long and hard for any negative publicity about Archbishop-elect Cupich — and found none. Just about every major news outlet in the country, including the bilious Huffington Post, which misses no chance to bash the Church, has adulated him. (The anti-Catholic Huffington Post, by the way, has consistently written glowingly of Pope Francis.)

In addition to these responses from the more liberal corners of the news media, what gives many orthodox Catholics pause is Cupich’s — and Francis’s — emphasis on burying the Church’s role in the so-called culture wars. Francis, for example, famously said that the Church is “obsessed” with same-sex marriage and abortion. The implication: Catholics should back away from asserting a Catholic point of view in public forums.

According to Magister, Cupich “seems to get laryngitis every time there is a discussion of abortion, euthanasia, and religious freedom, or criticism of the Obama administration over health care reform.” reported that in 2011, as bishop of Spokane, Cupich urged priests and seminarians in the Spokane diocese not to pray outside abortion clinics. Cupich also reportedly expressed disapproval of the 40 Days for Life event, an international pro-life campaign that promotes prayer and fasting to end abortion, as well as peaceful and non-confrontational public witness outside abortion clinics. Bishop Cupich was, in essence, telling pro-life Catholics to lock themselves in their “sacristies.”

After news of Cupich’s condemnation of pro-life prayer, fasting, and activism broke in the media this September, the Diocese of Spokane issued a statement in an attempt to clarify the bishop’s position: “The present political environment has become very toxic and polarizing, to the point that people have become fixed in their positions, especially in regard to abortion, and are unwilling to talk to each other.” What a hopeless outlook on society!

A further indication that Cupich is on the same pastoral page as Francis came in an interview with Chicago’s CBS affiliate in which Cupich indicated that he would be willing to give Holy Communion to anyone who approached him, including publicly pro-abortion politicians and LGBT activists wearing confrontational buttons supporting same-sex marriage. “As long as they’re in church, are willing to hear the word of God, be open to Christ’s call of conversion for each one of us, then I think that that’s sufficient for me,” he said. “We cannot politicize the Communion rail, and I just don’t think that that works in the long run.” (As for why this is a fallacious argument, see Fr. Regis Scanlon’s guest column “On ‘Politicizing’ the Eucharist,” NOR, Dec. 2013.) Cupich’s comment seems to be a colossal gibe at Raymond Cardinal Burke’s well-documented stance on the issue. Burke’s stock in Rome, by the way, has plummeted since the beginning of the Francis pontificate. According to Vatican insiders, Ratzinger’s number-one American prelate is on his way out of any position of significance — he has been removed from his post atop the Apostolic Signatura — since he doesn’t match up well with Francis’s “style.”

Though Cupich may not want to politicize the Communion rail, he hasn’t stayed out of politics when it comes to same-sex marriage. A 2012 pastoral letter he wrote calling for a “more civil and honest conversation about Catholic positions on equality” garnered kudos from New Ways Ministry, the nation’s leading Catholic promoter of same-sex marriage. To be fair, it isn’t clear from the context of his pastoral letter who Cupich believes needs to be more civil and honest. New Ways Ministries obviously interpreted his pastoral letter as urging Catholics to reconsider their opposition to so-called marriage equality, as if it’s Catholics who’ve been uncivil and dishonest.

And just so you don’t think that the National Catholic Reporter, the Huffington Post, and New Ways Ministry are alone in their adulation of Cupich, Call to Action ratified the archbishop-elect’s approval as well. In a press release, the extreme liberal group, whose sole purpose is to change Church doctrine on moral issues and disembowel the practice of priestly celibacy, said it was “relieved” by the appointment of Cupich. “At a time when numerous U.S. bishops are choosing to fight ideological battles, Pope Francis’ selection of Cupich demonstrates a desire for a humbler, more pastoral church…. The choice of Cupich shows promise for a church which can be closer to the people. Catholics in Chicago and beyond yearn for a faith rooted in the Gospel call of love and justice over rigid orthodoxy.”

According to Magister, Cupich seems to be bringing Chicago back to “the heyday of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin…a champion of ‘liberal’ Catholicism in the United States and the creator of the mountainous bureaucratic machine of the episcopal conference.” Will Catholics and many, many others love Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich? Of course they will! Just as they loved Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.


The foregoing New Oxford Note "Enter the American Bergoglio," was originally published in the New Oxford Review (November 2014), and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.




If I may steal liberally from Mark Shea.

Sherry Weddell notes:

What is interesting is that Cardinal George Pell – who was also one of the authors of the pre-Synod book – along with Burke – , is no one’s idea of a liberal or even a moderate, and made his feelings known loudly and clearly at the Synod – has been chosen by Pope Francis as one of his closest collaborators, heading up the new Vatican Secretary of the Economy. But nobody is talking about Pell – because he doesn’t fit the narrative of a covertly dissenting Pope removing conservatives from power. Pope Francis does seem to be picking leadership on other grounds than the oh too familiar US cultural war divisions. Francis also picked Bishop Anthony Fisher – often referred to as “Boy George” in Australia, Pell’s long time protege, who is both brilliant and completely orthodox – if slightly more smooth – to become the new Archbishop of Sydney. And that doesn’t fit the narrative either. I don’t know how each of these decisions were made – and neither do any of you – but they certainly aren’t fitting into a tidy conspiracy narrative.

Mike Harrison notes:
"Burke served 6+ years. His predecessor, Cdl. Vallini (4 years), was moved to “Great Chancellor of the Pontifical Lateran University”. Vallini’s predecessor, Cdl. Pompedda (4.5 years), turned 75 and had his resignation accepted by St. JP II. No shift to another curial position. Pompedda’s predecessor, Cdl. Grocholewski (1 year), was “shifted” to the all-important post of “Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education”. He’s been there since 1999. Grocholewski’s predecessor, Cdl. Agustoni (just under 4 years), became Prefect Emeritus of the Signatura. So Burke has served longer than any of his immediate four predecessors, only one of whom was “shifted to another curial position,” and that one not of earth-shaking significance. Shall I go on?"

My own comments: I somehow get the feeling I have been played by the so called "conservative" and "traditional" Catholic media.

I don't if I have been played by liberal Catholic media (since I mostly ignore them). But I have a feeling I have been played.

Mighty Joe Young


Is this an accurate rending of the English language or are we supposed to believe that Bergolio was elected as Pope owing to his well-known naturalistic agenda as it was actualised in Argentina?

Either way, we can certainly dismiss N.O. Review as mercy-haters or rad trads or reactionaries or something

Anonymous Bosch


No, B.Y., I think you're being played like an off-key violin by the establishment Neo-Cath media.

Waddell makes out Pell to be neither a liberal nor a moderate? True, he came out on the side of the Church in the Synod debacle. But he's hardly a traditional Catholic or even conservative. Did you see his debate with Richard Dawkins (still online, I think). He made a few passable remarks but nearly threw out the baby with the bathwater and the kitchen sink as well as far as the reliability of Holy Scripture and tenability of Darwinian assumptions.

He reminds me of other celebrated "conservatives" under the reign of John Paul II, like Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna, who was one of the chief architects of the celebrated Catechism of the Catholic Church. But look where he is now! Conservative? Pshaw!! More like a weather vane. And though I appreciate Pell's comments at the Synod, I don't trust him much more than Schoenborn or even Dolan, about whom so many expected great things.




I think I will indulge myself & have a little bit of fun with you.

It's all in fun.

>I think you're being played like an off-key violin by the establishment Neo-Cath media.

Do I smell a Radtrad answer?

Well this should be interesting.

>Waddell makes out Pell to be neither a liberal nor a moderate? True, he came out on the side of the Church in the Synod debacle.

Didn't he also contributed to the book edited by Cardinal Burke that did the neat little take down on Kasper?

But I guess if he doesn't illicitly consecrate four Priests, Bishops behind the Pope's back he is too far to the left for your tastes eh?;-)

>But he's hardly a traditional Catholic or even conservative. Did you see his debate with Richard Dawkins (still online, I think).

I saw Ronda Chervin do badly in an online debate with a young Atheist who was using Stephen Law's goofball "Evil God" challenge that Traditional Catholic Philosopher Edward Feser took down with his eyes closed.

Does this mean Dr. Chervin is a liberal in your eyes now? Or worst a NeoCath?

>He made a few passable remarks but nearly threw out the baby with the bathwater and the kitchen sink as well as far as the reliability of Holy Scripture and tenability of Darwinian assumptions.

Dawkins is best suited to debating Young Earth Creationist types & or Protestant ANSWERS IN GENESIS types.
If you where disappointed Pell wasn't sharing the talking points of the KOLBE CENTER well I can't help ya buddy.

Pell must have also done a god awful job defending a geocentric universe too eh?

>He reminds me of other celebrated "conservatives" under the reign of John Paul II, like Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna, who was one of the chief architects of the celebrated Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Ah so I am dealing with one of the Old guard refuse and resisters?

Classic! Good times!

>But look where he is now! Conservative? Pshaw!! More like a weather vane. And though I appreciate Pell's comments at the Synod, I don't trust him much more than Schoenborn or even Dolan, about whom so many expected great things.

In other words you are the typical reactionary trad?

Well there ya have it!

Peace be with you.:-) :D

Mighty Joe Young


A.B. Don't waste your time to mentally corral the progressive puppies at Patheos - blind Polyannas all.

Run with the big dogs who know what they are talking about and who are now taking off the gloves about this execrable synod:

The Ployannas are not merely wrong about papal politics, they are blind to the truth of Catholicsm

Ralph Roister-Doister


Sherri Weddell blew in one of those windows Pope Roncalli was itching to open. She is another ex-protestant seeking to apply her ex-protestant pentecostalist-charismatic-etc "gifts" to the Church of Christ nee Roman Catholic Church. She blogs, she writes books, and has generally tried, with some success, to gain traction in the neo-Cath world of Grub Street commentators. She seems to be particularly tight with Mark Shea. Both are living proof that any non-trad can say whatever (s)he wants and still can be "Catholic and enjoying it -- and even getting paid for it" as long as (s)he prefaces every statement (s)he make with "the pope is right about EVERYTHING."

As for Pell, he is nothing any conservative, much less trad, is likely to get excited about. Pell is an issue-by-issue guy, and it is hard to tell whether his pickiness comes from a special perspicacity, or from a careerist's political canniness. I like some of what he has said over the years, but he is not on my list of gents to whom I would trust my back.

This may be unfair to Pell, but I tend to think of him as a Levada kind of guy.

As to what Francis sees in him, I would speculate that part of it is that Pell is neither North American nor European. Australia may not be a third world continent over all, but it may be that Pell has some influence with third world bishops (a very hot commodity in the political petri dish of RC leadership), and is thus perceived as worthy of cultivation by Field Hospital Chief Administrator Bergoglio.



Pell should not be compared to Chervin. At all. Simply read their respective corpuses. As for trying to impugn by tossing out the name of the Kolbe Center, which group sounds more 'Catholic,' their people or the Vatcianistas invoking De Chardin and Rahner and yes, Kasper? There's no contest. And yet I guess the frightening reactionaries at the Kolbe Center are supposed to represent the genuinely dangerous group, same for the SSPX, whereas the Vatican intelligentsia is no more questionable than,say, the guiding lights at NPR. So goes the narrative that Reasonable Catholic Americans now reassure themselves by. They will quote Ratzinger ad nauseum, but wouldn't recognize the names, much less the thought processes, of voices like those belonging to Cardinal Siri or James Fenton. With Living Tradition, yesterday's heroes are todays strange and sad characters.

Anyone who dubs Pell or Schonborn a conservative is somewhat out of touch with the larger history and currents of Catholic theology, period. Both leaders seem like gentlemen, and "loyal sons of the Church" (the new catch phrase that has already morphed into a meaningless rivaling that of "family values"), but they are no more 'conservative' than were JPII or Ratzinger. Actually, that's unfair, since Schoborn has recently jumped the shark and is out of place with the other three names, who can at least be called moderates. Schonborn seems more like an embryonic Kasperite: anyone insisting on the rights of a gay couple to hold leadership positions in a parish is liberal in essence. Sometimes those always-decried acid tests are in fact pretty useful.



Hey, we've gotta have standards! If Shea starts getting invoked too often in these com boxes, it may be time for you to shut 'em down!