Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chicago's new Archbishop says he wants to listen -- Curmudgeon would like to talk

Incoming Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich (Reuters photo).

Archbishop Cupich, welcome to Chicago. May your time here be a blessing for the Church as a whole, and for the Archdiocese and yourself both in particular.

You have stated several times now that you intend to start your term as Chicago's ninth Archbishop by listening, which is nice.

But to whom will you listen?

There are millions of people in Cook and Lake Counties, many of whom are (or were) professed Catholics. You can't hear from us all or you'll never do anything except go cold stone deaf. If you don't starve first.

Some of the folks who will surround you in these early days will be toadies and sycophants. I envy you the sport you may have in exposing them, watching their heads nod enthusiastically up and down as you say increasingly outrageous things, then watching them wheel and pivot like a flock of starlings when you pull back. ("On second thought," you'll say, withdrawing some silly suggestion, and enjoy the fun as the bobbleheads slam on the brakes in their haste to retreat with you....)

Some of the folks you'll hear from in your early days will have nothing good to say about your predecessor, Cardinal George. I suppose that approach curries favor in some circles; I've seen evidence that it sometimes works, even among churchmen. Anyway, these naysayers will counsel you to undo anything they think that Cardinal George did, to pull the plug on that, to ban this, to revoke faculties to this group or that one. Perhaps some of these nattering nabobs of negativism (Wikipedia credits William Safire with that one, but you probably remember it, as I do, being uttered by Spiro Agnew) will be balanced, somewhat, in your inner circle, by those encouraging you to blaze your own trail (clever pun, no?) but trying to steer you away from changing anything they may consider as a favorite project or cause of Cardinal George.

I respect Cardinal George's intellect, though I've not always agreed with him.

He spoke once at a Chicago Bar Association luncheon that I attended. This was several years ago. His subject was getting public funds for private schools -- but his manner was so professorial and his talk so well organized that I lapsed into a critical listening gear that I at least have been able to find only occasionally since college. I disagreed with almost everything he had to say -- I am a great supporter of Catholic schools, but to remain Catholic, I believe our schools must remain free of the corrosive influence of public funding -- but the Cardinal made a reasoned, reasonable case. If this is how he speaks at luncheons, I can only imagine the force of his intellect when he really buckles down. (The second speaker that day was also impressed. And he'd been paying attention, too: This speaker came up to the podium and said how pleased he was not to be the most controversial speaker on the program. I'm sure you'll meet this individual soon as well, particularly when the TV cameras are on. The second speaker that day was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.)

I also respect Cardinal George for the graceful way he has carried the cross of his own ill-health. Like another of your predecessors, Cardinal Bernardin, Cardinal George has given us a healthy model of how to cope with life-threatening illness.

Of course, I'm still mad at Cardinal George for saddling us with a bad pastor this past year.

You don't have to agree or disagree with me, Archbishop, about whether my new pastor (of whom I've written here, here, and here) is good or bad. I hope, however, that you will come around to my point of view as soon as possible -- but, in the meantime, I think you can agree that the local parish priests are the most important clerics in the lives of most Catholics. The world is in love with Pope Francis because he is perceived as a good pastor, and being interested in being a good pastor. Your appointment is seen as proof that Pope Francis is trying to make his bishops and cardinals pastors first; you enjoy a reputation of being a good pastor. You now will have the responsibility -- the heavy burden -- of appointing men as pastors from a pool that is... limited. But good pastors will spur a rise in vocations over time. Keep in mind, Archbishop, that the Church grows by example, not by dogma or discipline or even good preaching.

God bless you, Archbishop Cupich -- and God bless all of us who today become your flock. If you'd like to talk some more, there's an email link in the Sidebar... and even if you don't, I may try and offer some additional suggestions at a later date....

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