Sunday, November 2, 2014

By waving goodbye to "warrior bishops" the US church can change

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
November 2, 2014

Blase Joseph Cupich represents the new face of the American Church. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1949, to a Croatian family and has eight siblings. Francis unexpectedly nominated him leader of the Diocese of Chicago, which has 2,3 million faithful and is the third largest diocese in the US. The fact he was chosen as replacement to the seriously ill 77-year-old Wojtylian cardinal, Francis George, is the sign of a significant change of course when compared to the past few decades, which saw “cultural warriors” being appointed leaders of the US episcopate. These “warriors” took part in tough public battles against abortion and same-sex unions. They were much less concerned with subjects such as immigration, social justice, peace and the consequences of what Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium called: an economy “that kills”. When he was bishop of Rapid City, Cupich - whom the Editor-in-Chief of U.S. Catholic magazine, Bryan Cones, referred to as “the bishop who can speak without shouting” – transformed the local “pro-life committee” into a “social justice committee”: he did not stop speaking out against abortion, but widened the focus of his speeches, calling for immigration reform and taking an interest in the poor.

The difference in approach between the US Episcopate on one hand and Francis on the other, became all the more evident during the Synod on the Family. So much so, that Boston Globe Vatican expert John Allen said the US Church’s “honeymoon” with Pope Francis was over. Among the most shocking declarations made by prelates who were not present at the Synod assembly, were those published on the Diocese of Providence website by Bishop Thomas Tobin: “The concept of having a representative body of the Church voting on doctrinal applications and pastoral solutions strikes me as being rather Protestant. According to Tobin, “the Church risks the danger of losing its courageous, counter-cultural, prophetic voice”. Commenting on the distortions of the media, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, said the “public image” of the Synod has created “confusion” and “confusion is of the devil”.

One of the key figures of the Synod - not just in the media sphere - was US cardinal and Curia member, Raymond Leo Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, who is about to leave his position: he spoke out against the idea of discussing the possibility of allowing remarried divorcees to partake in the sacraments. He also publicly criticised the fact that Francis had not expressed his opinion on this, leaving the issue open to discussion: “I can’t speak for the pope and I can’t say what his position is on this, but the lack of clarity about the matter has certainly done a lot of harm.” New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan also expressed criticism toward the open approaches proposed during the Synod. A comment made by Catholic New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, about Pope Francis bringing “the church to the edge of a precipice”, has also contributed to the controversy.

Massimo Faggioli, Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, said that “in recent decades the American Church had become much more important in terms of its relationship with politics and the economy, compared to the past. Now, Francis’ approach and his words on poverty and social justice are calling the Episcopate’s positions into question. Today, anyone who values and refers back to the Second Vatican Council, is seen as a leftist.”

North American Catholicism is no longer just an extremely polarised and sometimes ideology-focused body, historically divided between conservatives and liberals. It must also deal with a growing presence of immigrants from Latin America and Asia who do not relate to this framework. “There is a significant part of the Catholic body that US bishops today do not represent,” Professor Faggioli observed.

Leaving aside the different positions that emerged regarding the topics discussed during the Synod, many believe that one of the main causes of friction, is the fact that Francis is plunging the “holy alliance” - as Catholic neoconservative think tanks have referred to it - between capitalism and Christianity, into a crisis. Certain reactions to the social paragraphs of the Evangelii Gaudium testify to this. Only yesterday, Chicago’s outgoing cardinal, Francis George, stated: “The Pope speaks, it seems, from the experience and the analysis of South Americans who believe that some are rich because others are deliberately kept poor.” But the attempt to squeeze the Pope into the Latin American mind-set, does not tally with his transversal approach.

According to Fr. Thomas Rosica, CEO of Catholic television network Salt + Light and English language assistant to Holy See Press Office, who was born in the US and now lives in Canada, “Francis speaks to everyone’s heart.” “He reaches all faithful,” directly, bypassing Episcopates in a way. “When this happens, he disturbs Church leaderships. The Pope’s words are not exploitable. What he says about the poor and his criticisms of a certain economy are deeply evangelical. They are not to be read through the “lenses” or on the basis of the contexts of individual countries.”

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