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A Leaven In The World… The Kingmakers Reject A Papal Favorite

November 20, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


The approval of one’s peers is a highly prized trophy in the complicated world of adult professional relationships. Many work for years in obscurity with little acknowledgment. The opportunity to be championed and appreciated is a blessing not to be taken askance when other forms of promotion are no longer possible for those already at the top.
Some who have already reached the acme of their professional climb must wait for retirement to be toasted and to hear the accolades that affirm one’s contributions. In the world of the U.S. bishops, however, the USCCB, or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is one very important way that they can promote further elite leadership among themselves through the chairmanships of the committees and the leadership roles necessary for the conference as a whole.
The conference marked its 100th anniversary at its annual November meeting in Baltimore. Over the century of its existence, the conference has provided a means for not just promoting individual bishops who are thus recognized for their skills in management and leadership but also for their vision of the faith itself.
Some may remember the way that Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Basil Cardinal Cupich’s Chicago predecessor, ruled the conference for years, promoting his personal leadership picks and hardening the lines of his brand of pro-life effort, known as the “seamless garment,” among the local churches stateside.
It was the sexual abuse scandals that in part eroded Bernardin’s legacy, as a number of the bishops he promoted were brought down in its wake. Today, many in the Church still cite his approach to burying abortion among a number of other social justice issues such as the fight against poverty.
Whether intended or not, the result of combining in one mix the issue of the sacredness of life before birth and the sacredness of life after birth is to confuse apples and oranges. The poor we “will always have with us,” as the Lord taught. Our work through the Church to alleviate poverty is unmatched in this country as Catholic Charities is second only to the federal government in dedication of monies and manpower to this cause.
But since abortion is always a grave moral wrong and an abominable crime, as St. John Paul II taught, murdering preborn human life in the womb makes the kind of poverty the unborn child is vulnerable to different from any form of poverty suffered after birth, no matter how unjust.
Bernardin’s legacy of the seamless garment, which he promoted aggressively with his episcopal king-making through the 1980s at the bishops’ conference, undermined the authentic pro-life witness of the Church. The effects are felt to this day as many still cite his elegant and scriptural-sounding mantra to justify neglect of the special effort required to fight abortion effectively through the promotion of laws which will one day result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The wisdom of the faith is filtered through such Catholic luminaries as Mary Ann Glendon, perhaps the most prominent among U.S. Catholic women in the world of legal scholarship as a professor at Harvard Law and former ambassador of the United States to Holy See. She reminded us that the right to life of every human being is not first a religious issue in the public discourse of our country but rather “a fundamental principle of justice.”
Our bishops undoubtedly work very hard, some with very little thanks or acknowledgment. Many do so quietly and gladly for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the salvation of souls. I remember well Bishop Thomas Welsh, founding shepherd of the Diocese of Arlington, Va., as a man of authentic humility who laid the foundation stones of a solid edifice that remains to this day in sound Catholic education and pro-life effort.
Men of faith who represent the Lord, bishops often find themselves today in a very hostile environment for that faith. The scandal of clerical sexual abuse and some episcopal malfeasance that looks like protection for perpetrators rather than for vulnerable victims has tarnished the reputation of the Church — as we all too well know.
Added to this, among other public relations disasters, the fact that anti-Catholicism is “the last respectable prejudice and the deepest bias of the American people,” as stated by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and you have what some might call a somewhat bleak prospect for the Church.
Despite these disadvantages the Church has fought hard to keep its place as a player on the U.S. public landscape. The USCCB has by default become the primary vehicle for the episcopal role in the public square. It is bishops who lead the conference, and its various committees are charged with making public statements that can verbalize the Catholic positions on matters of public policy. These statements influence the conduct of lay Catholics in the public square.
The signs say that perhaps the Bernardin coterie continues to fade, as Blase Cardinal Cupich, the closest Bernardin look-alike in the U.S. episcopate, missed a signal promotion hurdle this month in the USCCB vote for chairman of the pro-life committee: Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City was elected 96-82.
Many are looking to the deliberations of the USCCB’s annual fall meeting to see whether in them can be detected some sort of referendum good or bad about Pope Francis. Amoris Laetitia, the dubia, the Filial Correction and a number of other waves have rocked the Petrine boat while many bishops, including our U.S. shepherds, have chosen not to show their hand. The votes for leadership at the USCCB are the strongest indicator as to what the bishops are thinking.
Cardinal Cupich was plucked by Pope Francis from relative obscurity among his brother bishops and ensconced in one of the largest U.S. sees. This indicates that good things are expected of him. One way this typically happens within the U.S. Church is that one is further vaulted into prominence by one’s episcopal colleagues through entrustment with leadership positions in the USCCB.
Cardinal Cupich’s candidacy was met with an outcry on social media weeks before the bishops’ fall meeting. Besides the other public statements the Chicago prelate has made — which alarm some as being too close a mimicry of Pope Francis’ more experimental approaches to doctrine — Cupich effectively forbade priests in a previous diocese to participate in 40 Days for Life, an annual public pro-life prayer and protest.
This move is perhaps considered a bridge too far by certain elements of the pro-life movement: 40 Days for Life has been well established for years now and has already been approved by some bishops as a worthy expression of the Church’s Gospel of Life.
The loss of the vote for chairmanship is perhaps especially damaging for Cupich because it is the closet thing we have to a poll on his leadership by his brother bishops.
Pro-life forces are exulting that Archbishop Naumann, with the more solid pro-life credentials of the two, was elected in a stunning upset. Why? Customarily the position is entrusted to a cardinal. With Naumann’s promotion over the cardinal, a robust pro-life brand more reminiscent of St. John Paul II can be detected.
Perhaps this bodes well for other matters of orthodoxy in the months and years ahead as the bishops navigate the tricky shoals of loyalty both to Pope Francis and to the matters of faith that he seems to soft-pedal, like Communion for civilly remarried Catholics whose previous spouses are still alive.
Some faithful, citing the Catechism, still call that matter by the name of adultery, as do some of our bishops.
May the Lord strengthen all of our shepherds in the only faith which saves, in all of its “Splendor of Truth.”
Thank you for reading, and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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