Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, the Church and Bingo

Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, the Church and Bingo

Cardinal Joseph Bernadin came to Chicago as the Archbishop of Holy Name Cathedral in 1982.  Chicago and surrounding suburbs at that time in history were heavily competing for the Bingo dollar to help support their not for profit agency. Bingo Halls were expanding with various names such as Bingo City actively reaching out for prospective players. The greatest competitor to the Bingo dollar were the various Churches around Chicago and suburbs.

That being said, what does it have to do with Cardinal Joseph Bernadine (appointed Cardinal in 1983)?  An anecdote if you will,  a small piece of lost history in Chicago Then.

For the faithful, Cardinal Bernadin was welcomed to Holy Name Cathedral with open arms and love and praise for him.  He was appointed to Holy Name shortly after the death of Cardinal John Cody.  In fact Cardinal Bernadin was at times called the First American Pope; he was beloved.

After being hailed as the new vision of the Church He asked for a study of the bingo games held in Churches. This was to decide whether to forbid bingo being played there.  They were generally played in the social hall or basements but never the sanctuary.  Now dear readers here comes the zinger. How could anybody reckon that the mere suggestion of bingo being cancelled in the Church would create such a backlash?  “Cardinal Bernadin who said he had no moral objection to bingo, called on the archdiocese to find a ‘more stable financial base’ from which to draw.”

The committee studying the question of bingo did not set a deadline of reporting to Cardinal Bernadin on a plan to phase out the game. It was also written by a member of the committee "base games of chance aren’t the highest motive you call people to. Gambling itself is not immoral It can be a fun thing. But do you want it to be your main source of support?"

It was also said that many Catholics played bingo because they saw the game as a way to contribute to the Church.  There is a question of why is a marriage and a tattoo similar: because it was a good thing to do at the time. Without any disrespect that can be said of Bingo and the church at that time.

Suddenly there was an outpouring of outrage from the community so loud it made all the major Chicago and suburban papers. In other words you take care of religious matters but don’t touch our bingo games. Cardinal Bernadin may have thought it was a good idea at the time but the inundation of protests flooded his office.  After the uproar it was suddenly felt that the playing of bingo was important to the Parishioners and didn’t violate any rules.

The moral of this story of Chicago Then is simply don’t mess with your bingo players! So thank you Cardinal Bernadin who went on to become on the most beloved Cardinals in history. Unfortunately he died at the young age of 68. All was well. Bingo continues to be played.

Memories light the corners of my mind…and I hope yours too!

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