Chicago Archbishop, Francis Cardinal George's replacement will be Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich. The Cardinal, battling cancer, aggressively lobbied his replacement be made before he died. He feared his current bout with cancer and its treatment would inhibit his abilities to perform his pastoral duties.
Cardinal George took over the Chicago Archdiocese in 1997 after the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin. Cardinal Bernadine was known for his kindness, gentle manner, and in the end his courage and writing on facing death.
Cardinal George's tenure was fraught with problems. More sex abuse scandals were on the horizon, a financial crisis and squeeze due to the recession, and the very pubic ramping up of the culture wars over social issues.
Chicago, like the nation, was splitting apart in destructive polarization, anger, and hatred.
George took over an archdiocese whose clergy and flock were divided on these issues. Sometimes the divisions ran deep and became vocal and ugly, just like the rest of our polarized society.
Being a church leader is tough. It is tougher when you have an unruly flock and members of your own clergy questioning church dogma. Uniting all these people under one banner is equivalent to herding cats.
In a major city like Chicago, the job is more complicated. Beside being a pastoral leader, the Archbishop is also a civic and political leader. He has one foot in the temporal world and the other in the spiritual. He needs the ability to wade through polarizing political, social, and civic issues while trying to unite believers in the Church.
Cardinal George did the best he could. Cardinal George was born and raised in Chicago. He was committed to serving the city of his birth. He was steadfast in his beliefs and the tenets of the Catholic Church. That steadfastness must be respected. In this age of polarization, controversy, angry birds, publicity hound activists, and social media lynch mobs, steadfastness in the face of contemptuous public criticism is difficult.
Catholicism is not just a religion. Like Greek or Eastern Orthodoxy, and Judaism from which they sprung, Catholicism is a culture and way of life. It is held together by faith, ritual, culture, and mystery. While many do not agree with some church teachings we are united in our spirituality.
Sometimes church tenets are perceived as harsh. Some members of the clergy harshly enforce those tenets. Others have a live and let live attitude.
For many Catholics it is the ritual, the Mass, sacraments, or other ceremonies that keep them from lapsing. For others it is the sense of community in a parish. They may not practice their faith daily. People may disagree with teachings. But, on Sunday or holidays, they come together and find comfort in a community. They enjoy the ritual and the company of others. If it is one day a week or one or two days a year, they unite with their brethren.
Cardinal George had his faults. He is human. We all have faults. He was not glib tongued as a politician. Sometimes he said things that offended people. He apologized for his offenses. Other times he was petty in enforcing certain rules among the clergy. He corrected himself and moved on.
Cardinal Geroge will be the first Archbishop in 124 years to retire. His predecessors died in office. This will be a boon for his successor, Bishop Blase Cupich. Bishop Cupich will have a guiding hand. He will not take over blindly.
Bishop Cupich rounds out a history of ethnic diversity in Chicago. Cupich is of Croatian descent. At one time there was a very large Croatian population in Chicago, especially on the near South Side.
It is time to let Cardinal George go quietly and peacefully into retirement. He did his job to the best of his abilities based on his faith. He made hard if not popular decisions. Being a leader is not a popularity contest.
Cardinal George will be remembered most for overcoming adversity. He overcame polio to live a long productive life. He took up adverse challenges within the archdiocese and society. In the end he kept working while fighting the adversity of cancer.
Blase Cupich will write a new chapter in the history of religion and civic life in Chicago. He needs to learn the history of the past to plot out his course for the Archdiocese. He needs to learn the distinct culture of this diverse city. He will be met with many challenges.
Cupich is known as a moderate in the mold of Pope Francis. He is not disparaging of others or their opinions. He believes all should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their belief or disbelief.
He will wade into an Archdiocese burdened by anger, disappointment, and polarization. He will have to address the internal as well as external issues facing the Church and society. He will walk into a city that loves a good fight, no matter what it is about.
Chicago is a political town. The bishop needs to be as much a politician as a priest. Chicago is a commercial town. Cupich needs to learn the language of Chicago business. Chicago is a town divided by class and economics. He needs to bridge those divisions to unite his flock.
It is a good bet the activists, angry birds, and social media lynch mobs are feverishly doing their opposition research on Blase Cupich. They cannot wait to tear the man down, ripping out his entrails, before he takes office.
They will not wait to see what his stewardship will be like. They must hate and spread their hatred.
That is the pity and shame of our so-called modern society. The more we progress, the more we regress to our ugly uncivilized past.
What Bishop Cupich really needs is a chance. A chance to settle in, learn the atmosphere, environment, and lay of the land before he makes decisions and changes. He needs to listen and be heard.
This being Chicago, he may never get that chance. Sometimes the welcome mat is pulled out from under people before we know who they are, what they stand for, and what they will do.
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