Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Welcome to Chicago, Archbishop. Keep an eye on the soup...

     Welcome, Archbishop Cupich, to Chicago, a city whose Catholicism is entwined with its entire history. As you may know, we were discovered in 1673 by a priest, Jacques Marquette S.J., and the first non-native religious services here were the daily masses he held for the Kaskaskia Indians. When Chicago incorporated in 1833, there were 130 Catholic inhabitants, and a log cabin Roman Catholic church, St. Mary’s, at Wacker and Lake.
     No sooner was the first Catholic church built, however, than the minister of the first Protestant church, Jeremiah Porter, knelt outside and prayed for its downfall. A reminder that, as Catholic a town as this is, there has always been hostility. An anarchist put arsenic in Cardinal George Mundelein’s soup at the banquet welcoming him in 1915. A hundred of the faithful were poisoned, one died, though Mundelein survived, an important quality in a cardinal. “It takes more than soup to get me,” he quipped; 250 churches were built in the archdiocese during his quarter century as cardinal.
     These are different days. Churches are closing instead of being built. Though it’s still a good idea to keep a close eye on the soup (metaphorically; our anarchists are much better behaved nowadays).
     Chicago has had eight archbishops and 55 mayors, which should give you an idea of their relative importance. Archbishop Cupich (pronounced "Soo-pich") won't officially become cardinal for a few years yet.
     Mundelein’s successor, Cardinal Samuel Stritch was a “Southern gentleman” who nevertheless helped integrate the church. He was replaced in 1958 by scripture scholar Albert Meyer—that always struck me as a rather Jewish name for a cardinal. He also tried to improve race relations. “Christian faith knows not the distinction of race, color or nationhood,’ he said.
     So expanding the boundaries of who is welcome on Sunday is nothing new.
     His replacement was Cardinal John Cody, who served from 1965-82. Some of your flock still resent the Sun-Times for its 1981 expose on his diversion of church funds to a female friend. About a million dollars. He was called "a truly evil man" and a "perfect monster," but not by us; that's a quote from the editor of the Chicago Catholic. One historian said that Chicagoans were "more relieved than saddened" at Cody's passing.
     The exact opposite was true of his successor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the gold standard when it comes to your job.
     "I am Joseph, your brother," Bernardin said when he greeted the media in 1982. He was beloved for his gentleness, for the grace with which he faced the accusation of abuse directed at him, a charge later recanted, and his courage in the face of illness. Journalists covering his funeral openly wept. A Sun-Times photographer, John White, was one of his pallbearers.
     Then to Cardinal George. This is not the day for frank assessments of his tenure. Let's just say he didn't set an impossible standard for you to surpass. I happened to be among the media scrum standing at the foot of the driveway to the mansion on George's first day, when he came barreling out of the driveway in his black SUV, and I remember the cameramen and reporters tripping over each other as we all leapt out of the way so as to not be run over by God's chosen vessel in Chicago. It was an unpleasant moment that augured more to come.
     In general, the rule is: be nice to the media and the media will be nice to you. The press is not actually an arm of the church, though it can seem that way. With 40 percent of the population of Chicago and vicinity Catholic — about the same as it was in 1833, oddly enough — 40 percent of the audience is thus Catholic, so the media do not go out of their way to antagonize the faithful, though they are no longer dutiful lambs. So expect us to side with them, not you, when your interests conflict. Still, we're more a hallelujah chorus, as you're seeing.
     The media also tend to be liberal, thus are cheered by Pope Francis' fresh approach: that the church needn't harp on sexual matters that the modern world long ago delegated from God to individuals. You seem in sync with the pope, but remember: that also means expectations are high. There will no doubt be low points to come; like priests, the press has our calling and must follow where the news leads. Hint: Don't put your step-cousins up at Lake Point Tower.
     I would hope you'll tuck away your rapturous greeting from the press, along with Cardinal George's polite farewell, as a reminder that, for all our periodic muckraking, the media is a champion of the status quo. We're the mirror and will reflect what you do, good or ill. I hope it's mostly good. God knows Chicago could use the help.


  1. I am a non-devout cafeteria Catholic . I went to Catholic grammar and high schools and received a superb education from self-sacrificing nuns and brothers. It will probably be another 100 years before the Roman Catholic Church recovers its moral authority lost through its handling of the pedophile debacle.

    I have always sought to learn from other religions. From Zen Buddhism I learned a sense of living in the present and a certain aesthetic for doing so. Judaism appears to have a richer sense of the husband/wife relationship. Richer in the sense of being less abstract than Catholic teaching.

    Catholicism use to have the best churches and the best music until it switched over to kumbayah guitar masses.

    But there is one key difference between the Protestants and the Catholics. In a Protestant church you will see a cross symbolizing the risen ascendant Christ. In a Catholic church you will see the crucifix – a miserable wretch hanging from a wooden cross.

    That is the God voluntarily stripping himself of his divinity to suffer a wretched death. “The word was made flesh and he dwelt among us.” In modern times this was epitomized by Pope John-Paul II performing his ministry hunched, crippled, and drooling. Cardinal George is near the same point in his life and handling matters in a similar fashion.

    For me Roman Catholicism makes the most sense on the killing fields and in the death wards.

  2. Had to look up the poisoned soup reference: the picture it conjured of some hundred dignitaries puking their guts out was well worth the trouble. Maybe we need an anarchist or two these days to put the fear of the soup into our worthies.


  3. The voluble Jerry B's nod to the priests and nuns who taught him puts one in mind of the back handed compliment Evelyn Waugh, a 20th Century master of the form, bestowed on Catholic education: "Ever since the Jesuits stopped defrocking priests for pederasty you can't get good proofreading."


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