Friday, August 31, 2018
On Monday, August 27, 2018, Blase Cupich, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago, gave an interview with Mary Ann Ahern of NBC Channel 5 in Chicago. During the interview Cardinal Cupich responded to a number of questions related to the McCarrick scandal and the Vigano testimony that are at the center of the profound crisis now confronting the Church. (The full transcript of the interview is available here. The video of the interview is available here). In response to the question “Is there a Catholic civil war underway?” Cardinal Cupich said the following:
Well, I would say, I would say not a civil war. There’s a small group of insurgents who have not liked Pope Francis from the very beginning. They don’t like the fact that he’s calling for more lay involvement. They don’t like the fact that he is calling for a synodal church where we get the advice of people. They don’t like that he’s talking about the environment, or the poor, or the migrants, or that the death penalty is something we should outlaw. They don’t like the fact that he is saying that economies kill. There are people who don’t like that message. And so there is an insurgency of people who don’t like that. And quite frankly, they also don’t like him because he’s a Latino, and that he is bringing Latino culture into the life of the church, which we have been enriched by. And I think that that is part of all of this too.
There are many things in the Cardinal’s remarks with which one could take issue, including both how he defines Pope Francis’ agenda and how he characterizes the criticisms to that agenda. (For my own part, I know many people who are glad to hear Pope Francis’ concern for immigrants, the poor, and the environment, as well as his opposition to capital punishment, and his desire for lay involvement, but who, as loyal sons and daughters of the Church, still question his proposed innovations with respect to sacramental discipline). But from this litany of charges, one thing stands out: Cardinal Cupich’s claim that people oppose the Pope because he is “a Latino.” In doing so, the Cardinal labels as a racist anyone who questions Pope Francis’ agenda.
With respect, this statement is outrageous. It is utterly shameful and wholly unbecoming of one of the successors to the apostles. It is a sad day in the life of the Church when a Cardinal-Archbishop plays the race card. In doing so he has disregarded not only the dignity owed to his office but the dignity of the faithful who, in lending their critical intelligence to this pontificate, have sought to realize the very kind of lay involvement that Cupich says is part of Francis’ vision for the Church. Chicagoans are accustomed to such tactics, of course, and although not a native son of Chicago, Cardinal Cupich appears to have mimicked this aspect of the local political culture. Indeed, he seems to have made use of this tactic for the most crass of political reasons – to garner sympathy and support for his position.
Cardinal Cupich’s scurrilous charge has no foundation. Indeed, the Cardinal appears to have fabricated the supposed racial opposition to Papa Bergoglio out of whole cloth. One cannot find any evidence of prejudice against the Pope’s ethnic or cultural background anywhere on the Catholic Internet, even on the websites of the so-called “insurgency.” The Pope is of course an Argentine, the son of Italian immigrants. But, according to Cardinal Cupich, anyone who isn’t wholly on board with the "Francis project” as Cupich defines it must be against the Pope because he or she is bigoted against Latinos.
A true shepherd doesn’t slander the flock when he disagrees with them. He seeks to understand their perspective and tends to their needs, drawing them to the nourishing truth of the Gospel.
Instead, Cardinal Cupich has engaged in a brazen ad hominem attack. He has here leveled what is essentially the worst accusation that can be brought against a person in American civil society -- that he or she is a racist. That is not the care of a shepherd but the tactic of a bully. Sad as it is, one expects to see these sorts of tactics employed in the realm of secular politics. The people of God expect something more from their pastors.
Cardinal Cupich’s accusation of racism is not only false and irresponsible, it is also a distraction that diverts attention away from the real conversation that must take place. Going forward, the Church, the people of God—both lay and ordained—must, with honesty and integrity, confront the sexual depravity, clericalism, abuse of power, and deep corruption that the McCarrick scandal has partially brought to light.