Beyond immigration: Story on Chicago's new archbishop veers into abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception

While working on a story on Christians and immigration a few years ago, I witnessed a mother's tearful farewell to her son, who was being deported.

CHICAGO — On a dark street, a mother weeps. 
At 4:45 a.m., she stands outside a two-story brick building surrounded by razor wire, her sobs drowning out the drum of machinery at a nearby factory. 
The Spanish-speaking woman just said goodbye — through a glass panel at a federal deportation center west of Chicago — to her son Miguel, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. 

Recalling that emotional scene, my interest was piqued by a front-page Chicago Tribune story on Roman Catholic Archbishop-Designate Blase Cupich making immigration reform a top priority.

The top of the Tribune's meaty, 1,300-word report:

Immigrant rights activists are hailing Chicago's next Roman Catholic archbishop, hoping that Blase Cupich's outspoken advocacy for their cause translates to meaningful changes to local and state laws that would make Illinois the friendliest state for immigrants.
"It's always very encouraging to hear your faith leader calling on what you believe is a human rights issue," said Erendira Rendon, a lead organizer for the Resurrection Project, a Pilsen-based community development organization. "We've been grateful for Cardinal (Francis) George's support of immigration reform, but it's exciting to see the new archbishop is going to make it a priority."
Cupich called for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws on the day last month when it was announced that he would succeed George in mid-November. He followed that up Tuesday with specifics, saying all immigrants should able to receive health care and arguing for a path to citizenship.
"This would help end the high number of family separations, especially in mixed-status families," Cupich said in emailed statements to the Tribune. "It would also end the fear many undocumented persons feel, by enabling them to register with the government and fully contribute their talents and energies to our communities and nation."

I like that the Tribune quotes both Cupich and immigration reform activists and that the newspaper compares the new archbishop's statements in Chicago with his actions in Washington state, where he has served as a bishop.

However, the story's labeling of Cupich's previous dioceses as "largely rural and conservative" raises more questions than it answers. 

Later, the Tribune report takes a sudden detour into other hot-button social issues:

Many in Chicago credit Cardinal (Francis) George for laying a firm foundation of church activism in support of immigrant rights. He has marched in rallies and launched the archdiocese's office of immigrant affairs — the first and only office of its kind in the American Catholic Church. Earlier this year he called for laws that would keep families together and sought federal approval to shelter unaccompanied children who have crossed the country's southern border.
But advocates say the cardinal's hard line against same-sex marriage, abortion rights and contraception fractured some relationships and pushed immigration to the back burner in Springfield, diminishing the church's efforts on behalf of immigrants. 
When the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights endorsed same-sex marriage in 2013, the cardinal told 11 groups they had to choose between the coalition and support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Nine groups lost a total of $300,000, forcing them to scale back projects to address domestic violence, affordable housing and immigration rights.
Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said that strained relationship is on the mend.
"As time has moved on here, we're trying to get a little better understanding than we had before," he said. "That took a little bit of time to heal that wound."

The story's portrayal of the Catholic Church's positions on the definition of marriage and the sanctity of life beginning at conception seems tilted toward the other side. 

Are there no Catholic advocates in Chicago who both rally for immigration reform and appreciate the positions George took on marriage, abortion and contraception and want Cupich to do the same?

To its credit, the Tribune does give Cupich an opportunity to address the question (although he seems to sidestep it):

Cupich had praise Tuesday for George while responding to a question about how he would move forward with immigration advocates who feel betrayed by the cardinal's emphasis on the Catholic Church's opposition to same-sex marriage.
"Since I have known Cardinal George he has been a strong advocate for immigrants and is well considered by them, especially appreciated as a friend," Cupich said. "I would also say that the Catholic Church advocates a full range of issues and does not consider its advocacy of any one issue as a zero sum game that diminishes the importance of the others."

So exactly where does Cupich stand on that "full range of issues," and will he move a different direction on the issues cited by the Tribune?

Stay tuned.

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