So, Catholic GetReligion readers, is the Pope Francis glass half full today or half empty?
Well, some might say, that depends on whether the person answering is a liberal Catholic or from the conservative side of the church aisle. Is it really that simple? I don't think so.
Consider the stunning news out of Chicago, with the announcement that Pope Francis has selected a bishop admired by the left (which in media reports makes him a "moderate") to take the place of Cardinal Francis George, a hero of the doctrinal right. Is Catholic conservative Thomas Peters right when he claims, while discussing the moral theology of Bishop Blase Cupich:
Pope Francis’ choice of Bishop Cupich should actually pour cold water on liberal hopes of a leftward turn in the American episcopacy.
Yes, Bishop Cupich talks in a way that makes liberals feel comfortable, but the substance of what he says is almost always sound and orthodox. He told the New York Times “Pope Francis doesn’t want cultural warriors, he doesn’t want ideologues”, but do liberals ever stop and realize that cuts both ways?
Peters goes on to note that Cupich has, while speaking with a consistently progressive tone, has acted (with the exception of his decision to discourage priests from praying outside Planned Parenthood facilities) in ways consistent with Catholic teachings -- even when defending marriage. And religious liberty? Yes.
And speaking of the Catholic left, Religious News Service columnist David Gibson has perfectly stated the opinions of those who are dancing with joy after the news from Chicago. Here are the talking points on the other side, right down to the editorial blast claiming that efforts to defend church doctrines on sexuality consistently clash with efforts to promote teachings on social justice.
It is the pontiff’s most important U.S. appointment to date and one that could upend decades of conservative dominance of the American hierarchy.
Cupich, 65, will succeed Cardinal Francis George, a doctrinal and cultural conservative who has headed one of the American church’s pre-eminent dioceses since 1997. In that time he became a vocal leader among the bishops and earned a reputation as a feisty culture warrior in line with the Vatican of the late St. John Paul II and retired Pope Benedict XVI.
That track record won him fans on the Catholic right, but George was seen as out of step with Francis’ desire for more pastoral bishops who are less focused on picking fights over sex and more involved in promoting the church’s social justice teachings and sticking close to the poor.
Cupich, who will now be in line to get a cardinal’s red hat, would seem to fit that bill.
So what does this have to do with this week's "Crossroads" podcast? (Click here to tune in.)
After all, the Chicago bombshell is breaking news, while host Todd Wilken and I took time earlier this week to dissect, once again, the mainstream media coverage of the Vatican rites in which the pope married 20 couples, a few of which may or may not have been cohabiting at the time of the ceremony.
As our own Dawn Eden noted, few media reports dug into the symbolism of when the pope held this rite, in terms of the liturgical calendar, and what he actually said in his sermon.
Talking with Wilken, I stressed that -- in the eyes of Christian tradition -- it really doesn't matter whether any of the couples had cohabited in the past. The question that mattered was (a) were they cohabiting during the marriage preparation process, up to the day of the wedding and (b) had these Catholics gone to confession before the rite? I talked with one Catholic priest who said he would be stunned -- in light of how much this pope talks about sin, repentance, mercy and forgiveness -- if Francis left confession out of this equation.
What's the connection to the developing Chicago story? Journalists on both sides of this story, left and right, are going to have to try hard to focus on the totality of what someone like Bishop Cupich is saying.
Why? It is impossible to fit the ancient Catholic faith under one tidy political umbrella. It is possible to defend church teachings on marriage and sex while also saying that it is a sin to harass gays and lesbians. Catholic teachings on social justice spring from the same doctrinal roots as ancient Christian teachings on the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death.
Will journalists do that? The track record with Pope Francis has not been encouraging.