'Blase'd and confused: Media overlook crucial factor in Francis's choice of Chicago archbishop

If you have been following news of Pope Francis naming Spokane, Wash., Bishop Blase Cupich to replace Cardinal Francis George as archbishop of Chicago, you know that the mainstream media is busily spinning the choice as a slap in the face to conservatives.


The adjective of choice being used to describe the prelate is "inclusive," as in the New York Times headline "Pope Sets Tone in U.S. by Naming Inclusive Prelate as Chicago Archbishop." In like fashion, the Times' lede exemplifies the joys and hopes of the liberal press:

In his first major appointment in the United States, Pope Francis named Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., on Saturday to be the next archbishop of Chicago, replacing a combative conservative with a prelate whose pastoral approach to upholding church doctrine is more in keeping with the pope’s inclusive tone.

As a member of the faithful in the archdiocese that is to be Cupich's new home, I find such facile, "inclusive"-vs.-"conservative" analysis simply irresponsible. It doesn't do justice to Cupich, who, as Thomas Peters has said, has robustly defended Church doctrine on marriage and human life. It certainly doesn't do justice to George, who, as Rocco Palmo observed, has labored hard to uphold the Catholic social-justice teachings that the media considers "liberal," particularly civil rights. Most of all, it doesn't do justice to Francis, who, as Cupich has noted, often warns against "ideological interpretations of the Gospel."

The big story that the mainstream media has overlooked is that Cupich shares a key quality with the U.S. prelates who are closest to Francis,  Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. Each one of those bishops has been unusually proactive to bring healing to those affected by the clergy sex-abuse crisis, including meeting with victims. O'Malley's extensive work in that area is well known; if your memory on Wuerl's efforts needs refreshing, this in-depth 2003 article will help.

John Allen, writing in Crux, does include some information about Cupich's outreach to victims, although he buries it about fifteen paragraphs down:

Cupich is also seen as an adept manager and an internal reformer who has helped lead the American church’s efforts to recover from the child sexual abuse scandals from his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.
In 2010, Cupich said that listening to abuse victims is an “opportunity to recalibrate” the whole of a bishop’s ministry, because it’s a powerful reminder that “there are voices out there which the leadership doesn’t usually hear.”
“We have to keep the connection with victims visceral and fresh,” he said, because doing so “will help us not to have amnesia.”

Those words of Cupich from 2010, as well as an article he wrote that same year in which he urged bishops to "reach out to [abuse victims] as pastors," presage the emphasis Francis has placed upon "healing the wounds," as the pope said in Antonio Spadaro's interview:

“I see clearly ... that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds ... . And you have to start from the ground up.

Cupich is among the rare U.S. bishops to take that "ground up" approach to healing the wounds of those who have suffered sexual abuse from clergy and religious. It is worth considering his unusually high level of initiative in outreach to victims -- which, I can tell you, goes beyond ideology -- before ascribing his appointment to a case of one ideology trumping another.

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