Cardinal Francis George

So a Chicago priest who was once abused burns a rainbow-cross flag: All heck breaks out

So a Chicago priest who was once abused burns a rainbow-cross flag: All heck breaks out

Well, here is a hot-button story if I’ve ever seen one. Take a look at this headline atop the report at “Parishioners defy Chicago Archdiocese, burn rainbow flag in 'exorcism' ceremony.”

Just to give you a hint of how complicated this case is, that headline actually jumps the gun and settles one of the issues that is in dispute. According to parish leaders, the archdiocese ordered the church not to burn the rainbow flag in a ceremony in front of the sanctuary. So parish leaders burned it privately, without a public media show.

One other thing about that headline: It’s crucial to know that this is more than a rainbow flag. This particular flag combined the LGBTQ symbolism with a cross — a move that raised the theological stakes much higher.

So let’s look at a few key sections of this story. Here’s the overture:

In a church bulletin posted this month, the Rev. Paul Kalchik, a Roman Catholic priest at Resurrection Parish in Chicago, announced that he would burn a rainbow pride flag that had once been prominently displayed at the church.

“On Saturday, September 29, the Feast of Saint Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, we will burn, in front of the church, the rainbow flag that was unfortunately hanging in our sanctuary during the ceremonial first Mass as Resurrection parish,” Kalchik, who joined the church 11 years ago, wrote.

A footnote on his announcement stated, “US Church homosexual scandal is a sequel to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

A bit of translation: Obviously, at one point in its history, this parish was on the left side of the American Catholic spectrum. The flag, for example, was prominently displayed during a Mass led by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a leader whose memory is cherished by gay and progressive Catholics.

Clearly, times have changed at this parish. Here is another crucial passage:

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Spiritual leaders we lost in 2015: Comparing the coverage at RNS and NPR

Spiritual leaders we lost in 2015: Comparing the coverage at RNS and NPR

Want a sense of time passing?

Read some of the many lists of "famous dead" cranked out this week. The Religion News Service does its part with a brisk list of 23 spiritual leaders who departed in 2015. Let's see how well they did.

RNS opens with a nice, measured lede:

They preached and inspired. They wrote and taught. Some lobbied in the halls of government. Others toiled to protect the environment and educate the young. Several died at the hands of persecutors.
Here is a list of notable faith leaders — and a champion of secularism — who left us in 2015.

From there, the list goes by date of death, rather than alphabetical order. First is Andrae Crouch, who merged several musical genres -- gospel, rock, country, even Hawaiian -- to electrify crowds and get even secular people to listen. As RNS reports, Crouch's songs not only found a home in hymnals, but won Grammys.

RNS seems to have taken care for broad religious representation. I count four Catholics, two Muslims and two United Methodists. I also see one each of several others -- Jewish, Baptist, Buddhist, Hindu, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, African Methodist Episcopal.

The list includes a brief rundown on each person, which is a service even for readers like myself, who are more than casually interested in religion. Some of the names make you go "Oh, yeah, I remember him!" People like:

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

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

If you have been following coverage of the news that Pope Francis has named 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."


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Pod people: Covering both sides of what Pope Francis is saying and doing

Pod people: Covering both sides of what Pope Francis is saying and doing

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.

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Is the pope as Catholic as the president? The Times will tell

Long, long ago, I covered religion news during the era in which Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was one of the most powerful newsmakers on the beat. At the time, I thought it was interesting that conservative Catholics and mainstream journalists had such similar takes on this complicated man. Many, but not all, conservative Catholics were truly convinced that the cardinal was a liberal’s liberal through and through and that his “seamless garment” approach to moral theology was a shameless attempt — through moral equivalency — to play down church doctrines on issues such as abortion in order to provide cover for political liberals on issues such as nuclear arms, gun control, minimum-wage laws, etc.

Yes, the cardinal kept stressing, “All life has dignity and worth from the moment of conception to natural death.” But, some conservatives argued, he was really just trying to hand Catholics who were liberal Democrats a trump card they could play in their arguments with Catholics who had moved over to the Republican Party, especially after Roe v. Wade.

Ironically, many journalists appeared to have exactly the same view of Bernardin’s work. They didn’t seem to take his words on abortion, euthanasia and related issues very seriously, either.

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