For nearly 20 years, the leader of the Chicago diocese of the Catholic Church has been Archbishop Francis George, who is deeply ignorant and paranoid (this is a man who says allowing gay people to get married will be just like Sharia law — never mind that he’s agreeing with Sharia law in wanting it outlawed). Pope Francis I is now replacing him with a far more liberal leader.
Pope Francis on Saturday will name Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., a prelate closely identified with the Catholic Church’s progressive wing, to be the next archbishop of Chicago, according to news reports and multiple church sources.
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…In March 2012, for example, in the midst of the bishops’ nasty battle with the Obama administration over religious freedom and the employer mandate to provide free contraception coverage, Cupich wrote an essay in America magazine titled “Staying Civil.”
In that column, Cupich called for dialogue with the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services rather than constant confrontation, and said the crisis was a chance to find “common ground.”
“While the outrage to the H.H.S. decision was understandable, in the long run threats and condemnations have a limited impact,” he wrote.
The phrase “common ground” also resonated because it was associated with the approach of George’s predecessor in Chicago, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who embodied the hopes of a more progressive church — hopes that seemed to end with George.
These appointments may be very important in the long, slow effort to moderate the church’s position on such issues. It’s at least a step in the right direction.