Local Catholic leaders see appointment significance

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, November 27, 2016

Local Catholic leaders see appointment significance

Donna Carroll (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Father John Kartje (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Passionist Father Donald Senior (Catholic New World/Karen Callaway)

Catholic academics and leaders in the Archdiocese of Chicago expressed congratulations to Cardinal Cupich for being selected by Pope Francis to the Sacred College of Cardinals.

Father John Kartje, rector/president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, said there was a bit of local pride when the news broke that Cardinal Cupich would be one of three Americans in the class of 17 cardinals created at the Nov. 19 consistory.

“It is a way of acknowledging some of the more prominent and central sees in the United States,” Kartje said. “But we have to remember that it isn’t just a title or an honor. There are real responsibilities that go along with it, not the least of which is to elect the next pope when the time comes.”

There also is a responsibility to be a visible and prominent leader of the church, Kartje said, which is not to be taken lightly.

“For the pope to make a selection of anyone to the College of Cardinals, it’s an acknowledgement that the spirit is working through the church,” he said.

While Kartje cautioned against reading too much into the politics of the selections, others said the appointment is a clear affirmation that Cardinal Cupich’s priorities and direction are in line with those of Pope Francis.

“I think that Pope Francis speaks most eloquently though symbols — and a very strong statement about the direction he would like to see the U.S. Conference of Bishops take is in the elevation of archbishops Cupich and Tobin to the College of Cardinals,” Viatorian Father Mark Francis, president of Catholic Theological Union, said in an email Nov. 15. “Both of these archbishops are pastorally oriented and concerned with helping Catholics in this country to take on the real challenges involved in living out their faith. Both focus on dialogue and are less concerned with fighting culture wars that are ultimately divisive and cause unnecessary pain for those trying to understand how best to promote the common good.”

That statement is being heard even though Cardinal Cupich told the media, “The Holy Father sends a pastor, not a message,” when he was appointed in 2014. He reiterated that idea when news broke in October that he was among 17 men who would join the College of Cardinals Nov. 19.

Passionist Father Donald Senior, president emeritus and chancellor of CTU, said it would be a mistake to think that Pope Francis named Cardinal Cupich as a sort of automatic nod to the archdiocese, which has seen its previous six archbishops become cardinals.

“Pope Francis is departing from the usual pattern on that and is appointing a lot of international folks,” Senior said. “I don’t think it’s something we should take for granted.”

Other members of the new class of cardinals come from dioceses and countries that have never had a cardinal before, while some U.S. archdioceses that have been led by cardinals in the past were passed over.

“The pope is really doing what he said he was intending to do, to accentuate the universal nature of the church and lift up some areas that haven’t been honored with cardinals,” Senior said.

It’s probably more important that Cardinal Cupich is a bishop in the mold of Pope Francis, he said.

“He’s pastoral, he’s moderate, he’s given attention to some of the issues that are an important part of the pope’s ministry — the environment, concerns about immigration, social justice issues, a pastoral sense in his interactions with people,” Senior said. “I think this is an endorsement of the pastoral priorities we’ve seen, and it’s an underscoring of his leadership role within the church.”

Kartje said that in his experience, even bishops and archbishops who have a reputation of being either conservative or liberal have far more complex and nuanced views than most people understand.

“I think every archbishop shoulders that pastoral responsibility,” he said.

One thing that the seminarians at Mundelein appreciate is that Cardinal Cupich was ordained as a diocesan priest and worked in parish ministry. He has shared that experience with the seminarians, who hail from many U.S. dioceses, on the numerous occasions he has visited Mundelein.

“We’re a diocesan seminary, and our guys are going into the diocesan priesthood,” Kartje said. “They all appreciate the fact that he’ll introduce what he says or illustrate what he says at a theological level with a piece of practical ministry from his experience.”

Senior said Cardinal Cupich was already a prominent leader because of the archdiocese’s size and its history of creating and fostering movements within the church, Senior said.

“When you become the archbishop of Chicago, you necessarily step into a leadership role,” Senior said. “You have a national pulpit in a way, and I think with being a cardinal, an international pulpit. He’s now a titular pastor of a Roman parish. That puts him on the international scene of the broader church. I think it’s an enhancement of the local role. To be immersed in the international and the global perspective, that can be brought back to the local church.”

Senior said he also is familiar with new Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who is moving from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, and who previously served as the Vatican’s prefect for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Cardinal Tobin, a Redemptorist, also served as pastor of Chicago’s St. Alphonsus Parish, 1429 W. Wellington Ave., from July 1990 to October 1991.

Neither Indianapolis nor Newark has traditionally been led by a cardinal, so that makes Cardinal Tobin’s appointment a clearer sign of the kind of cardinals Pope Francis wants, Senior said.

“For Tobin, it’s really accentuating the style and the issues that Pope Francis has emphasized,” he said. “He is forthright, pastoral, kind, affable, but very strong.”

Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University in River Forest, agreed that Pope Francis seems to want church leaders who see their ministry as the message.

“Archbishop Cupich’s vision for the church is closely aligned with Pope Francis’ vision,” Carroll said. “In the Archdiocese of Chicago, the words I hear spoken about Cupich are things like inclusive, contemporary, pastoral, approachable. He resonates with the disposition and the priorities of the pope. He has expressed those priorities and modeled that disposition. This is an affirmation that this is the direction the pope wants the church to go. He has a contemporary and authentic voice, especially on issues that put faith and contemporary issues together.”

Cardinal Cupich, like Pope Francis, emphasizes solidarity with the poor and respect for the dignity of the individual, Carroll said. That will be especially important following a deeply divisive presidential election.

“We’re going to have to work on a lot of serious issues across a number of democratic divides in order to get whole again,” she said. “The lens that he uses to look at these issues is going to be an important.


  • bishops
  • pope francis
  • cardinals

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