Cardinal Cupich addresses gun violence at university talk

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, November 9, 2017

A family prays in front of a row of crosses Nov. 6 near the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas. Cardinal Cupich called for more restrictions on possession high-powered firearms in the wake of the shooting. (CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters)

Cardinal Cupich called for increased regulation of guns, especially high-powered firearms, on Nov. 6, in the wake of a shooting that killed 26 people in a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the day before.

“We all feel a sense of outrage and sadness as we confront another tragedy,” Cardinal Cupich said. “This seems to be a weekly, if not a daily, occurrence. Mourning is not enough. We need to take action.”

The cardinal was speaking as part of a conversation with Washington Post columnist and author E.J. Dionne. The event was hosted by the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.

In the 75-minute presentation, Cardinal Cupich answered questions from Dionne, University of Chicago students and guests about everything from the deep divisions afflicting the United States to the way Pope Francis’ papacy embodies the values of the Second Vatican Council.

However, the gun violence besetting both Chicago and the nation bookended the conversation, which started with a moment of silence for the victims of the Texas shooting and ended with the cardinal speaking to members of the media about the need for more control of high-powered weapons, where he reiterated his call to action.

“The time for expressing sorrow and leaving it at that is over,” Cardinal Cupich said. “We need to do something.”

While the cardinal acknowledged enjoying hunting as a sport, he said there is no reason for military-style weapons to be accessible to the public.

“When the hunting sport is human prey, we have to take action,” the cardinal said. Later, speaking to the media, he added, “We don’t need military weapons in our society. We’re not at war with one another.”

Asked why Congress had not found the will to take action, particularly after the massacre of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, Cardinal Cupich said the issue is the economic power of the gun lobby, not the Second Amendment.

“Let’s not be naïve about it,” he said. “This is a money issue.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago has already banned guns from its churches, he said, but he does not foresee taking security measures such as requiring worshippers to pass through metal detectors.

Measures like that would make churches feel less safe, he said, “and I think we would lose something.”

After asking about gun violence, Dionne asked Cardinal Cupich about his journey to the priesthood, after initially planning to go to law school.

“I did have a brother in the seminary,” Cardinal Cupich said. “I thought it was like those coupons: one per family.”

Both his older brother and a younger brother who studied in the seminary eventually discerned that they were not called to the priesthood. Cardinal Cupich, on the other hand, “fell in love with philosophy,” he said, and then with theology.

“It was slow, like peeling an onion,” he said.

Asked about the opposition Pope Francis has faced from some quarters, Cardinal Cupich noted that he is the first pope to be formed for the priesthood during or after Vatican II, and the council informs his papacy in a new way.

“The church is not against the world or for the world, but in the world,” Cardinal Cupich said.

But, the cardinal said, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI also supported the council. Cardinal Cupich was ordained a priest in 1975, and his seminary formation came in the years just after the council, so it has always been a part of his priesthood.

“I’ve never seen any official resistance to it,” he said, noting that he was first appointed a bishop in Rapid City, South Dakota, by Pope John Paul; assigned to Spokane, Washington, by Pope Benedict XVI; and made archbishop of Chicago by Pope Francis.

Rather, Cardinal Cupich said, the discussions about how Vatican II should be understood and implemented are part of a natural maturation process that follows any big change.

“Whenever there’s a change in the church, there’s a renegotiation of how we all act with each other, and as long as we don’t lose unity, that’s OK,” he said.

The cardinal also said the resistance to Pope Francis is overstated. 

“I don’t think people are scandalized by the pope,” he said. “I think people are being told to be scandalized by the pope.”

The people Cardinal Cupich interacts with in parishes nearly every weekend express admiration and gratitude for the pope.

“He’s speaking to the real, everyday lives of people,” Cardinal Cupich said, adding that Pope Francis wants Catholics to develop an adult spirituality in which they are responsible for their own decisions and actions. Those who like telling people what to do, he said, would prefer to infantilize the faithful.

He also said that he is not panicking over research that shows 30 to 40 percent of young adults no longer claim membership in any religion. Most of them say they do have a spiritual life, he said, and a spiritual life needs a community.

“My approach to young people is, they’re not a problem. They’re a gift,” the cardinal said. “They have something to offer us, rather than us just offering things to them. … I tell parents: Don’t panic. Stay close to your kids. Maybe tell them why the church has meant so much to you.”

He acknowledged that number of Catholics in the United States, young Catholics in particular, would be far lower without the influx of Latinos into the country in recent decades. 

Latino families are not only a great gift to the church, he said, but to the whole country. They bring economic benefits, but also strong families, a joy of life and a work ethic that is not to be denied.

“We need to tell the Latino story,” he said. “They are a great gift to our nation. They make our nation better.”

To do better by them, the U.S. should focus on passing comprehensive immigration reform, Cardinal Cupich said.

On issues such as violence, racism and immigration, churches have an important role to play, Cupich said, by bringing together people who are deeply divided.

“The problem is not that we are divided on issues,” he said. “The problem is that we are divided into camps or tribes. Churches can be conveners. We have to figure out how to heal a nation that is tearing itself apart.”


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