Cardinal George has long been regarded as an intellectual heavyweight among the American hierarchy. I’m not sure I’ve seen enough in the public sphere to back it up. His criticism of Catholic liberalism, blogged about on this site in the past, was weak. In starting up the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein, he put a gag order on LTP, effectively banning any criticism from the publishers or its authors. That struck me as a pretty cowardly path. One might think a strong intellect would relish going toe to toe over prudential matters of theology. Assuming one could enjoy a fine Chicago meal and a beer afterward.
His latest column in the Catholic New World takes a needless swipe at Protestants. And if he believes the words in print attributed to him, I’d say there’s some serious theological and historical deficiencies in the cardinal’s education. Go to the link, read the whole piece, and let me know what you think.
The cardinal begins by describing a process by which lay people asked the Chicago priests to deepen understanding on “some contested mysteries of faith.” The priests and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council agreed on this list: the Eucharist, ordained priesthood, penance or reconciliation, marriage, the Blessed Virgin Mary and immigration.
I’m not sure how much of this is actually “contested.” One might certainly say that changes in the procedures at the Mass are a contested item. Does that mean doctrine, faith, or the actual act of worship is in question? The laxity or difficulty with annulments, divorce, and remarriage are discussed all over the Catholic spectrum. Are Catholics in some way “contesting” the base values and virtues of marriage as a theological reality? If Mary is the point of contention, it would more likely be on the finer points of which visitations one might accept. I remember a very strong strain of Medjugorje when I was there. Some such devoted Catholics were quite orthodox or mainstream. Others were getting excited about all sorts of appearances reportedly happening in Birmingham and other more isolated locations. Were Chicago lay people concerned about criticism that some Catholics weren’t Catholic enough? Not being present at these consultations, I couldn’t tell you any of those things. Cardinal George seems to indicate he wasn’t there either.
But if the lay people in my diocese were interested enough in homily input to suggest four sacraments, the Blessed Mother, and an important issue for politics and justice, I’d be pleased.
But he’s not.
The first impression this list, minus the sixth concern about immigration, leaves with me is that we’re back to the Protestant Reformation. At the time of the Reformation, when the visible unity of the Church was broken for doctrinal reasons, the Mass became a memorial service for most Reformers, its unity with Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary became purely “spiritual” and the objective, sacramental, substantial re-presentation of that sacrifice was denied.
Where the heck is this coming from? Any literate person, much less a Catholic, can quote the Catechism. But if people are concerned about belief in the Real Presence (not a real issue, in my opinion) or who gets to go to Communion, I’m afraid those are not issues of the Reformation. They are very much issues of today.
The foot goes deeper into the mouth:
There are many good people whose path to holiness is shaped by religious individualism and private interpretation of what God has revealed. They are, however, called Protestants.
When I want to know what Protestants stand for, I’ll ask them, not a Catholic prelate. This kind of talk is symptomatic of the American tendency to “call it as I see it,” and base one’s guiding philosophies on painting the world to suit one’s views or needs, and insisting others conform the facts to fit the view. We see it in Iraq. We see it in the bishops’ blind spots to sex predators in the clergy. We’re starting to see it in the mismanagement of church finances.
And I’m not meaning to imply that liberals are immune from this. Dogmatizing old approaches of the 60’s and 70’s will not work in the 21st century. Some liberal methods have never been successful, and we need to open our pragmatic eye, call failure for what it is, and find a new method.
When an informed and committed group of Catholics, such as the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, comes up with an agenda for discussion that is, historically, Protestant, an important point is being made. Catholics assimilated to American culture, which is historically Protestant, are now living with great tension between how their culture shapes them and what their Catholic faith tells them to hold.
Who is Cardinal George talking about? He’s the one disconnected from the active consultations going on in his diocese. Like many American CEO’s, he jet sets around the world with his pet issues, but can’t make the connection that his laity and priests have a clearly different notion of “contention” in the sacraments than he does.
There is a dysfunction in addictive systems that when one cannot force the facts to fit the addict’s paradigm, one begins to accuse others of the sin which is actually rooted in the self. Alcoholics claim everyone else is making too much of a fuss about a little drinking. Drug addicts say if people would only leave them alone, they wouldn’t have to use. Bishops blame the permissive culture, or bad advice, or not being in the loop. Sorry, your eminence, but it’s your job. And if you can’t handle it, request a co-adjutor or split up the archdiocese to a more manageable situation.
The cardinal doesn’t seem to be able to keep tabs on his clergy when they misbehave. He resisted calls for his resignation–and rightly so, I think. But I wonder about the man when I read a piece like this. But don’t take my word for it. Go to the link, read the whole thing. Come back and tell us what you think.