Shots, Fair or Foul

Charles took me to task for refering to this widely circulated quote attributed to Cardinal George, the archbishop of Chicago, when the state of Illinois expanded LBGT rights:

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.

I alluded to it in conjunction with a Mexican priest who has experienced intimidation to the point of death threats for his ministry to migrants from Central America. Charles believes I’ve been unjust:

“Cardinal George muses…” could be regarded as rather a cheap shot, Todd and to what benefit or expected outcome?

I don’t expect an immediate benefit, to be honest. This is a rather small corner of the Catholic blogosphere. And I have no delusions about being more widely-read or influential than with a relatively small (but certainly appreciated) group of friends and visitors. A few who disagree with me think I pound away at the bishops more than is seemly. And honestly, I take that into consideration. My criticism of certain heroes stings whether I do it once a week or once a day. In that sense, I’ve become part of the background hum of the hermeneutic of persecution: a sort of court jester who isn’t very funny or a Catholic Howard Stern for the neo-orthodox. You’d like to tune me out, and eventually you do. But I don’t bring you the sex and profanity like Mr Stern–just the annoying twitter of a critic. And you don’t seem to be keeping your fan club page up to date, either.

I am concerned the outcome is further polarization. Bishop critics cheer that someone else has taken a swat at a sacred cow of the Right. People on the Right simmer because most all of them would agree that Padre Solalinde is indeed an admirable figure to persist in service despite attacks from organized crime, the government, and business corporations.

Getting back to the quote, after about fifteen minutes of research in the libraries of the search engines, I could not find the original attribution. The fisheaters’ forum though it was Archbishop Chaput’s. But he told them it was his Chicago brother. I’ve seen it used on liberal LBGT sites to poke even more deeply at the Catholic hierarchy. I’ve seen it borne on Catholic sites, possibly with a tear stain or two in the posting. The original words might still be online somewhere. Just buried past the headlines.

I think it’s a silly quote. Especially in the context of the cover-up of sex crimes of the clergy. Could the United States be overrun by thugs? It’s within the realm of possibility. I suppose. Bad people have done bad things with government support, but usually justice won out in the end. Jim Crow laws were eventually deep-sixed. Japanese-Americans were returned to their homes. Corrupt politicians in eastern cities were eventually turned out. Gravely evil acts were committed in the name of law and order and safety and patriotism and the public good. Evil tends to have its arc and then spend itself. It always seems to pop up anew. If I believed in a devil, I’d say that being has a monster case of attention-deficit disorder.

It’s a silly quote because most Catholics, if told that a bishop was to go on trial in the United States, and if given a choice between something to do with paying for someone else’s abortion or endangering the child sex victims of a priest, would likely choose the latter. And they would be correct, as of 2011.

If Cardinal George’s successor were either naive as Bishop Robert Finn or as dodgy as Cardinal Bevilacqua, it’s very likely the man would go to jail. And if he were guilty of a serious crime, it would be a just solution most likely. The people who have died as martyrs in the US have been civil rights figures. Powerful figures like Kenneth Lay and Anthony Bevilacqua have died before the first mob even formed. But I suspect that it would, very unfortunately, be possible to drum up a lynch mob for either man, considering the public perception of damage they’ve done.

My favorite foils seem to think I’m advocating for the bishops to just shut up and go away. And no, I don’t agree with that either. I have no intention of shutting up and going away, and really, I don’t think they should either. I do think that a wider reading of the saints, and an introduction to the good work being done away from chanceries and the halls of politics would temper a lot of these episcopal statements with wisdom and prudence.

So in the long run, I’ve just annoyed a friend or two. I’ve gotten a few thumbs-up icons. Cardinal George isn’t retracting his words, nor is he taking a Mexican holiday to fill in for a brother priest in Oaxaca. The conservatives still think the country’s going to hell in a handbasket, and I still think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, considering who’s driving the bus off the cliff. Meanwhile, I need to do more research on women of character who have been persecuted by the same institution that seemed, a month ago or so, to be touting religious freedom. Any suggestions?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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12 Responses to Shots, Fair or Foul

  1. Todd, to be sure, I’m hardly ever annoyed by your thoughts, and your perspective is always welcomed by my soul. Sometimes the medicine tastes like castor oil, other times like honey.
    If we didn’t care or respect each other and our perspectives, what would we talk about?
    Just to yank yer crank, what qualities determines “women of character” from other women?

    • Todd says:

      Just women who have exemplified great virtue in the face of persecution.

      • Liam says:

        Persecution? Criticized, certainly. Not trusted, too. Maybe even bullied in procedural respects. But persecution is (well) beyond that.

        And Cdl George’s remarks that prompted this also were untethered to what real persecution is. But ego-nourishing.

  2. Charles says:

    “Ego nourishing?”
    Gentlemen, please explain the motivation to cast these aspersions. What is the point of such ire?

    • Liam says:

      White martyrdom has gotten so cheap these days in this country, and I strongly object to people claiming the red kind prospectively so cheaply. It’s disgusting.

  3. Jimmy Mac says:

    Maybe it is appropriate that the only way ecclesiastics (popes included) can be declared saints is by virtue of red martyrdom.

  4. Again, gentlemen, I have questions not about the charges you’ve leveled specifically towards C. George’s quote, but the underlying and obvious animus that compels you to justify your disdain and critcism of both the dignity of his person and brotherhood, and the spite-filled rhetoric, i.e. “silly” and “disgusting.” If you would explain to me as if a child how such behavior is appropriate, after one of you alluded to the quote quite out of context with the original, admirable example of heroic priest? Todd, I also found the fifteen minute jibe about Googling the quote for authenticity disingenuous as you will likely find the citation of the Catechism that follows this paragraph. Assume any priest, bishop of your choice was responsible for uttering it .Take the quote on its own meaning and merit and consider that the first declaration, “I expect to die in my bed,” in relationship to the fulminations of the next two as self-denigrating, self-humiliating confession rather than some self-serving cheap grace offered wholesale to future generations of priests and bishops. I pondered how angry can you gentlemen remain over abstracts, when Todd’s own account and the testimony and pleas offered at the SpringUSCCB plenum by the archbishop of Bagdhad are truly couched in red martyrdom? It doesn’t annoy me that you can allude to other “martyrs” presumably like Sr. Farley as more worthy of your attention, nor am I convinced that you actually harbor anger towards certain bishops or priests. Without more rhetorical manipulations, I ask you to reconsider your attitudes towards our brothers in Christ who also happen to hold Holy Orders.


    2302 By recalling the commandment, “You shall not kill,” 94 our Lord asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral.
    Anger is a desire for revenge. “To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit,” but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution “to correct vices and maintain justice.” 95 If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin. The Lord says, “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” 96

    1594 The bishop receives the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, which integrates him into the episcopal college and makes him the visible head of the particular Church entrusted to him. As successors of the apostles and members of the college, the bishops share in the apostolic responsibility and mission of the whole Church under the authority of the Pope, successor of St. Peter.

    1595 Priests are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity and at the same time depend on them in the exercise of their pastoral functions; they are called to be the bishops’ prudent co-workers. They form around their bishop the presbyterium which bears responsibility with him for the particular Church. They receive from the bishop the charge of a parish community or a determinate ecclesial office.

    • Liam says:

      Charles: I am not buying your attempt at remonstration here. Please note I specifically said that I don’t think Sr Farley et al are being persecuted, either. The Cardinal’s office doesn’t not exempt him from being criticized for inappropriate rhetorical choices, and it’s not murder nor uncharitably for me to so criticize his choice. I think your remonstration vis a vis me jumped the shark here.

    • Liam says:

      PS: The contrast between Chicago and Baghdad (or San Salvador or other places where there is genuine red and white martyrdom) is what makes the rhetorical choice so galling, so First World in its ego-centrism.

      I distinguish this from muscular defense of the Church’s inalienable rights; I actually agree with that in the main, while I might disagree about certain particulars. I am, however, quite repulsed by those who invoke the spectre of reeducation camps, concentration camps and white/red martyrdom too quickly. It acts to denigrate the real power of the real thing; and that’s what I find disgusting.

  5. Todd says:

    I don’t think Margaret Farley is a martyr. My comparison is between Padre Solalinde who, seemingly, needed to heed the counsel of others to escape harm, and Cardinal George, who lives a life of comfort punctuated by political tussles.

    If I were to pick up on women martyrs, I would rather consider people like Jeanne d’Arc or Mother Guerin.

    I largely agree with Liam. Comfortable bishops talking about martyrdom, even in the current Americna climate, are speaking more of their own narcissism than any reality. And if they’re taking their news from Fox and similar mainstream outlets, I’m not surprised. Mainstream news is all about narcissism, regardless of ideology.

    I’m sure it seems to some I’m angry at or about these guys. Honestly, no. I find it amusing and sad.

    • Liam says:

      And, for Charles’ benefit, I should add that I am hypersensitive to this dynamic because I was for many years in a largely intentional oratory community that developed this same ego-centric sense of melodrama out of proportion to local reality; it was on the progressive side of things, and I was even more withering with regard to that than I have been here to that remark by Cdl George (which remark has turned into something of a universal widget of melodrama on many Catholic blogs over the past 2 years).

      In part of my day job, I am a Vincentian, running the daily affairs of an active conference in Cambridge MA. I’ve had to cultivate the intuition over people who aspire to crisis versus people who are really in crisis. I also know American culture – and our bishops as a class appear very much a part of this, especially their mouthpieces – is mired in an addiction to the melodramatic gesture; we are a people that has lost the ability to grasp the tragic (Americans don’t like tragedy, as it confounds the basic assumptions of our culture). And this pattern has serious spiritual consequences. When bishops feed that cycle, I cast a gimlet eye towards that.

  6. Thanks, KLS, for the last perspective. I apologize for the perception that my concerns were intended as remonstration. Checking for planks in my eye now.

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