I won’t say congratulations on your appointment because the wreckage left for you to pick up is horrendous . . . and the abuse you will take if—and, please God, when—you attempt to clean it up could shorten your life. While you have crisscrossed the archdiocese to introduce yourself, I have seen positive traits. As a theologian, you are stating time-tested truths, unlike some of your brother bishops who engage in deliberate manipulation of public opinion to achieve political goals within the Church.
So let me extend thanks for what you have not done. You have not indicated fear that unfavorable notice by the media is a grave evil. Few bishops, regrettably, have mustered the strength to stand up to the media in order to do their duty. James Hitchcock remarked nearly 20 years ago that “almost imperceptibly public relations considerations began more and more to govern decision-making at certain levels of the church and proponents of change were able to make maximum use of the fear of bad publicity.” Your predecessor, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, aided by a monsignor named Kenneth Velo (supposedly the full-time head of the Extension Society, which provides aid to disadvantaged rural dioceses), consequently enjoyed the best media in town. The faithful will know you are hitting the mark when you get “bad” media.
“Photo ops” were all the rage to take the sting out of closing inner-city parishes and schools. The logical question was: Why not continue to use them to evangelize? The archdiocesan theologian, however, disdained such rude activity. Evangelization is not popular with modern theologians or the media. At any rate, do not count on near canonization by editorial boards and television anchors. They only beatified your predecessor because of his leftist foreign and economic policies.
Thus I appreciate your refusal to take a position on nuclear testing or to weigh in on the immorality of tax cuts. You have not suggested that the Pope’s flat “no” on women priests does not preclude negotiation. You have not said a word in support of your predecessor’s expressed doubt of the authenticity of John 8:31- 50. And you have not endorsed the views of some 50 pastors on the subject of general absolution—the kind that is granted without personal confession of private sins —who believe that confession resembles the superstition followed by early 20th-century savages in the Borneo jungle.
Faithful Catholics dare to hope that your restraint means you do not view your role as arbiter of a babble of conflicting voices, as politicians so often view public office. The media’s favorite priest, Andrew Greeley (were he merely Mr. Greeley his racy fiction would not sell), has not yet conquered you. He sits in his John Hancock apartment waiting for his phone to ring . . . with a call, he hopes, from you. That you have not apparently called, or at least that Msgr. Velo has not yet leaked such news, is gratifying.
So thanks for what you have not done. Now let me make a fervent wish as to what you can do. First, utilizing your doctorates in theology and philosophy, teach what is distilled so simply in the Baltimore Catechism, amplified fully in the latest catechism (which Cardinal Bernardin claimed is not appropriate for direct teaching). Yes, I know: this is ancient stuff, drawn from Aquinas. But in Chicago, Aquinas is not stressed —indeed hardly taught—at our so-called “Catholic” universities, ft will be exhilarating for a scholar like you to reteach us, if only to see how priests, nuns, auxiliary bishops, and the media will be stunned.
Perhaps most stunned will be the so called “Catholic educators.” A full generation of university-trained priests were given a choice: they could either profess moral neutrality or they could be ignored and farmed out to retirement homes. Most emerged from their crypts to say that the gods favor secularization.
To attain the moral virtues we must summon—and under your guidance the Church will assist—prudence for the mind, justice for the will, temperance for our weakness to indulge in unrestrained concupiscence, and fortitude to bolster the will to make hard decisions. The church in Chicago—and elsewhere—has forsaken these moral virtues. We have embarked on media tours, warm and fuzzy public relations, blessing dissidents, bestowing funds raised from hard pressed contributors to Saul Alinsky-like revolutionaries under the rubric of the “Campaign for Human Development,” while ignoring congregations ripe for instruction in these Christ-centered decencies. The problems of promiscuity, illegitimacy, and divorce often lead to the violence, crime, and murder, which are at the heart of our urban, suburban, and exurban hemorrhages. When, you may well ask on your parish rounds, was the last time you heard a sermon extolling chastity? Shoulders will shrug, and the answer will be “never.” Is it because we have mastered this virtue? We all know the answer.
Your episcopate must uncompromisingly assert the transcendent importance of Jesus Christ. Do not underestimate the opposition that will come from priests with prepackaged secular observations, or from the media which supports the contention that the interpretation of Catholic teaching is best left to them rather than to the Pope. You may well be in for the fight of your life. To most priests of Chicago, to most media, manipulation of publicity for strategic purposes is indispensable to their control of the Church.
What will happen, then, if you continue despite their opposition? Well, you will win, obviously. The Catholics of Chicago will support you. They hunger and thirst for a return of a Church of confident self-definition that restores the continuity of generations, supporting reasonable innovation while rekindling the old zeal.
A word of caution: you are entering mission country. Our people have lived largely with the prosperity of the post-World War II period. For the older generation, the Church gave meaning to those who suffer. To many priests today, this idea is incomprehensible. Religion to them has little to do with suffering; it is a bland imitation of the Rotary Club. They still follow the spurious post-conciliar notion that the Church must accommodate public taste in order to gain more members. Father Greeley, a pollster, points out that the Church must be led by its membership rather than by divine inspiration. Ergo: Father Greeley found that Irish-American Catholics under 30 are “the second most permissive group in the country” in contrast to their parents. His entire commentary (not to mention his book sales) is rooted in the notion that moral virtues are archaic; there is but one surviving absolute: the Democratic party of the Daley family, which he serves as faithful sacristan.
You will find a good many priests are bored with strong Catholic belief and are eager to accept other creeds, particularly New Age; a heavy majority embrace as “tolerance” a misguided flabbiness that says all doctrines are equally valid. At bottom, the supposition of many priests and laity—reflected particularly in the writings of Father Greeley—has its roots in sexuality and the deliberate ridicule of the sexual norms that have governed the West for two millennia.
The practice of homosexuality and its support by many in the priesthood is rife in Chicago. Still lingering in popular memory is the “Mass” offered years ago for a meeting of homosexuals. According to the Boston Tablet, the event, concelebrated by 50 priests, featured a dance in which “the marvelously good humored but never indecorous jollification went on past midnight.” This sacrilege contrasts with the sober and dedicated but tiny organization “Courage,” which preaches the strong and compelling beauty of married heterosexuality or chastity born of the willingness to confront the license that secular society approves.
Enough for now. Take as your model the French Jesuits who came here to convert the Iroquois in Canada. Remember what happened to many of them. Recall the martyrdom that gained them sainthood. Media martyrdom and clerical revolution will attest to your endeavors.