Saturday, September 20, 2014

The "Francis Era" in America Starts Today in Chicago

By John L. Allen, Jr.

Note: This article was first published September 20, 2014 by Crux.

With the appointment of Blase Cupich (pronounced “SOUP-itch”) today as the new Archbishop of Chicago, one can say that the Francis revolution in Catholicism has finally arrived in the United States.

Up to this point, one could have made the argument that the change triggered by Francis is largely a matter of a new tone and style in Rome, but one that had not yet reached down and begun to alter the culture of the church on these shores.

With the appointment of the 65-year-old Cupich, however, the American landscape has shifted.

This is the fourth appointment Francis has made to a major archdiocese since July, following earlier choices for Cologne, Germany; Madrid, Spain; and Sydney, Australia. Each pointed a direction for the church in those countries.

By now, the profile of a “Francis bishop” has come into focus: Ideologically, moderates rather than hardliners; pastorally, men who place special emphasis on concern for the poor and those at the margins; and personally, leaders who aren’t flashy personality types, with a reputation for being accessible and hands-on.

In some ways, those are precisely the sort of leaders perceived to have been out of favor in the American hierarchy during the late John Paul II and Benedict XVI years, but with Francis, the dynamic has changed.

Chicago is on a short list of pace-setter dioceses around the world whose leaders help set direction for the church in their regions, and it’s long been a bellwether for deeper realignments.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin embodied the moderate, reforming spirit of the Second Vatican Council. The transition to Cardinal Francis George embodied the stronger emphasis on Catholic identity in the later John Paul II years, with the effort to resist the inroads of secularism in the faith as a defining cause.

Bernardin famously called for a “seamless garment” ethic in Catholicism, one that placed equal emphasis on opposition to war and concern for the poor alongside opposition to abortion. George, meanwhile, helped make the defense of religious freedom a signature cause for the American bishops, crystallized in the tug-of-war between the bishops and the Obama White House over contraception mandates imposed as part of health care reform.

Both Bernardin and George served as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference at different points, and both were seen as representing the broader spirit of their era in the American church.

With Cupich, Francis has found another tone-setting prelate to take over in Chicago. Among other things, the appointment puts Cupich in line to become a cardinal the next time the pope creates new Princes of the Church.

Cupich is clearly a moderate, clearly upholding church teaching on all the hot-button issues in the wars of culture such as abortion, contraception, and gay marriage, but like Francis, he tends to shun strong rhetoric on those matters.

Instead, Cupich has been identified with the wing of the American bishops that’s tried to steer the church down a less confrontational path, and tends to place special emphasis on the social gospel, meaning concern for the poor and for social justice.

In 2011, for instance, Cupich dismayed some of the most aggressive pro-life forces in Catholicism when he discouraged priests and seminarians in Spokane from praying in front of Planned Parenthood clinics as part of an anti-abortion protest, seeing the gesture as unnecessarily provocative.

Cupich is also seen as an adept manager and an internal reformer who has helped lead the American church’s efforts to recover from the child sexual abuse scandals from his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In 2010, Cupich said that listening to abuse victims is an “opportunity to recalibrate” the whole of a bishop’s ministry, because it’s a powerful reminder that “there are voices out there which the leadership doesn’t usually hear.”

“We have to keep the connection with victims visceral and fresh,” he said, because doing so “will help us not to have amnesia.”

On a personal level, Cupich is regarded as humble and open, precisely the sort of pastor who “carries the smell of his sheep” that Francis has said he wants.

Pope Francis was personally involved in the selection of a successor to the 77-year-old George, making phone calls to a wide variety of sources in and around the American church and also consulting American prelates when they came to Rome. In those conversations, sources say, Francis asked for blunt assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of candidates.

One American cardinal said on background recently that he had been surprised when Francis asked him for an assessment of Cupich, since the Omaha native was not generally regarded as a front-runner for position.

The cardinal said he got the vibe at the time that Francis was seriously considering Cupich, an intuition that clearly turned out to be correct.

Whether Cupich turns out to be another Chicago heavyweight who puts a stamp on his era remains to be seen, but one could make a strong case that the “Francis era” in American Catholicism begins today.

Related off-site Links:
Pope Names Cupich as Next Chicago Archbishop – Rachel Zoll (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, September 20, 2014).
Blase Cupich – Champion of Social Justice – is the Next Archbishop of Chicago – Christopher Hale (Millennial, September 20, 2014).
There May Be Brighter Days Ahead for LGBT Issues in Chicago Archdiocese – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, September 20, 2014).
Blase Cupich of Spokane Named Archbishop of Chicago – Dennis Coday (National Catholic Reporter, September 19, 2014).
New Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich: A Moderate Voice – Michael O'Loughlin (Crux, September 19, 2014).
Pope Francis Names Spokane Bishop to Chicago, Dashing Conservative Hopes – David Gibson (Religion News Service, September 19, 2014).
Cupich to Chicago: What It Actually Means – Thomas Peters (, September 19, 2014).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Companions on a Sacred Journey

An Introduction to Evolutionary Christianity

An interactive workshop sponsored by
the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform
and facilitated by Michael Bayly, MA.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is an interactive workshop that provides an opportunity to learn about, reflect upon, and respond to an expression of spirituality known as “evolutionary Christianity.”

As understood and expressed by Catholic theologians, scientists, and mystics such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Beatrice Bruteau, Brian Swimme, Ilia Delio, Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Thomas Berry, and Gail Worcelo, Evolutionary Christianity is a meaningful way of thinking and talking about God in our lives, our church, and our world; a way of hope that addresses the important issues of our day by welcoming and honoring both the findings of science and the enduring spiritual wisdom of our Catholic tradition, especially its mystical tradition.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is a program that can be readily tailored to the needs of specific groups. For example, it can be presented as a two-hour workshop, an all-day retreat, or a series of four one-hour presentations. The program is facilitated by Michael Bayly.

Evolutionary Christianity invites and challenges us to understand God and our relationship with God, each other, and the natural world in an ever-deepening and liberating way; to recognize ourselves as co-creators with our creator God – co-creators of beauty, justice, and compassion.
– Michael Bayly

The paradox of the Divine is at once the radiant, complete, and changeless ground of all that is. Yet the Divine is also the incessant urge to manifest deeper and deeper expressions of wholeness and integration. . . . There is something of the holy embrace of God in the very structure of the universe, changeless and changing.
– Gail Wolcelo, sgm

Michael Bayly has a Masters in Theology from St. Catherine’s University and a Masters in Theology and the Arts from United Theological Seminary. He is the author of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective and the editor of the online forum, The Progressive Catholic Voice. Since 2003 he has served as the Executive Coordinator of the Twin Cities-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), which is a founding member organization of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

Contact Information

To learn more and/or to arrange a presentation of Companions on a Sacred Journey, contact Michael Bayly at or 612-201-4534.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is sponsored by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). For more information about CCCR visit

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Minneapolis Priest Says Archbishop Nienstedt Must Resign If Church is to Heal

By Jean Hopfensperger

Note: This article was first published September 2, 2014 by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

The Rev. Patrick Kennedy of St. Olaf Catholic Church has called for the resignation of Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, saying it would create a “collective sigh of relief” from Twin Cities Catholics.

In the Aug. 31 church newsletter, Kennedy wrote that he reached the conclusion after returning to Minneapolis recently following two years away. It was then that he realized the “full effect” of the recent clergy sex abuse scandal on Catholics in the pews.

“There appears to be a pall over the Archdiocese that is affecting the ministry we are trying to be about,” wrote Kennedy, pastor at the downtown Minneapolis church.

“People are leaving our parishes. Some have stopped giving money. Others have stayed but carry a heavy heart. . . .” he wrote.

Conversations with family members, friends, parishioners and others indicate that there is no confidence that Nienstedt can lead the church out of the mess, Kennedy continued. Catholics are “troubled and angry by what has happened and how the situation is handled,” he said.

Aggravating the situation is that Nienstedt has not been able to forge a personal connection with the people he serves, wrote Kennedy.

“While it is difficult for any of us in ministry to admit to a lack of bonding with those we serve, it is sometimes a fact,” he wrote. “When it is, a reassignment is necessary for the good of the church.”

The archbishop’s resignation “could prove to be the catalyst to begin the healing people long for as well as create a possible way forward,” wrote Kennedy.

He is among a half-dozen priests who have publicly criticized Nienstedt’s handling of abuse and/or called for his resignation. Following reports of the sex abuse scandal last fall, calls for resignation came from priests including the Rev. Bill Deziel of the Church of St. Peter in North St. Paul and the Rev. Mike Tegeder of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis.

The Rev. Stephen O’Gara, recently retired pastor of Church of the Assumption in St. Paul, also has been a harsh critic of Nienstedt.

The archbishop has said he has no plans to step down. He has insisted the archdiocese has turned the corner on the clergy abuse scandal and is now “in a much better place.”

“And I would have to be convinced that my effectiveness to lead the archdiocese was nil,” Nienstedt said in a recent interview. “And I don’t believe it is. I have strong pockets of support — and other pockets that aren’t supportive. I’m working on that.”

Nienstedt said the only way he would resign is if the papal nuncio, the pope’s representative in the United States, “took action.”

Neither Nienstedt nor Kennedy could be reached Monday.

See also the previous PCV posts:
To Heal Church, Nienstedt Must Resign
Archbishop Niestedt Needs to Go. Now
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the Wound

Related Off-site Links:
Roman Catholicism's Fundamental Problem: The Cultic Priesthood and Its "Diseased System" of Clericalism – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 23, 2014).
Jennifer Haselberger Was Ignored, Bullied Before Blowing Whistle on Archdiocese, Records Show – Jesse Marx (City Pages, July 15, 2014).
MN Archdiocese Wanted to Label Marriage Equality-Supporting Priest ‘Disabled’ – Andy Birkey (, July 22, 2014).
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, July 14, 2014).
Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him? – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 1, 2014).