• Those who have no idea what “Carl’s Cuts” are must be forgiven, as it has been nearly three—three!—years since the last edition of this rare but, um, interesting exercise in scattershot commentary. Much has happened since 2018. But let us dwell on the more immediate news and views.
• My not-published-but-certainly-wish-it-had-been headline for the week: “Bishop upset and bewildered that other bishops dared to mention Catholic doctrine in communication with Catholic layman”.
Others put it differently. “In rare rebuke, Cardinal Cupich criticizes USCCB president’s letter to President Biden” went the headline at America Magazine. “In Unprecedented Move, Cardinal Cupich Criticizes USCCB Statement on Joe Biden”, stated the National Catholic Register.
Full disclosure: my low opinion of Cardinal Cupich is not a secret. I wrote a CWR piece in February 2015 in which I asked a number of questions about this so-called “Francis bishop” (he was even called “America’s Pope Francis” by one effusive TV talking head) who was detached, rarely in his diocese (Spokane, at that time), created a legal dumpster fire while there, and then left quite a few good Catholic perplexed and frustrated after he got sent on to Chicago. (And my last “Carl’s Cuts” took a long look at one of Cupich’s curious columns in 2018.)
This latest incident merely reinforces what has been my view for a while now: Cardinal Cupich is quite obsessed with power but is oddly uncomfortable with apostolic authority. The background is both fairly simple even if somewhat convoluted. Early on January 20th, the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration, The Pillar—operated by JD Flynn and Ed Condon—reported, “The U.S. bishops’ conference held back a statement on incoming President Joe Biden Wednesday morning, after officials from the Vatican Secretariat of State intervened before the statement could be released.”
After Biden was sworn into office just before noon EST, the Vatican released a fairly standard note from Pope Francis, stating, “I pray that your decisions will be guided by a concern for building a society marked by authentic justice and freedom, together with unfailing respect for the rights and dignity of every person, especially the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice.”
Not long afterwards, the USCCB posted the delayed statement from José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles and President of the Conference. It read, in part:
Working with President Biden will be unique, however, as he is our first president in 60 years to profess the Catholic faith. In a time of growing and aggressive secularism in American culture, when religious believers face many challenges, it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions. Mr. Biden’s piety and personal story, his moving witness to how his faith has brought him solace in times of darkness and tragedy, his longstanding commitment to the Gospel’s priority for the poor — all of this I find hopeful and inspiring.
At the same time, as pastors, the nation’s bishops are given the duty of proclaiming the Gospel in all its truth and power, in season and out of season, even when that teaching is inconvenient or when the Gospel’s truths run contrary to the directions of the wider society and culture. So, I must point out that our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.
Our commitments on issues of human sexuality and the family, as with our commitments in every other area — such as abolishing the death penalty or seeking a health care system and economy that truly serves the human person — are guided by Christ’s great commandment to love and to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable.
For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the “preeminent priority.” Preeminent does not mean “only.” We have deep concerns about many threats to human life and dignity in our society. But as Pope Francis teaches, we cannot stay silent when nearly a million unborn lives are being cast aside in our country year after year through abortion.
Cardinal Cupich was clearly angered by the text, as he got on Twitter to lambast the statement by Gomez as “ill-considered” and “seemingly” without “precedent”, before lamenting the supposed lack of “collegial consultation”. The “internal institutional failures involved must be addressed,” said Cupich, whose outrage at supposed failures in bureaucratic processes is duly noted in the context of a “Catholic” President whose pro-abortion, pro-“gay marriage”, and pro-transgenderism stances have been, shall we say, blatantly obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.
As one acquaintance wrote to me: “Would [Cupich] ever have criticized Biden as harshly as he is criticizing Gomez and the USCCB?” Well, no, of course not. To ask the question is to laugh at the question.
Again, I’m convinced this is very much about grasping after power while failing to uphold authority. Or, as Christopher Altieri put in a November 12, 2018 CWR report, after Cardinal Cupich essentially stalled and crashed whatever vehicle might have existed for the U.S. bishops to address the matter of bishops accused of sexual abuse: “Francis appears more concerned with making sure everyone understands that he’s in charge, than he is with actually governing.” That also applies to Cupich. And Cupich is Francis’s man in the USCCB; the tensions there are fairly obvious, it seems to me, even to those without any inside scoops or sources.
Meanwhile, The Pillar notes that Cupich’s complaint about the process of drafting and publishing the USCCB statement is—in my words—much ado about nothing:
Bishops told The Pillar that Cupich’s procedural concerns reflect neither the policy nor the customary practices of the USCCB.
One bishop provided to The Pillar the official policy of the bishops’ conference on statements from the conference president: “In circumstances of special urgency, the President of USCCB may issue statements in his own name as President. Circumstances permitting, he should first consult with the Executive Committee and with the appropriate USCCB chairman or chairmen.” …
The Pillar has confirmed that Gomez did consult with members of the executive committee before his Jan. 20 statement was released, and with several other USCCB chairmen, who served on a special working group on the Biden administration that Gomez announced in November.
And, of course, no comment from Cupich. No doubt he’s been on the phone to Rome.
• I, for one, was quite happy to see the statement from Gomez. But saying, as the Archbishop does, that Biden “clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions” while referencing the President’s “piety” is hard to align with the correct observation that “our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity.” What sort of piety, exactly, facilitates evil? What sort of deep faith encourages direct attacks on fundamental Catholic teaching about life, personhood, humanity, marriage, sexuality, procreation, and much more? Now, I do understand the rhetorical approach and I also understand the implicit appeal to the new President. That said, it’s a jarring juxtaposition.
• Still, the direct nature of the second half of the statement is both welcomed and needed. In a glowing January 17, 2021 piece of WaPo hagiography that makes most ancient stories of saints read like works of rigorous, northern European scholarship, Biden cheerleader Michelle Boorstein proclaims: “Joe Biden’s Catholicism is all about healing.” But the more accurate descriptive is found later in the piece, when Villanova University’s Massimo Faggioli—the author of an upcoming “spiritual biography of the president-elect”—flatly states: “Joe Biden is a Catholic in the public square who doesn’t take lectures from bishops about what being Catholic is about. This is totally new…”
The first part of that statement is remarkable, as those familiar with Faggioli on Twitter know how challenged he can be by facts, arguments, and inconvenient truths. Now, it’s not as if Catholic bishops in the U.S. are known for directly correcting and “lecturing” specific Catholic politicians (a recent exception to that is noted below). And, no, it isn’t all that new, as the list of Catholic politicians who thumb their noses at the bishops and the Catholic Faith is long, dreary, and, well, long. It’s essentially a sort of pseudo-sacred tradition among many progressive Catholics.
• Boorstein is quite taken with the notion that Biden wants to be or should be a “healer”. Personally, I’d welcome a President who emphatically denounced the deeply unhealthy, even disturbing, notions of the POTUS as a healer, buddy, savior, light-bearer, life coach, emotional crutch, deified dandy, glorified guru, and, yes, even “uniter”.
• Biden, writes Boorstein, “has long pushed back on the idea that, for him, faith must lead to policies.”
“I’m prepared to accept doctrine on a whole range of issues as a Catholic. … I’m prepared to accept as a matter of faith — my wife and I, my family — the issue of abortion. But what I’m not prepared to do is impose a rigid view, a precise view … that is born out of my faith, on other people who are equally God-fearing, equally as committed to life,” Biden told the Jesuit magazine America in a 2015 videotaped interview.
The notion that Catholic opposition to abortion is a matter of faith is simply false. It’s an excuse. It’s not even a good or convincing excuse, thought it seemingly works well for media puppets. Catholic teaching on abortion and life is rooted in science, commonsense, and natural law, as Pope Francis noted back in 2019:
“Is it legitimate to take out a human life to solve a problem?” Francis asked attendees at a Vatican conference on the issue, repeating one of his most contentious remarks on the issue. “Is it permissible to contract a hitman to solve a problem?”
A decision to abort based on medical information about an ill fetus amounted to “inhuman eugenics,” he said, and denied families the chance to welcome the weakest of children. He argued that using abortion as a mode of “prevention” could never be condoned, and that such a position had “nothing to do” with faith.
“Human life is sacred and inviolable and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective purposes should be discouraged with strength,” Francis said.
Nothing to do with faith. Exactly right. The truly perverse thing is that Biden and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians actually cite their “faith” as a reason for supporting abortion as they don’t wish to “force” their “faith” on others. Strangely enough, they end up forcing abortion as a right on all of us—and seem fine with forcing nearly everything else on us as well. Go figure.
• It’s almost as if the power to allow the unborn to be killed provides the impetus and drive to increasingly dictate what the living should do and think on a nearly minute-by-minute basis. Isn’t that what liberals used to criticize Christianity for supposedly doing? Turns out that many of them weren’t upset by the loss of freedom but by their frustrated desire to call the shots and implement their own religion. But I digress.
• Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone has had enough:
On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized prolife voters who voted for Donald Trump on the abortion issue, saying their votes cause her “great grief as a Catholic” and accusing them of “being willing to sell the whole democracy down the river for that one issue.”
Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, issued the following statement in response:
“To begin with the obvious: Nancy Pelosi does not speak for the Catholic Church. She speaks as a high-level important government leader, and as a private citizen. And on the question of the equal dignity of human life in the womb, she also speaks in direct contradiction to a fundamental human right that Catholic teaching has consistently championed for 2,000 years.
Cardinal Cupich could not be reached for comment.
• Finally, on a lighter note, a bit about music (longtime readers know that I’m something of a music nut). These past few days I’ve been quite taken with Charlie Peacock’s “Skin and Wind” album, which is an exceptional collection of introspective, sophisticated songs by a remarkably eclectic Christian musician, singer, song-writer, and producer. I went back and listened to some older Peacock albums and was struck by these lyrics from his 1996 song “No Insult Like the Truth”, from the fine album titled Strangelanguage:
I’ve run my ship aground
on the rocks of the soul
There’s no lie like independence
there’s no demon like control
I’ve fanned the burning embers
til my house was on fire
There’s no parody like power
There’s no fever like desire
I’ve drained the wine of darkness
to the dregs of deceit
There’s no drug as strong as pride
There’s no blindness like conceit
I’ve railed against the mountain
With a pickaxe and a file
There’s no minefield like presumption
There’s no death wish like denial
There’s no gunshot like conviction
There’s no conscience bulletproof
There’s no strength like utter weakness
There’s no insult like the truth
Seems even more timely now than it was 25 years ago.
• Meanwhile, I recently posted—on the Spirit of Cecilia site, operated by the wonderful Bradley Birzer—my favorite 20 jazz albums of 2020, followed by my 20 favorite albums of “everything else”: rock, country, prog, and, yes, sacred music.
• Finally, a quote from Saint Augustine that has been rattling around in my head for a few days: “There are three unions in this world: Christ and the Church, husband and wife, spirit and flesh.” Amen.
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