Pope Francis selected Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, to succeed Francis Cardinal George as the next archbishop of Chicago.
Because this is one of Pope Francis’ first major selections, some observers of the Catholic Church were hoping he would pick someone who fit into the image the media constructed of him as a pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage social justice warrior. He was supposed to be a departure from the supposedly archconservative, anti-gay Pope Benedict XVI.
The national news media and, even more disappointingly, some Catholic/Christian news organizations eagerly reported that Blase Cupich was a moderate, middle-of-the-road social justice advocate, who not as concerned with issues such as abortion or marriage.
Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press wrote of Cupich: “As the leader of two American dioceses, Roman Catholic Bishop Blase Cupich has staked out a firm position in the middle of the road. He has spoken out against same-sex marriage and against conservative hostility toward gay rights advocates. He has opposed abortion, while urging parishioners and priests to have patience, not disdain, for those who disagree.”
David Gibson of the Relgious News Service wrote in the opening lines of one of his articles, “Pope Francis on Saturday will name Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, a prelate closely identified with the Catholic Church’s progressive wing, to be the next archbishop of Chicago … It is the pontiff’s most important U.S. appointment to date and one that could upend decades of conservative dominance of the American hierarchy.”
But media outlets keep getting the story wrong.
A common theme of the articles written about Cupich’s appointment is that he is a moderate who has staked out a more reserved ground on abortion and marriage.
Two pieces of evidence that allegedly show this are Cupich’s handling of priests praying outside of abortion clinics, and his letter to parishioners about the state of Washington and same-sex marriage.
Cupich is supposedly not as pro-life as Francis Cardinal George because he discouraged priests and seminarians from praying outside abortion clinics. But that is more of a disagreement over the best way to persuade people to the cause, not whether or not abortion is morally acceptable.
Cupich has proven his pro-life bona fides plenty of times, writing for example in America, the Jesuit magazine, of the need to oppose both abortion and the death penalty.
“Our assertion that the value of a human life does not depend upon an individual’s quality of life or age or moral worth must apply to both the child in the womb and the criminal on death row,” wrote Cupich in a January 2007 article titled “How Unconditional is the Right to Life?”
In a January 2013 homily at a Respect Life Mass, Cupich said, “We are here on behalf of the babies in the womb, inspired not by partisanship or pursuit of privilege or power, but by the same passion of patriotism that united a nation to mourn the loss of those babies in Newtown.”
He went on to say, “The tear in the fabric of our nation wrought by no defense of the children of the future cannot be fixed with a patchwork of defending only those fortunate to see the light of day, permitted to take that first breath or enjoy the work of their own hands. No, we are saying that we need a new cloak that covers all.”
The claim Cupich is not as vocally pro-life as Francis Cardinal George or that he wants to shy away from abortion as a serious issue holds no water.
The second claim is that Cupich broke new ground by writing in a letter to his parishioners about same-sex marriage asking them not to be hostile or violent towards gay people.
This claim that this is new ground for the Church is also false.
David Gibson wrote for the Religious News Service, “Cupich also gained notice in 2012 by adopting a moderate line when Washington voters went to the polls to vote in a referendum to legalize same-sex marriage… Cupich defended the church’s position against same-sex marriage, but he called for a respectful debate and condemned any attempt to… promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of [homosexual persons] human dignity.”
But examining the letter shows Cupich did not intend to break new ground. In fact, after Cupich tells his parishioners to vote against the referendum to redefine marriage, he reminds them:
“But, I also want to be very clear that in stating our position the Catholic Church has no tolerance for the misuse of this moment to incite hostility towards homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity.”
He then references a 2006 statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that says the same.
Cupich’s words are not unprecedented. In 1968, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs” in Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.
Ratzinger would later become Pope Benedict XVI.
Matt Lamb is a contributing columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org