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Michael J. O’LoughlinNovember 20, 2016
New cardinals attend Pope Francis' celebration of the closing Mass of the jubilee Year of Mercy in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Nov. 20. U.S. Cardinals Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell and Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis are among those pictured. (CNS photo)

Three American bishops inducted this weekend into the church’s most exclusive club—the College of Cardinals—say that the division and polarization present in civil society is infecting the church and that it must stop.

“The problem that we have today, not only in society but also in the church, is that we’ve become too polarized,” Cardinal Kevin Farrell, an Irish-born prelate who was bishop of Dallas before taking over a Vatican department on family life earlier this year, told America. “We’ve believed that we’ve become gods on both sides, on the left and on the right, and neither one of them are correct.”

The days-long celebration in Rome was centered on a solemn ceremony inside St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday morning, Nov. 19, during which Pope Francis elevated 17 men to the rank of cardinal. They will advise the pope, and 13 of them are eligible to vote for his successor.

The service, called a consistory, was bookended by numerous celebrations and prayer services, and many of the U.S. pilgrims who traveled to Rome for the event described the mood in the city as jovial. But in the days leading up to the event, four cardinals, including U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, made their disagreements with the pope public—and even threatened a public rebuke if he ignored their questions.

At issue, they said, are ambiguities in one of the pope’s pastoral letters, “Amoris Laetitia.”

The letter is the pope’s summary of a two-year discussion of family issues held by bishops from around the world, including hot-button topics like divorce, homosexuality and a breakdown in societal support for families.

When he released the letter earlier this year, Francis asked bishops to reflect on the document and explore ways to implement his teaching in their dioceses. Some bishops have said the document’s emphasis on conscience, reconciliation and discernment opens the door to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, a view the pope himself seemed to endorse.

The four cardinals opposed to such an interpretation sent a letter to the Vatican in September asking for yes or no answers to five questions they have about the document. The pope chose not to respond, leading to threats of a public rebuke from Cardinal Burke.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago who was also made a cardinal this weekend, dismissed such concerns, and he said that those raising them may have to look inward for clarity. He pointed to an interview with Pope Francis published on Nov. 18 by the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, in which the pope spoke about individuals who want the world to be “black and white.”

“But life is full of ambiguity,” Cardinal Cupich said at a press briefing at the Pontifical North American College following the consistory. Cardinal Cupich, who was handpicked by Pope Francis to lead the church in Chicago, also downplayed the notion that there exists widespread opposition to the pope or that Francis should be forced to defend his teaching.

“I think there are enough voices out there in which the Holy Father doesn’t have to in any way defend a teaching document of the church,” he continued. “It’s up to those who have doubts or questions to have conversions in their lives.”

In an interview with America, Cardinal Joseph Tobin agreed that there isn’t widespread opposition, pointing to people such as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna who have said the pope’s teaching is magisterial. Cardinal Tobin said that some cardinals not on board with the pope are taking advantage of Francis when he encourages free and open dialogue, something he said was not as customary under previous popes.

“I think, it’s arguable, that in previous pontificates there wouldn’t have been the freedom to express this sort of stuff,” said Cardinal Tobin, who will leave his post in Indianapolis in January to lead the Archdiocese of Newark. “The pope teaches,” he said. “How it’s interpreted is done by somebody else.”

He also said that those opposed to the pope’s reforms are sometimes guided by a strong sense of legalism; something the pope, too, has suggested. “I think some people get it and understand that what he’s talking about is not just a sort of catechism of questions and answers but rather a recognition of the sanctity of conscience, as well as the obligation to form it, in the Catholic population,” he said.

Cardinal Cupich said that loyalty to the pope is an important part of being a cardinal, something that occurred to him during Saturday’s ceremony.

“There was a line in the script there that spoke of the special union but also obedience, of those who are cardinals to the Holy Father. I take that seriously,” he said.

He said that during a private chat with Pope Francis before the ceremony began, he promised to support the pope and to be “very faithful to the church and faithful to his Petrine ministry.”

During a fundraising gala benefitting Catholic Extension held inside the Vatican Museums that night, Cardinal Cupich revealed that during his tête-à-tête with the pope, Francis told him he was happy with his leadership in Chicago.

His response: “I like what you’re doing—keep up the good work, too!”


Jeremy Zipple, S.J., contributed to this report.

Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America and author of “The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters.” Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.


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William Rydberg
7 years 8 months ago
Be glad my brothers that other voices are still being heard... Not a month ago, 100 of 100 of America's top Newspapers condemended the American President-elect, and now he is approaching Inaguration with 290 Electoral College Votes when only 270 are required to win... The Society of Jesus for years has been hammered by many because of its strong turn to Social Justice under General Arrupe, yet they have had many successes in Christ... So why not deign to take a moment, and allow a seemingly contrarian group of voices to get heard. And receive an answer? This is the Church, not Saturday Night Live... And it's ridiculous in my opinion to suggest that only 4 old Cardinals in a Church of well over a billion souls have this "dubia" or question. I thought that one of the titles of the Pope is Servant of the Servants of Christ. Don't hammer people Fr asking questions-respectfully, answer... in Christ the King, Wisdom of God
Lisa Weber
7 years 8 months ago
Polarization undoubtedly exists in the church and it is lamentable. The question is how to have a dialogue within the church about important issues. I find it stunning that any man of the cloth could endorse an admitted sexual assailant for public office. Where do I express my dismay? Where do we have a dialogue about it? Is it possible that men simply do not understand how repugnant a man who brags about sexual assault is to women? If I am being asked to overlook such behavior and endorsements of it, my answer is "no." Being obedient is less important to me than maintaining my integrity.
Mary Emmick
7 years 8 months ago
Well said Lisa. As a wife, mother and grandmother I could never vote for Trump. I feel as if the U.S. Bishops find it easy to make pronouncements about how we should feel and act ..... Let's all be loving and sing Kumbaya while the house is burning down, your car was just stolen and someone just raided your life savings.
Kester Ratcliff
7 years 8 months ago
So, what's the opposite of polarization, in your view? Compromise? Dialogue and encounter? Some radical middle way (I wish I knew how)? Radical counter-reformation? Updating profoundly/ updating by deepening (aggiornamento profundamente)? Or, dare I say it, "conservatives" (of the new 'hey let's smash and burn everything with no plan what to replace it with yet" variety) actually read the bible (one can only assume, for a change)? How on earth do they actually read or pray the lectionary or the daily divine office and hold onto their views of what defines "Catholicism" as reactionary regressive hierarchicalism, aggressive authoritarianism and calling vicious hatred of all those they deem to be out-groups "religious freedom", while clinging to their "identity" as Catholics because they strictly follow (some of) the rules and follow a more "traditional" stylistically and superficially "solemn" form of liturgy (while not actually taking the *meaning* of the symbols seriously at all)? Sorry, I'm ranting, but it's sincere frustration and confusion: what are you actually saying or asking for? What kind of de-polarization are you calling for? There's no way I'm going to accept a nihilistic relativistic compromise for the sake of institutional self-preservation. There is objective truth to be found - probably we should consider that we are always in search of objectivity and can never totally comprehend it (Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 1961), but that doesn't mean it's all "just an opinion", or that we should compromise with those whose views are frankly evil. I actually don't understand why Pope Francis says he won't judge people or politicians. He could still express it in general terms "anyone who does ___", but I think he should have given clearer guidance before the election that the kind of views and policies which Trump and his supporters advocate are absolutely incompatible with Christianity and are objectively evil.
Mary Emmick
7 years 8 months ago
I could not vote for Trump but know lots of Catholics who did. They said that if you were Catholic you could not vote for Trump because he was going to be pro-life. I had many discussions about this with these people, some saying they would pray for my soul. Now we have an insane president-elect. No, this is not the time to be quiet and agree with the status quo.
7 years 8 months ago
Pope Francis sddressed the new Cardinals in a speech that is applicable to Catholics on the Left, Right and neither political spectrum. The election exposed how dark individuals on the Left /Right are. Some on these comment boards express frustration with the Right ( Hillary's "deplorables"). Others on the Right call out those on the Left who call out the Right for giving Bill Clinton a pass for raping women, Hillary enabling him and the so called Feminists being silent about the Clintons contempt towards Bill's victims. With all of the rock throwing, eye gouging and spitting, it is understandable why Americans are so depressed, anxious, lonely and broken. We have done it to ourselves just like in our medical chronic illnesses. Medically speaking we are the most toxic country in the world with our food chain, lifestyle choices, addictions and lack of self-regulation. Dante could write his Inferno today and find plenty of material in the life of Americans. Yet, neither the Left nor the Right bother to look within and see they are the problem and not their brother and sister on the other side. Pope Francis nailed it when addressing the new Cardinals. "Our first instinctive reaction in such cases is to dismiss, discredit or curse them,” Pope Francis said. “Often we try to ‘demonize’ them, so as to have a ‘sacred’ justification for dismissing them,” he went on to say. “Jesus,” continued Pope Francis, “tells us to do exactly the opposite with our enemies, those who hate us, those who curse us or slander us: we are to love them, to do good to them, to bless them and to pray for them.” http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/11/19/pope_francis_to_new_cardinals_be_living_signs_of_mercy/1273425 From the headlines of the New York Times v Wall Street Journal, Washington Post v NY Post, Huffington Post v Drudge Report, CNN v Fox, neither group hesitates in ripping the other apart. These are what Americans devour hourly on their phones, tablets and tv monitors in restaurants and more. It is all suicide. In our family at home we have chosen to turn off the news, and be a family of encounter. We engage parishioners, coworkers, neighbors, strangers on our family walks and we find a totally different world. It was with good reason that Mother Teresa of Calcutta said in the 1980s, "America's poverty is loneliness". She only mentioned the tip of the iceberg. Pope Francis is a prophetic voice to all Catholics but especially to the Left and the Right

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