Saturday, February 25, 2006

Chicago Cathedral Demonstration Backs Embattled Cardinal

{Note: This is another news analysis in The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic newspaper. As many of you may have seen in the “Readers’ Comments” on this blog, a good friend, Loyola University associate professor of theology—probably the only truly authenticist theologian at the University, frequent breakfast partner and lively conversationalist Sundays after mass at St. John Cantius--Dr. Dennis Martin, has taken serious issue with me for publishing these articles which can be viewed as critical of the Cardinal. He says I should make my views known privately to the Cardinal and not by these articles. Thus he maintains I bring harm to the church. That, to me, an orthodox believer, is a serious charge and gives me pause. But to me, the fact that the Cardinal himself says he has erred justifies these reports. As a convert, Dennis believes, strongly, that the faithful can be scandalized and some can be estranged by too public a criticism of some bishops. I think I’ll have to take my chances in the Hereafter since I believe strongly that people in the pews should have a voice in the struggle for reform, which, to my mind, these articles illustrate. You should know that of all the newspapers in the nation—religious and secular—The Wanderer was first to report demonstrable cases of abuse by certain priests and bishops extending back some 30 years. Not the National Catholic Reporter, nor the Boston Globe but this paper that some snooty Catholics believe is quaint but is really cutting-edge. I believe information is essential for the clean-up. Therefore, Dennis, I hope this doesn’t interfere with our friendship but I will continue. To readers: Your own views on this matter and Dennis’ are welcomed in “Readers’ Comments.”]

CHICAGO—For one who began last week at the bottom of the heap emotionally because of initial failed handling of a priest-abuse scandal, Francis Cardinal George was bolstered Sunday by an impromptu ad hoc demonstration of supporters crowding the steps of Holy Name Cathedral, waving home-made signs, banners and rosaries and proclaiming over bull-horn, “We love our Cardinal!”

As all major television outlets and newspapers recorded the action, the demonstration showed powerful support for Cardinal George from congregants in the pews who are heartened because he accepted blame and has expressed contrition for recent alleged sexual improprieties by priests while unjustly criticized by a bevy of media talking heads for alleged abuses that took place some thirty years ago. Foremost in the attacks has been the city’s most powerful liberal Catholic woman, Appellate Justice Anne Burke, a fixture in the Democratic party. The low-point in the crowd’s estimation has been one very liberal pastor (worshipful of the late priest-lenient Joseph Cardinal Bernardin) who suggested that Cardinal George resign as archbishop. A rumor has circulated that the forced resignation of the Cardinal as archbishop, a gentle, humble man imbued with admirable theological and philosophical clarity, has been a goal of some who wish for an ultra-pragmatic successor in the mold of Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles.

The effrontery of the priest calling for George to step down triggered outrage among hundreds of parishioners who want an end to pedaphilia certainly, but also with long-winded television interviews from so-called survivors of alleged abuses by priests thirty years ago—which has caused suspicion in some quarters that tales of the long-ago so- called incidents may have been resurrected or invented for the benefit of expensive law-suits against the archdiocese, designed to bankrupt it. Demonstration chairman John McCartney, a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher, alluded to this in an address on the Cathedral steps. McCartney, a legendary pro-lifer leader who has been jailed for his peaceful protests before abortion clinics, declared that alleged incidents from decades past which few could attest to could cause the Catholic school system to go belly-up and strand a generation of students. His words, spoken by a decorated veteran of the Korean War who endured freezing weather while his detachment was cut-off from the main army at the Chosin Reservoir, drew warm support and cheers.

The rally was supported by Catholic Citizens of Illinois and other groups including Legatus, the organization of Catholic CEOs. The Knights of Columbus were in attendance including a number of grand knights. More than 250 chanting, singing, praying demonstrators mobilized seemingly overnight. The rally was not long-planned or done with the support or even the concurrence of the chancery. The Cathedral rector was merely told the demonstration would be held on the church steps. True to form, the creaking church bureaucracy that thinks slowly and reacts even slower, initially accepted the idea that the demonstration would be held but did not assent to it. While the bureaucracy mulled it over, planners moved ahead.

But as soon as the crowd appeared, the archdiocese decided the rally should be moved far from the public, to an auditorium at the rear of the Cathedral—par for the course given the chancery’s exquisite sense of timing. As the crowd milled around on the steps, a tight-lipped, almost hostile archdiocese female official importuned a demonstration organizer to move the crowd away from the steps. She jerked a thumb toward the auditorium and said the Cathedral rector wished the session to be held there.

“Sorry,” said the organizer, politely, “the rector’s too late. He should have thought of that three days ago.” She grimaced, walked away and re-appeared with the rector who shyly agreed it should be moved. The organizer said, “I said you should have thought of that three days ago, Father.” He gulped, nodded and moved away.

But the staffer made another futile attempt. She reappeared from the crowd and declared: “Cardinal George—the Cardinal you are supporting today now says you should move it to the Auditorium!” “Really,” the organizer said. “You got to him just like that, did you? Nope; it’s too late. The demonstration has begun on the Cathedral steps and will end there.” Movement to the auditorium would have lost the cameras and caused the rally to decline to the status of a neighborhood tea.

All the while, Chicago’s finest—the city police—fumed that the group had no parade permit. But by the standards of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, if a demonstration is not a politically welcomed labor, civil rights of gay rights matter, the city would spend endless hours poring over requisite papers as winter melted into spring and early summer. One volunteer, a prominent law firm partner, said with a wink that it was better to risk a slap-on-the-wrist city censure for an unscheduled demonstration than to endure the wait for permission, recognizing that by the time of issuance Cardinal George and many of the demonstration organizers might be dead of old age by virtue of natural causes.

As the crowd cheered on the steps, it seemed to be acceptably large but someone shouted and pointed down the street to a massed parade of reinforcements, like the cavalry galloping into the last movie reel. It was priests, seminarians, deacons and parishioners from St. John Cantius, on the near west side, the city’s mother-house of authentic Catholicism, peopled by young men and women, shouting in military style “cadence-count, one-two-three-four” coming with more banners and joyous songs to join the demonstration. Yet another crowd appeared from St. Henry’s parish carrying a huge yellow and white papal banner, eliciting a shout of approval from the crowd as police and the lady from the Cathedral staff groaned. Moreover another group appeared from St. Mary of the Angels, the Opus Dei church accompanied by none other than the Most Rev. Peter Armenio, regional head of Opus Dei, who addressed the group.

A delegation from Joliet, IL showed up along with a group from Immaculate Conception parish in Chicago. Msgr. Philip Dempsey, pastor of St. Philip the Apostle church in suburban Northfield—a nationally known journalist—was on hand. He was for ten years editor of the English language version of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservotore Romano. Also parishioners of St. Mary’s church in Lake Forest and St. Joseph’s in Wilmette. At the edge of the crowd the frantic woman staffer from the Cathedral was still trying to move the rally but, viewing the forest of TV microphones, gave up.

Then the speeches started, with McCartney serving as master of ceremonies. “People hate Cardinal George because he stands for the truth,” said Chiicagoan Kelly Ames, a young marketing executive through a bull-horn and waving a rosary of redwood beads. “We cannot lose him! We cannot let people get him down! He’s been taking most of the blame and he is in 100 percent support of all the victims!” Removing George is not the answer, would be the worst thing to happen, she said, because “the answer is chastity, faith, hope and obedience!”

The crowd of authenticist Catholics here applied the tactics usually performed by a group angered at Cardinal George, called SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). SNAP has been particularly adept at performing television sound bytes but the few members who stood at the edge of the crowd appeared to be stunned at the enthusiasm of the newly-formed “Catholics for the Cardinal.” There were times the gathering took on the character of a college pep rally, drawing enthusiasm from the young members chanting, “Two, four, six, eight! Who do we appreciate? Cardinal George! Cardinal George!”

Nowhere was the essence of the rally more adroitly captured than by northwest side residents Pablo and Liz Bottari-Tower who came to the rally with their 1-year-old son Christopher, who had met the Cardinal twice., “If there’s a problem, we need to correct it and he’s already taken the measures,” they told the Tribune. “We don’t see what else he can do!”

The demonstration captured major attention on NBC, CBS,, ABC, Fox News and WGN-TV in Chicago which also showed Cardinal George expressing gratitude for the turn-out, not disowning it but proclaiming he was heartened by the support.

Why, then, did some of the clergy and Cathedral officials want to dampen the demonstration by moving it away from the Cathedral steps? “Because,” said the law firm partner, “the nature of the church’s officialdom is bureaucratic, timidity, fright and uncertainty. It’s a legacy of weakness and supine-ness. If this demonstration did anything, it’s shown that ordinary Catholics like us respect a man of great intelligence and incisiveness, like Cardinal George who is moving to correct abuses against young people and at the same time not going to allow a bunch of greedy litigators to bankrupt the diocese in lawsuits based on something that may or may not have happenbed a generation ago!”

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