Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Tale of Two Archbishops: George of Chicago and Burke of St. Louis.

Reprinted from The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic newspaper, published February 7, 2008..

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—This is a sharply contrasting tale of two archbishops.

1. FRANCIS CARDINAL GEORGE, Archbishop of Chicago..

Two years ago last month (January), Fr. Daniel McCormack was arrested for molesting boys. He is now in prison, having pleaded guilty. During the time he was awaiting sentencing for this crime, he vacationed at a house owned by several priests including a very high official of the Chicago archdiocese.

Moreover, as a recent posting by religion writer, Susan Hogan/Albach on the Chicago Sun-Times blog “Divinity & Beyond” has shown, since he was imprisoned, every single archdiocese official who had the responsibility to oversee the McCormack scandal has been promoted to higher posts within the Church. Hogan/Albach has been one of the outstanding reporters of clerical abuse in Chicago journalism history. Here is her run-down on those who have been elevated since the McCormack conviction (which was only the latest in a lamentable series of moral and legal offenses in Chicago):

“At the height of the sexual abuse scandals in 2002,” Hogan/Albach writes, “U.S. Catholic bishops adopted a policy calling for the removal of any priest credibly accused of child molestation. Beforehand, George had argued repeatedly on national television that the `zero tolerance’ policy was too stringent. McCormack was first picked up by police on August 20, 2005 but was not charged. The cardinal’s review board recommended that the priest be removed from the ministry, the archdiocese said. But the cardinal refused. McCormack went on to abuse other children. He pleaded guilty last July and was sent to prison.” Promotion: Four months later Cardinal Francis George was elected president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop George Rassas.

“When McCormack was first arrested in 2005, Rassas was the archdiocese’s vicar general. Despite the arrest, he allowed McCormack to receive a priestly promotion as dean of his local deanery. The priest was kept in the West Side parish he served and went on to abuse more children. McCormack was arrested again in 2006.” Promotion: A few weeks after this event, Rassas was elevated to auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Chicago.

Vicar General John Canary.

“Fr. John Canary was vice rector of Mundelein seminary when McCormack was studying for the priesthood. Mundelein officials learned in 1992 about sexual allegations against McCormack involving two adult males and a minor. The incidents began in 1988 when McCormack was at a seminary school known as Niles College” where Canary was a top official, according to archdiocesan reports. “Canary said the allegations were noted in seminary records, which then `disappeared.’ Canary later became seminary rector.” Promotion: In 2006 he was promoted to vicar general, a position that became open when Rassas was elevated to auxiliary bishop.

Chancellor Jimmy Lago.

The name “Jimmy” is his baptismal name, not a term of endearment (his brother is named “Timmy”). Lago is the first layman to be named chancellor in archdiocesan history. “As the archdiocese’s chancellor, Lago oversees the offices that handle sexual abuse. After McCormack’s arrest, Lago told another media outlet that he regretted `that he was on vacation’ when the priest was first arrested in 2005. And `not in the loop’ when a school principal came forward in 1999 with the first allegation against him. Not aware of McCormack? Really? Lago called for a so-called `independent’ investigation into how McCormack slipped through the archdiocese’s system.’ In releasing the report, the tough-talking chancellor was hailed as a hero with unquestioning acceptance by the Chicago Tribune.” She asks: “Should Lago have been fired?” Lago who once marched with Caesar Chavez and ran Catholic Charities was cited as the best Democratic precinct captain former Cook county Democratic chairman Ed Vrdolyak ever had in an interview with this reporter. Promotion: The Cardinal extended Lago’s contract in the face of severe criticism and announced he was giving him responsibility over clerical sexual abuse cases--although it had been assumed that as Chancellor, who is responsible for administrative direction over archdiocesan affairs, Lago had had that responsibility all along. At any rate it was a reaffirmation of Cardinal George’s confidence in Lago.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas.

“While rector of Mundelein seminary in the 1990s, Tucson bishop Gerald Kicanas says he knew all about the reports of “sexual improprieties” against then-seminarian Daniel McCormack. Still, Kicanas supported McCormack’s ordination, he recently told the Sun-Times.” Reporter Hogan/Albach scored a national beat as religion reporter by getting this Kicanas quote: “It would have been grossly unfair not to have ordained him. There was a sense that his activity was part of the developmental process and that he had learned from that experience. I was more concerned about his drinking. We sent him to counseling for that.” McCoramck was ordained in 1994. Promotions: Several promotions came to Kicanas after the McCormack debacle. First, following the event, he was promoted auxiliary bishop of Chicago. Second, he was appointed bishop of Tucson in 2001 by Pope John Paul II. Third, earlier this year he was elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and—a likely fourth—he is slated to succeed Cardinal George as president.

Now for an interesting conclusion to the story. Hogan/Albach has just lost her job with the Sun-Times because the paper is downsizing (while the paper continues to run a religion column by one Cathleen Falsani, a liberal who celebrated the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell by writing “ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead”). Is there a connection between her national news-beat coverage of Kicanas and her firing? Well it would not be surprising if it were since the Sun-Times is the liberal newspaper of record in Chicago which is a highly political town. If her firing carries significance, nobody at the Suin-Times will say so. She’s due to begin shortly as a special religion correspondent for The Chicago Daily Observer, the 5-day-a-week Internet newspaper of which I am editor.

Authenticist Catholics feel that Cardinal George is a distinct improvement over the last prelate, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin in that George has a thorough command of scholastic philosophy and theology, as Bernardin did not. Until his seminary days, Bernardin was educated in public schools and his knowledge of theology and philosophy was scant. But from the standpoint of results from George’s superb theological command, the practical benefits are very slight.

The very liberal Bernardin ran the archdiocese as its CEO, in his office every day at the Chancery on Superior street, accessible to all, glorying in an Italiante style of rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies and in close touch with all the political levers of Chicago, Illinois and the U.S. Conference of Bishops which as its first executive he shrewdly politicized. In contrast, George is reclusive, works mainly out of his mansion on State street (he goes to the office only for formal meetings) and thus is accessible to very few on a daily intimate basis. Those who seek his guidance are usually forced to go through his executive assistant. Even so when controversy looms, he parses his language so adroitly that few—his priests or the media—fully understand his real meaning. A favorite game in the chancery is called “what does he mean by that?”

The hands-on running of the archdiocese he leaves to others including Jimmy Lago who applies old-school Democratic political legerdemain to the task. Thus with no daily availability in the office, a style that depends on an assistant to communicate concerns to him, the opaque language that issues forth from the mansion and Lago’s imperious commands, there is timidity and little discernible attempt at reform.

While he has criticized the proclivity of DePaul University to disseminate non-Catholic and anti-Catholic tracts to students taking its infamous Queer Studies 101 minor, Cardinal George has evidently taken the position that nothing further can be done. He is reportedly impressed with the DePaul president, Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM, because Holtschneider has expressed a wish to make the institution “more Catholic.” However there is not only no effort in that regard but the school has become not just more non-Catholic but vehemently anti-Catholic under Holtschneider’s tenure which has not been helped by the powerful presence of Msgr. Kenneth Velo as vice president and prime fund-raiser, Velo having been a key adviser to the late Cardinal Bernardin. .

Cardinal George has it within his power to strip the university of its Catholic designation—which the university has been trading on in its marketing, operating a flagrant bait and switch operation where it misrepresents itself as Catholic. Evidently the Cardinal has decided to do nothing. For one thing, DePaul is sacrosanct to the ruling Democratic Irish families in the archdiocese. Besides, George’s role as president of the USCCB is expected to take up even more time from the management of the Chicago archdiocese.

On the issue of denying Catholic pro-abortion lawmakers the Eucharist in a state where the Catholic majority whip of the U.S. Senate, Dick Durbin, is a fervent supporter of abortion rights and where the Catholic Chicago mayor, Catholic Cook county officials state constitutional officers are pro-abort, the Cardinal will not agree to do so. Timidity reigns.

2. RAYMOND BURKE, Archbishop of St. Louis.

In contrast, Archbishop Burke of St. Louis, who received his doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian university in Rome, publicly stated that John Kerry and other Catholic politicians of both parties who pursue pro-abortion policies should not receive the Eucharist based on two articles of canon law which state that the Eucharist should not be given to people who obstinately and publicly persist in serious sin and those who are conscious of being in serious sin should not receive the Eucharist. He has also stated that Catholic voters who support pro-abortion candidates are in grave sin and shouldn’t receive the Eucharist without having their sin absolved through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Moreover the archbishop has backed his view up with action. On April 25, 2007 singer Sheryl Crow, who espouses abortion rights, was scheduled to perform at a benefit concert for the Cardinal Glennon Children’s hospital, the archbishop resigned as chairman of the hospital’s foundation board of directors. He had asked that the Crow invitation be rescinded but it was not as Glennon secularists pleaded protocol impossibility. Thereupon the archbishop resigned as chairman of the hospital’s foundation board of directors—a step that many believe will seriously maim the institution’s fund-raising. This is in contrast to the Chicago experience where the Mercy Home for Boys & Girls invited U. S. Senator Hillary Clinton to address its fund-raiser while in Chicago which Cardinal George was reported first as not knowing, then as knowing and approving, then as not knowing and not approving—a regrettable occurrence but uncancellable because of protocol.

The most dramatic step taken by the courageous Burke happened last week when he denounced not just a prominent Jesuit university in his see but its most popular athletic coach which in many ways is far more gutsy than challenging a pro-abort politician. He challenged none other than Rick Majerus, head of basketball at Saint Louis University. Saint Louis University was a college basketball asterisk until Majerus took over there. He is an icon in college basketball and when he came to St. Louis he was heralded as a hero. No wonder since he is regarded as one of the keenest minds in basketball and during his time as head basketball coach at the University of Utah he led its teams to 10 NCAA tournament championships in 13 years, a record that gained him national recognition. He was selected as the Basketball Times and UPI coach of the year in 1991 and the John Wooden coach of the year in 1992. Prior to that he led Ball State to a 29 to 3 record. When Saint Louis University hired him it was a national sports news story.

Besides, Majerus is a heavy fan favorite and cult figure in college basketball. Always an outspoken liberal Democrat and pro-abort, the Catholic Majerus was at a recent Hillary Clinton rally in suburban St. Louis and when someone stuck a TV camera and mike in his face he made a vehement case for abortion rights. Indeed, Majerus has made no bones about his pro-abortion stand wherever he coaches. But his statement in St. Louis, led to a strong condemnation by Archbishop Burke who suggested that officials at Saint Louis University “take appropriate action “ against him. “I’m, concerned that a leader at a Catholic university made those comments,” Burke said. “It can lead Catholics astray. I just believe that it’s of the essence for people to understand as a Catholic, you just cannot hold these beliefs.”

Majerus told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he does not “speak for the university or the Catholic Church” which is disingenuous. Suppose one of his assistants publicly questioned Majerus’ defense philosophy of basketball, saying all the while that his words do not reflect the athletic program or an official view of the university. . How long would he last?

The glaring difference between prelates and how they measure up to fighting secularism—Francis George of Chicago and Raymond Burke of St. Louis—is clear to discern.

So clear that in Chicago, authenticist Catholics who acknowledge George’s theological literacy and eloquence, see very little in form of results from a pattern of parsing, nuance, equivocation and university seminar-style deference to bureaucracy.


  1. Archbishop Burke's approach suggests he wishes he were Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, or a Southern Baptist leader, someone who could drive millions of votes with a flick of his finger. He also brings to mind the old crack about Colonel McCormick of the Tribune having the finest mind of the 14th century.
    But rather than debate Burke's dogma, I suggest readers google him at Riverfront Times, the alternative weekly of St. Louis. You will find a very interesting article about some strange characters he brought into his previous diocese in Wisconsin.

  2. Bill,

    I have read 4 articles now in the Riverfront Times. None of them show much of anything about Archbishop Burke that hasn't happened to anyone in authority.

    It does seem that an author named "Malcom Gay" has an axe to grind, but is very short on facts.


  3. Reading about Burke made me think he was very brave for standing up for the Church's ideals, but then I thought again. It isn't necessarily heroic, because there wasn't any risk. Sure, leaving the fundraising committee at Glennon hospital might have been unpopular, but standing up for the Church's stance on protecting the unborn won't lose him is job. Nor, if he criticized Majerus, would the Pope unseat him. Burke is living up to the responsibilities of his job and leading by example.

    So if Burke is unafraid to do his job, what stops Cardinal George from doing his?

  4. In case you don't care for Riverfront Times' spin, just do a google for Father Timothy Svea, the head of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the order Bishop Burke brought into the La Crosse Diocese. Svea pleaded guilty in 2002 to exposing himself and molesting teenage boys. This was reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wausau Herald, among other places.

  5. Hi Bill,

    I am very familiar with the case of Fr. Svea. ICKSP is a religious order, not under the hierarchical jurisdiction of Archbishop Burke. I have yet to read, or hear that Archbishop Burke made much of an error in his handling of the case, which he has very little control of.

    ICKSP is thriving in Wassau, Chicago, as well as St. Louis. They must be doing something right to draw such a large audience, and nationwide following.

    You should search a bit longer if you are looking for some reason to condemn Archbishop Burke.


  6. I would appreciate your permission to use information regarding bishop Kicanas and the rev. McCormack form that article. I plan on using it in a blog, Voice From The Desert regarding the interview quotes of Kicanas from your article.