Euros and Democrats blame us for our bad image abroad, but so does at least one prince of the church. That’s Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who told a seminary audience in Chicago a few days ago:
“The world distrusts us not because we are rich and free. Many of us are not rich, and some of us aren't especially free. They distrust us because we are deaf and blind, because too often we don't understand and make no effort to understand," he said.
"We have this cultural proclivity that says, 'We know what is best and if we truly want to do something, whether in church or in society, no one has the right to tell us no.' That cultural proclivity, which defines us in many ways, has to be surrendered, or we will never be part of God's kingdom."
He has talked this way before. In September, 2002, at a downtown club luncheon sponsored by Lumen Christi Institute, a U. of Chicago campus organization, and the Catholic Lawyers Guild, he fingered the U.S. government as the enemy.
Church leaders could one day be prosecuted for refusing to ordain women and bless homosexual unions, he told this audience, adding that he hoped they would be with him when he went to jail. The going-to-jail scenario is something he could not have imagined two years earlier, he said. He did not say what changed his mind, except to identify it with a pattern of expanding domestic "police power."
Overseas, in his 12 years (1974–86) as a Rome-based world traveller for his religious congregation, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate — something he mentioned also in the recent sermon — he felt welcome as a Catholic, except in communist countries, but suspect as an American. In the U.S. he found the opposite was true, he added, not explicitly excluding Chicago, where being Catholic is definitely not a disability. Indeed, he finds it "hard sometime to be both Catholic and American,” he said, enunciating quite an extreme position.
Americans' "cultural blindness" to the resentment others feel will destroy us "as a nation," he said. Other nations resent us because we "oppress them," he said, or they think we do after "50 years of intense communist propaganda. Be that as it may, "we can't impose our way of life" on others, he said, without specifying how we attempt that, and "we live in a fool's paradise if we don't realize" that.
In his recent comment, he said, “There aren't many places where I can say that, there aren't many places where I would want that to be said for me, and I wouldn't want to be quoted outside of this context.” But the alert and energetic religion writer for the Sun-Times, Cathleen Falsani, was in the congregation taping him, and two days later he was front-page stuff in a city where the front page has special meaning. How naive can a prelate be to speak to a church full of people as if it were just us chickens?
He had apparently felt that way at the Union League Club in 2002, where in the middle of the chickens was a fox in the person of an old, old religion reporter who took notes, for gosh sakes.
And he did so also in remarks a few months ago at a gathering of philosophers at U. of Chicago, where he offered "a strange, Manichean interpretation of twentieth-century history" as understood by a writer in left-leaning Commonweal Magazine. The writer objected to George’s “conflating spiritual and political power in a way that will prove unhealthy both for the church and for the world.” George had said secularization of Europe had started with Woodrow Wilson’s attempting to make the world safe for democracy and in the process excluding Pope Benedict XV from the peace talks.
It’s an interesting enough point, but more interesting is why George goes off on tangents, conflating, to seize on a handy word, his role as religious leader with geopolitical commentator.
Finally, there was George’s bizarre order issued in June, 2002 from an Oak Park pulpit that cameras should be removed and pencils should be put down by reporters, whom he likened to communist spies.
Two months later a Chicago priest, lashing out in a sermon against critics and news reports of his leadership of a home for troubled youth, quoted George: “This is the time, this is the season, for picking on Catholics,” telling the priest, “John, they're coming after you.”
Why stop at him? I think the cardinal would like us all to be very careful.