Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Cardinal Cupich’s shocking misrepresentation of Pope Benedict

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 17, 2023

Taking his cue from Cardinal McElroy—and ignoring the strong cautions from Archbishop Aquila and Archbishop Naumann, among others—Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich has written a column in his archdiocesan newspaper calling for full inclusion of active homosexuals in the life of the Church.

Actually the cardinal does not mention homosexuality in his column. But anyone conversant with current debates within the Church will know what he means when he laments: “There are voices that insist the church must exclude sinners from fuller participation in the life of the church until they have reformed, out of respect for God’s justice.” Cardinal Cupich stops short of saying that active homosexuals should be admitted to Communion, but his argument clearly leads toward that conclusion. And of course the same logic would suggest welcoming to the Eucharist all those Catholics who are divorced and remarried, or who support legal abortion, or who flout Church teachings on other moral issues.

By now, sadly, we are accustomed to hearing from prominent Catholic leaders who question fundamental Church teachings, and refuse to uphold clear-cut moral norms. Still this column by Cardinal Cupich is astonishing because he so blatantly misrepresents the thoughts of those who do support the perennial Catholic tradition—in particular, the late Pope Benedict XVI.

The cardinal opens his column with the observation that a firm belief in the infinite power of God’s grace is one of “the many points of convergence between the late Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.” True, but since that belief is a foundational aspect of Christian faith, it is not surprising that two Roman Pontiffs would share it. Why then does Cardinal Cupich make a point of invoking Pope Benedict? That becomes clear a few paragraphs later.

After citing the warnings of Pope Francis against “cold and hard gnostic logic,” the cardinal writes:

So a pastoral approach that preemptively excludes someone from the life of the church and her ministry is a serious matter and must be challenged.

Can you name anyone—anyone—who would preemptively exclude someone from the life of the Church? I cannot. The Catholic Church welcomes us all, and since we are all sinners, instructs us on how to grow in the life of grace. At the same time, the Church—following the admonition of St. Paul—warns us that we forfeit that grace, and imperil our souls, if we receive the Eucharist while in a state serious sin. Cardinal Cupich fails to make the elementary distinction between inviting someone to join the Church in prayer, and inviting that person to share the Eucharist, possibly to his own damnation.

Have we forgotten that to admonish the sinner has always been reckoned by the Church as a work of mercy? We are not excluding someone from the life of the Church when we urge him to follow the moral norms that our Lord handed down to us; we are prompting him toward full communion.

Cardinal Cupich understandably, and rightly, places great emphasis on God’s mercy. It is here that he invokes Pope Benedict, who said that God’s mercy—his willingness to forgive—“is so great that it turns God against Himself, his love against his justice.”

That striking passage from Deus Caritas Est (#10), however, does not negate the demands of divine justice. God is ready to forgive, anxious to forgive, a repentant sinner. But He surely will not encourage the sinner to continue down the road to self-destruction.

In fact, as Cardinal Cupich knows quite well, before his election to the papacy, Cardinal Ratzinger was well known for the cautionary statements he issued from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, warning against the reception of Communion by Catholics who were divorced and illicitly remarried, or who were prominent supporters of legal abortion. So the claim that Ratzinger/Benedict supports Cupich’s argument here is at best misleading.

A more honest portrayal of Pope Benedict’s thought would leave no doubt that he rejects the reasoning that Cardinal Cupich advances. Consider the clear language of the statement released by his Congregation in 1986, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:

Nevertheless, increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity… The Church’s ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their care will not be misled by this point of view, so profoundly opposed to the teaching of the Church.

Cardinal Cupich would not have written this column if he had heeded the advice Cardinal Ratzinger offered in that same document: “With this in mind, this Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programs which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so.”

Cardinal Cupich ends his column with a call for “a conversion to be holy as God is holy, to love perfectly, as God loves perfectly, by turning against ourselves and toward forgiving love.” Ironically, that exhortation is superficially similar to the one offered by Cardinal Ratzinger in that 1986 document, in which he suggests that homosexuals should be encouraged to be holy, to turn against their impulses and seek God’s forgiveness.

The fundamental difference between these two exhortations—a difference that is clear in the Ratzinger statements, but camouflaged in the Cupich column—is that one prelate challenges sinners to change their lives, and enter more fully into the life of the Church, while the other wants to change not the sinners but the Church.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 10 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: EiLL - Feb. 19, 2023 11:46 AM ET USA

    Thank you for that clear and logical comparison Phil.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Feb. 18, 2023 12:42 PM ET USA

    The most critical error in the Cupich column is seen in these words: "a pastoral approach that preemptively excludes someone from the life of the church and her ministry is a serious matter and must be challenged." AND HER MINISTRY? Here in our city the Abp told us years ago that all the practicing homosexual men have been removed from seminary. That's wise. And the irregular marriages keep people from being communion ministers. That's wise too.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Feb. 18, 2023 10:34 AM ET USA

    To mark.f.santschi7460 You should read Fr. Gerald Murray's column at The Catholic Thing on today, February 18th, as I post this. Phil is in the finest company with his analysis.

  • Posted by: rameyersjr9828 - Feb. 17, 2023 10:36 PM ET USA

    " If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools...."

  • Posted by: ewaughok - Feb. 17, 2023 9:39 PM ET USA

    St Chrysostom wrote in his commentary on Acts of the Apostles, “I do not think there are many among bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish.” Cupich’s clear disregard for truth in his column doesn’t augur well for him… Benedict 16 wrote “today the danger is great that in the name of love, truth is either to be silenced or compromised… the word of truth can be painful … But it is the way to holiness, to peace, and to inner freedom… In the end, only the truth can be pastoral“

  • Posted by: romy1277408 - Feb. 17, 2023 9:15 PM ET USA

    Cupich is using the favorite technique of Pope Francis: the straw man argument. “Some voices” are who? Who are these people who don’t want homosexuals to be saved? Worse, in almost validating the disorder (and the sin!), Cupich and Francis are obviating the need for treatment which can begin in the sacrament of confession. I find it odd that they seem almost forgetful of the power of that great sacrament.

  • Posted by: mark.f.santschi7460 - Feb. 17, 2023 7:24 PM ET USA

    I'm sorry. I'm a monthly contributor and an avid consumer of Phil Lawler's columns - I am always satisfied by the succinct writing style - but I read Cardinal Cupich's column. Phil, your column is looking for something to criticize. Regardless of the other comments, I do not find in this particular column of Cardinal Cupich the overlooking of sin. Of all of his columns, this is hardly the one to lambast.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Feb. 17, 2023 4:02 PM ET USA

    The audacity of McElroy and Cupich is breathtaking. They have perfected the use of anodyne language and soothing tone to disguise the deliberate project of refounding the church in accord with their august opinions. It would be impossible to overestimate the damage this continued uncorrected endeavor will wreak on all of us. Sooner or later there will be a violent outcome to this, not necessarily physical but violent nonetheless, if left to persist.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Feb. 17, 2023 1:07 PM ET USA

    Exactly right. I consider it pernicious for a clergyman to purposely, with full deliberation, and as an authority figure not cite Scriptural passages in full context. The relevant context can be summed up: "Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away" (Acts 3:19); "Go, and now sin no more" (John 8:11); "Behold thou art made whole: sin no more" (John 5:14); "Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19); "narrow the way" (Matthew 7:14).

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 17, 2023 1:05 PM ET USA

    Thank you for the excellent analysis! The cardinal's column was published on Wednesday Feb. 15. Only three days earlier, on Sunday Feb. 12, the first reading said, "To none does God give license to sin." (Sir 15:20)