Archbishop Cupich on Face the Nation: A Mixed Performance

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 02, 2014

We can learn something about the new archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, from how he answered the questions posed to him during the November 30th episode of Face the Nation. Guests on this program must be evaluated through a kind of television-induced haze of graciousness. The utility of such programs is very limited when the beliefs of the hosts and the guest are seriously different. In such situations, most of us try to be inoffensive while seeking common ground.

Our news story highlighted the question of whether Archbishop Cupich would withhold Communion from pro-abortion politicians. But if you read the entire transcript of the closing segment, you will see that he was also asked about his style of ministry, the Francis effect, immigration, same-sex marriage, clerical sexual abuse, and racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Church’s stand on gay marriage joins the problem of communion for pro-abortion politicians as a key indicator of episcopal faith and discipline. On the latter, Cupich shied away from making reception of the Eucharist a battleground for politicians. Most bishops display a similar reluctance, partly because denial of Communion to those who advocate a political position will always be misconstrued in our culture as the Church meddling in politics.

Instead, Cupich emphasized the healing power of the Sacrament. Unfortunately, this approach obscures a pressing need for the sacramental discipline required in the Code of Canon Law. Such discipline is enormously clarifying. Ideas do have consequences, and sacramental discipline forces public advocates of evil to confront the implications of their position for their union with Christ and the Church.

Therefore, the best thing that can be said about the Archbishop’s response is that he refused to take the bait of classing the potential denial of communion as “politicization”. He also implicitly acknowledged that political support of abortion is wrong: “My hope would be that [Eucharistic] grace would be instrumental in bringing people to the truth.”

On gay marriage, he did better. Without commenting on the intellectual, moral and ontological  emptiness of gay marriage, Archbishop Cupich focused on the unique and privileged position of one man and one woman united in marriage in order to bring children into the world. He shrewdly framed the question in terms of the protection a sound society ought to demand for this privileged union, given its fundamental importance to the human race. Consider this exchange:

Question: “I understand the church's teaching, but just to be clear, so you do think there should be legislation to protect the parents who are bringing children into the world and caring for them that are in same-sex relationships?”

Answer: “Well, but no. I'm saying that the people who bring children into the world are [a] man and a woman in their own love.”

In “facing the nation”, Archbishop Cupich did not speak with maximum clarity. Nor did he take every opportunity to explain the moral law or the teachings of the Catholic Church. Conciliation seemed to come naturally; going on the offensive did not. But for a sound-bite conversation it was not all bad. It is true that he was not particularly forceful, but neither did the hosts of the program succeed in making him accept their categories. When pushed, the Archbishop of Chicago pushed back.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Dec. 06, 2014 12:04 AM ET USA

    It's either yes or no, Archbishop Cupich. The church needs to let the pro-abortion politicians know that they need not present themselves for communion. All bishops need to speak with "one" voice.

  • Posted by: Jerz - Dec. 04, 2014 11:18 AM ET USA

    Dr. Mirus, you're right. My apologies.

  • Posted by: skall391825 - Dec. 04, 2014 2:45 AM ET USA

    LAW: An ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by the one who has the care of a community. As an ordinance, law is distinguished from a mere counsel or a suggestion. It is an order or command that imposes obligation or moral necessity to be obeyed. It is the imposition of the superior's will on the will of those who belong to a society... CANON LAW: The authentic compilation of the laws of the Catholic Church... Fr.John Harden's Dictionary.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Dec. 03, 2014 5:22 PM ET USA

    Jerz: I'm not sure how to say this kindly, but I mean well. Readers should not blame the author for mistakes he did not make in an article. It is necessary actually to read the piece to which one is responding. I stated that Arbp. Cupich ignored the requirements of Canon Law, and made it clear that I was in favor of attending to those requirements, which is why I could not say much good about his answer to this question. At the same time, we all need to understand that Canon Law and Catholic doctrine are not the same thing, nor even of equal weight. Moreover, in every legal system there are always some laws that are seldom enforced, according to priorities. Most bishops take the Cupich position on this Canon, and in fact no modern pope has emphasized the need to enforce it. So these things must be judged in context.

  • Posted by: Jerz - Dec. 03, 2014 1:23 PM ET USA

    You're kind to the point of sacrificing the plain truth. It's not uncharitable to point out that the Archbishop went before the nation to say he wouldn't follow Canon Law (#915). How is this anything but a scandal? I'm all for being "gracious," but in this case it's imprudent. The rule/law is black and white and it exists to turn the public sinner from his ways and to prevent the faithful from being confused/scandalized. With some guts it can be followed and explained. Cardinal Burke did it!

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Dec. 03, 2014 8:19 AM ET USA

    You are being very kind to Archbishop Cupich's sense of "episcopal faith and discipline." I hope in the end he justifies your kindness. May God forgive us, but after the recent synod, many of us are very skeptical of the sense of "faith and discipline" that many bishops have.

  • Posted by: skall391825 - Dec. 03, 2014 1:51 AM ET USA

    When Blase Cupich was named the next archbishop of Chicago, he insisted that Pope Francis was sending the area a mere pastor, not a message. Correct; I detected no papal-level message in what the Archbishop said. Unfortunately, it sounded more like a USCCB-level message.

  • Posted by: Nuage - Dec. 02, 2014 9:52 PM ET USA

    This is an excellent and well balanced analysis. I hope that His Excellency Abp. Cupich gets a chance to review your work, Dr. Mirus. It is easy for us to sit back and critique a bishop, but our prelates are subject to the same crisis in the faith that we are, and to the same cultural pressures. They are human, too, and need to be supported, not always harshly attacked. They do need to reflect on their performances, however, in all humility.

  • Posted by: Jim.K - Dec. 02, 2014 9:32 PM ET USA

    Stay tuned. This is the same Bishop who, when transferred to Spokane, WA, FORBID his priests from particating in "Forty Days For Life" events. Under pressure, he later said that individual priests could participate as long as it was understood that they only represented themselves and NOT the diocese. He also was quoted as calling Pro-Life groups "fanatics." He is very personable, and over time, became popular with the liberal crowd -- not so much with the orthodox or conservative "fanatics."