Compare NCR analysis to CATHOLIC WORLD REPORT analysis of Bernardin
CWR [traditionalist ] article follows NCR article
From ............ National Catholic Reporter [modernist]
February 7, 1997
Bernardin's legacy: church as mystery and institution
By EUGENE KENNEDY
Of all the lessons taught by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, none is more powerful or more peaceful than the realizations that coalesced into gentle convictions among ordinary people in the days that followed his death. Appropriately, this awareness of something real but previously not fully realized came together in the unforgettable liturgy of the institutional church that he loved and to which he gave his life.
As the rites proceeded, from the slow procession from his residence down State Street (on a tide of welcoming hand bells) to Holy Name Cathedral, to the moment of entombment as crystalline snow seeded the floodlit early darkness of that November night, the symbols spoke with one voice of the cardinal's pastoral achievement and chief bequest not only to the people of Chicago, but to all the Catholics of America.
Perhaps the achievement had not been fully noticed because it had been accomplished so unselfconsciously. As in every deep human experience, its rich meaning emerged only as people gave voice to it, only as the word was made flesh in song, reading, preaching and prayer.
The liturgy was the medium of subtle and unforced revelation to the celebrating community whose members constitute the unmistakable church of Vatican II. Like a great symphony, this sacramentally borne awareness entered the hearts of a people who did not know how much they loved their pastor until he died and did not understand how mature they had grown as a People of God until they gathered to bury him.
This evocation of an adult community of believers, like the growth encouraged by good parents, was a function of Bernardin's quiet and consistent leadership. In the profoundly sacramental act of burying their archbishop, Catholics grasped how much they had become a collegial community. They responded as one without anybody prompting them to do so. This was not a by-product of manipulation or an application of some liturgy workshop device to tell people how they were supposed to react, in the manner of guidance piped through chirping headsets to viewers of contemporary art exhibits.
An authentic spiritual transaction occurred - felt even by the extended family of television viewers - that opened the eyes and souls of participants to their Catholic and communal identities. There was neither liberal nor conservative, free man nor slave, Jew nor Greek, but rather a sense of communion that, although rare, cannot be lost by those who ate that day of the same bread and drank from the same cup.
The peaceful and accepting serenity of the city's Catholics was noted by every reporter and commentator. These were people of all ranks and backgrounds, sure of their faith, confident that their pastor had left the tangle of time for eternity, and more able to speak of their own mortality because Bernardin had not hesitated to speak of his own.
So, too, they were certain that a holy man had been in their midst, a saint, or else there could be no saints at all, who restored in them a healthy pride in their Catholicism and a renewed trust in and admiration for their priests. That is why throngs stood four abreast to bid him farewell through days and nights as brief and frozen as those at the top of the world.
But it was in the liturgy that the Vatican II church, patiently encouraged by Bernardin, came into full consciousness of itself. This expression of Catholic tradition and faith provided a model of how healthy authority functions to birth a Catholic community that can so array itself collegially that its orthodoxy and its loyalty to the pope, the magisterium and the Holy See are thereby deepened rather than diminished.
Bernardin fulfilled the promise of Vatican II by showing his priests and people that they could enflesh the church as a mystery and strengthen the church as an institution at the same time. Bernardin's lasting gift to us was a celebration of mystery and institution as overlapping, interpenetrating realities.
One may read this extraordinary liturgy as a classic text in which, in a real sense, everybody found their right place in a collegial church. Everybody sat at the same level. Extravagant titles and salutations were omitted and not missed.
Neither Vice President Gore nor the other limited number of dignitaries, ecclesiastical or political, dominated the congregation.
When Bernardin's body was brought to Holy Name Cathedral, the white pall was removed, in a moment that set the tone for the three days to come, by women alone. This moment of re-enactment of the women caring for the dead body of Jesus was a signature written gently but clearly on the symphony of events that would follow.
Each event, from the separate prayer services, including an interfaith ceremony as well as one conducted by rabbis, paid tribute to that which many fear is at risk in the renewing church, the authority of the archbishop and the institution he served as a cardinal.
Indeed, it was Bernardin's authority, both of his saintly person and of his archepiscopal office, that had brought forth the Vatican II church that was burying him.
He understood and exercised authority in its original meaning, deriving from 'augere', to create, to make able to grow. He understood that, unlike the authoritarianism with which even in the church it is so often confused, authority, the same in pastors as in parents, is not a function of rules but of human relationships. This authority cannot, in fact, function aside from a living, generative relationship. Bernardin's highly respected - indeed, gratefully celebrated - authority flowed from his person and, like a transfusion, strengthened the office he held and the institution to which he was so completely loyal.
The problem that vexes so many commentators and critics - church authority - was no problem at Bernardin's funeral. For his moral and pastoral authority supplied the energy and center for the natural way in which the varied members of the church as a People of God interacted on that day. They found no contradiction but every harmony in burying, at the same time, a prince of their church and their brother Joseph.
Bernardin always kept focused on long-range goals and never allowed himself to become hung up on minor points or to be drawn into the border wars of the ecclesiastical universe. He did not believe that we had entered the post- institutional period of Catholicism that has been proclaimed by some and practiced by a few. If he believed deeply in a collegial church, he was convinced that it could not survive as a free-floating, protoplasmic religious identity in which everybody was in mutiny against the institution. The late archbishop of Chicago was thoroughly committed and faithful to the institution of Catholicism that, reinvigorated by his spirit, laid his body so tenderly to rest.
Bernardin spent his last energies to inaugurate the Catholic Common Ground project, through which he hoped to reduce friction within the ecclesial community and to promote exchanges that would solidify the church both as institution and as mystery. Secular commentators who briefly sought to portray him as a rebel missed his essential work as a churchman: to build the post-Vatican II church as a unified family living within and loyal to an institution whose supple structures accommodate the pressures of history and make room for everybody.
Conversations and tactical calculations about who will succeed Bernardin are grist from the eternal clerical conversation mill. They are calculations from another time, when a successor archbishop might enter an archdiocese and impress his will, and occasionally his whim, on priests and people. Chicago is only one example of the many churches that have matured into trustworthy collegial realities. Such archdioceses present incoming shepherds with adult, well-educated Catholics ready to assist them in carrying forward the work of building the church.
The next archbishop of Chicago - and he was in the cathedral for Bernardin's remarkable funeral - will almost certainly read the reality of Catholic life there accurately and come, as Bernardin expressed it in his episcopal motto, as one who serves. Nobody who prayed and sang at his funeral could miss its symbolic message that Vatican II has been fulfilled and the community eagerly looks forward to a prelate who will find it easy to join this family as a brother.
Bernardin lived, as his great mentors, Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta and Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit, as a churchman, that is, a man of the church dedicated unapologetically and unwaveringly to its teachings and institutional integrity and flourishing.
At the same time, this saint lived effortlessly in the church as a mystery, the headwaters of all mystery into which we are plunged at baptism and at whose forks we find our defining human experiences sacramentally purified. It was only right that his funeral should have been a wondrous and revelatory mystery that depended for its celebration on the most ancient spiritual riches and traditions of the Catholic church.
The great lesson is, of course, that these are overlapping realities - there is no institution unless there is religious mystery and religious mystery is sustained only through an institution renewed by Vatican II.
[drawing of Bernardin in sidebox]
- END QUOTE -
From ....... CATHOLIC WORLD REPORT [traditionalist RC ]
Cardinal Bernardin's Legacy
Although he was lauded at his death as the master of reconciliation, the most powerful American prelate of our era was anything but impartial.
He consistently used his influence to promote liberal causes, even attacks on Church teachings and traditions.
By JAMES HITCHCOCK
Of King Charles I of England it was said that "nothing in his life so became him as his taking leave of it," and such might also be the epitaph for Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. The Archbishop of Chicago died in early December, after a painful battle with cancer, and during his final illness won universal admiration for the serenity with which he faced death. During his illness he also sent an impassioned plea to the Supreme Court, urging the justices not to legalize assisted suicide.
The cardinal's death inspired a mass adulation unparalleled in the history of American Catholicism, as the media in all parts of the country described his final illness and his obsequies in almost exhaustive detail. Over and over again he was hailed as one of the great spiritual leaders in American life, beloved by everyone.
Yet even in the midst of this almost frantic adulation, the Chicago media pointed out that about 100,000 people passed his bier in Holy Name Cathedral, less than a tenth the number who paid their respects to two of his predecessors: Cardinal George J. Mundelein in 1940 and Cardinal Samuel A. Stritch in 1958.
The reduced numbers were not a personal reflection on Cardinal Bernardin but a reflection of the changing times. However, the statistics did recall a crucial aspect of his apotheosisÑhe seemed to be universally loved and respected because the media kept saying that he was, and concentrated their attention almost exclusively on those for whom he was a hero, a demonstration of the final power which the media have over people's lives.
Also distinguishing Bernardin's death from that of his predecessors was the fact that there were almost no calls, outside the formal text of the liturgy itself, for prayers on behalf of his soulÑsomething which earlier prelates, no matter how self-satisfied they may have seemed, would never have allowed to be overlooked. Bernardin's funeral was the most conspicuous instance of a phenomenon now taken for granted in Catholic circles: with both hell and purgatory implicitly denied, every deceased person is proclaimed as already standing in the presence of God.
Canonized by the press
The most extreme expression of this attitude was a newspaper cartoon in Cincinnati, where Bernardin had once been archbishop. Here God was shown saying, "I used to think that man Bernardin would make a good pope. Now I've decided to promote him directly to saint." Suggestions that he quite literally was a saint, deserving of immediate formal canonization, were commonplace throughout the final weeks of his life.
This process of canonization by newspaper cartoonists, and more generally by a mass media which is often overtly hostile to Catholicism, itself illustrated the ambiguity of Bernardin's career. The cardinal was most admired by those who are most distant from the Church's inner life, while he was least admired by those who at least try to live the fullness of Catholic teaching.
Next to his heroic death, the other claim made on behalf of Cardinal Bernardin's sanctity is that he was the great reconciler, possessed of the will and ability to reach across lines of division and gather the most diverse people into one flock. But standing against this constantly repeated claim is the fact that American Catholicism is far more deeply divided at his death than it was when he was consecrated a bishop in 1966.
With few exceptions, those who hailed him as a reconciler are all on the left side of the theological and political spectrum, either disaffected Catholics or non-Catholics who have serious reservations about the Church. Many such people tell of Bernardin's offering them the hand of friendship, but few people on the other side of the spectrum can say the same.
For example, Bernardin's biographer is Eugene Kennedy, a psychologist and a former priest, whose admiration for the late cardinal is matched only by his hostility to various official Church policies. His biography, with which the cardinal must have cooperated (no sources are given, and the book seems to be based on the author's personal knowledge) casts the late prelate as a hero struggling against often narrow, ignorant, even malicious people.
Another of the cardinal's adulators is Tim Unsworth, a journalist who has made a career of writing about Chicago priests, his unvarying theme being that good men are ground down by official teachings, especially with regard to sexual morality, which they do not accept. These priests, according to Unsworth, have little use for the Holy See and most of the ecclesiastical structure, but they greatly admired Bernardin. Unsworth also once ridiculed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her nuns, indicating that they were unneeded and out of place in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Father Richard McBrien, a professor at Notre Dame University who has long been a leader of theological dissent and of frontal assaults on Vatican authority, also extols Bernardin, proposing that the people of Chicago simply canonize the late cardinal on their own, without waiting for Roman action.
Reconciliation and division
Bernardin was, in essence, the favorite prelate of those who despise the idea of prelacy, the most popular "overseer" (bishop) of those who deny that they require any oversight, the hero of those who view the entire Catholic ecclesiastical system as sinister and inhuman.
One of the curious aspects of Bernardin's role as a reconciler was the fact that, more often than not, his admirers exalted him precisely by denigrating other bishops, always casting him as the "good" bishop in contrast to "bad" bishops who were his colleagues, or to curial officials in Rome, not excluding the Holy Father himself. (Kennedy once explained the theological orthodoxy of some bishops as owing to insecurity about their own masculinity, their neurotic need to control and punish their subordinates.)
Less than a year before his death Bernardin announced the Common Ground Project, a planned series of consultations aimed at bringing together diverse groups within American Catholicism. As his death approached he made it clear that this was to be his legacy to the Church. Yet paradoxically, the establishment of Common Ground proved to be yet another source of division. In an unprecedented action, three other cardinalsÑBernard Law of Boston, John J. O'Connor of New York, and James A. Hickey of WashingtonÑpublicly criticized the idea as failing to pay sufficient respect to official Church teaching, seeming to assume that truth could emerge from a dialogue in which dissenters and orthodox have equal status. The only people who see Bernardin's initiative as a move towards unity are those who have difficulty with one or another official teaching of the Church. While the Common Ground committee includes several people who openly dissent from particular Catholic teachings, the roster of members includes no one who came to public notice as a defender of the Church's most controversial teachings, such as the condemnation of artificial contraception.
Ironically, those who hail Bernardin as a reconciler actually trivialize his achievements and obscure them, making it seem as though he was a wellmeaning but slightly naive individual who kept making valiant gestures which were nullified by people more determined than himself. In reality his achievements, and his personal importance, are unparalleled in the history of American Catholicism, and he was able to place his stamp on the Church to a degree that only two or three other bishops have done during the two centuries of the American hierarchy.
The power behind the Bishops' conference
When the Second Vatican Council ended. Bernardin was a young priest in Atlanta, serving under one of the leading "liberal" prelates of the age, Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan. When Hallinan died in 1968, Bernardin, then his auxiliary bishop, was made general secretary of the newly established National Conference of Catholic Bishops, with its ancillary bureaucracy, the United States Catholic Conference.
Although the American bishops had had an official national organization since 1919, it was relatively powerless, and some leading prelates all but ignored it. In the immediate post-conciliar period some of these powerful prelates, notably Cardinal Francis J. Spellman of New York, still thought of the conference as insignificant and believed that everything important in the Church happened either in Rome or at the diocesan level. Bernardin was among those prelates who understood how the reorganized national bureaucracy, drawing on the Council's rather ambiguous statements about "collegiality," could be made into a powerful institution, and he proceeded to make it such.
For a few years he worked under the first elected president of the NCCB, Cardinal John F. Dearden of Detroit, who had emerged from the Council as a committed liberal dedicated to shaping an "American Church" semi-independent of Rome. The second president was Cardinal John J. Krol of Philadelphia, a conservative prelate in the traditional mold, who found that the organization which he nominally headed was only minimally responsive to his direction.
Bernardin had succeeded in fashioning a body with all the qualities of modern secular bureaucracies Ñ authority based on expertise; jealous protection of spheres of authority; resistance to "outside interference," including that of the bishops who were supposed to be their supervisors; the power to define issues and propose initiatives, to which others could merely react. During the ensuing period of almost thirty years, that bureaucracy has continued to grow, slowed only by periodic financial crises, to the point where most bishops do not seem to think that they even have legitimate authority over it, and conceive their duty as merely to ratify whatever the bureaucracy proposes.
As general secretary Bernardin set up much of this bureaucracy and recruited its staff. As Archbishop of Cincinnati he served as elected president of the NCCB, which solidified his control over the bureaucracy, and throughout his career he consistently used his power to build a network of allies within both the hierarchy and the bureaucracy, a network which in effect has controlled the direction of the "American Church."
To some extent the division within the American hierarchy is between bishops who see their primary roles as within their dioceses, performing traditional episcopal tasks, and those oriented to the national bureaucracy - the world of committees, study groups, position papers, and specialized offices. The latter group is composed of bishops who believe they are being "relevant" only when they are pronouncing on national issues or responding to "concerns" (for example, feminism) which the liberal culture has defined as important. On the one hand the national structure acts as a buffer between Rome and the American hierarchy, making it difficult for the Holy See to act, and on the other it isolates and diminishes the individual bishop; only a bishop willing to accept the penalty of being marginalized (and, usually, treated roughly in the media) can act independently of the NCCB.
A balancing act with the media
Bernardin's career can also not be understood apart from his own relationship with the media, a model now followed by a majority of prelates. Traditionally American bishops were treated respectfully by the media because of their office. That changed during the Council when journalists divided the hierarchy into "good" (liberal) and "bad" (conservative) bishops, a categorization which has continued to this day. As some of the traditional leaders (for instance, Cardinal Spellman) ran afoul of the media after the Council, Bernardin was among the first bishops to realize that it was possible to enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement with the organs of public opinion.
He did this above all by never saying or doing anything which could be interpreted as "reactionary," "rigid," or "authoritarian" and by going out of his way to dissociate himself from bishops portrayed in that manner. (Both in Cincinnati and Chicago he succeeded prelates who had offended liberal sensibilities.)
Like the liberal culture in general, the media regard orthodox Catholicism as at best anachronistic, at worst inhumane and destructive. Bernardin[, while never overtly endorsing those views, always signaled his own lack of enthusiasm for controversial doctrines and practices, and reporters had the sense that he was working quietly for change. Thus he became the media's favorite bishop.
Only once did this approach fail, when Cardinal Bernardin was accused by a former Cincinnati seminarian of having once molested him. Suddenly the cardinal found himself the target of a worldwide campaign of character assassination. However, that should not have been surprising, given the well-known media pattern of tearing down people whom they have first helped to build up. Bernardin faced his ordeal with courage and grace, and when his accuser later withdrew the charges, the cardinal became even more a media hero.
He once candidly commented on the fact that it was possible to enjoy favorable relations with the media, pointing to the way in which John Paul II has achieved worldwide attention, through which he can convey his message. Omitted from that statement was any mention of the fact that the Pope, by tirelessly reiterating controversial Church teaching, has also earned himself great opprobrium in the media. When John Paul dies he too will be adulated, but that adulation will be heavily tempered by the opinions of those who loath his policies - some of them (such as McBrien) the very people who now seek Bernardin's canonization.
Support for dissenters
From the beginning of his ascendancy in the national hierarchy, Cardinal Bernardin consistently used his power to give protection to groups and individuals at odds with Church teaching:
In 1968 there was a storm of opposition to the papal birth-control encyclical, Humanae Vitae, and sanctions were imposed by Cardinal Patrick A. O'Boyle of Washington on priests who openly dissented from the encyclical. Bernardin helped arrange a settlement whereby the sanctions were withdrawn, and in effect from that time on the "right" of dissent by priests was established.
In 1975-6 the bishops sponsored the Call to Action Conference in observance of the American Bicentennial. From the beginning the process was controlled by Church bureaucrats (70 percent of the delegates were employed by the Church), and was manipulated to produce ~resolutions rejecting various official teachings and practices. Bernardin, then president of the NCCB, helped ensure that, while the bishops could not approve the resolutions put forward by Call to Action, they also did not reject them or stop the process, thereby giving rise to an organized dissent which has continued to the present. The group calling itself Call to Action has its headquarters in a Chicago parish building, with at least tacit archdiocesan approval.
In 1985, after an investigation found serious abuses in the Archdiocese of Seattle, the Holy See moved to curtail the authority of Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen. Hunthausen responded by mounting a major national campaign to plead his case through the media, and Bernardin stepped into the situation as chairman of a committee charged with resolving the crisis. The result was that Hunthausen kept his authority and, when he retired a few years later, was replaced by a prelate of like mind, so that his policies continued unchanged. Since then American bishops have in practice been almost entirely free of Vatican authority.
There are numerous other instances in which Bernardin, in strategic control of the ecclesiastical machinery, used his power to protect dissent, Common Ground being merely the institutionalization of a process he had been pursuing for three decades.
The master of ambiguity
Fittingly, his very funeral provided an illustration of his method. At his request the Windy City Gay Men's Chorus was asked to sing at his wake in the Cathedral. The chorus's director said that they regarded the invitation as a sign of approval by the Church, and accepted enthusiastically. It was a classic Bernardin maneuver: giving respectability to a group which rejects Catholic doctrine and yet retaining the ability, if pressed, to say that it was merely a token of personal kindness, not an endorsement.
On a trip to Israel in 1995, the cardinal gave a speech in which he charged that the Gospel of John was the source of antiSemitism in the Church, and needed to be corrected. This apparent willingness to tamper with the text of one of the books of the Bible predictably aroused a strong reaction, and the cardinal insisted that he had been misunderstood. It was one of the rare instances when he had allowed himself to be so blunt in public. Ordinarily he tended to make ambiguous remarks implying the legitimacy of dissent and then, when challenged, claim that he had been misunderstood. But, as with his remarks about St. John's Gospel, he was seldom able to explain satisfactorily what exactly he did mean. His remarks remained in limbo, usable to argue for either orthodoxy or the reverse, depending on who used them.
The most important instance of this phenomenon was his stand on abortion. In 1982 the pro-life movement in America had reached the peak of its political influence, bringing about the defeat of a number of prominent pro-abortion politicians. It was an achievement which alarmed many in the Catholic bureaucracy, who saw the liberal political agenda as essentially identical with Catholic social teaching. Shortly after the election Bernardin began a series of highly publicized speeches around the country in which he called for a "consistent ethic of life," using the image of the "seamless garment," the point of which was that Catholics cannot be "single issue" voters but must evaluate candidates on a range of issues.
In theory this formula means that Catholics should support politicians who are anti-abortion but are also opposed to capital punishment and military expenditures, and in favor of the welfare state. In practice, however, there are few such politicians, and the formula was immediately understood, as Bernardin undoubtedly intended that it should be, to mean that they should weigh the importance of the abortion issue against other issues, then make a "balanced" judgment. Eugene Kennedy rejoiced that Bernardin thereby allowed Catholic politicians room to deviate from Church teaching on the subject, and ever since the formula has been used, often by priests in the pulpit, to urge Catholics to disregard abortion and to support liberal candidates for other reasons.
The eventual result was a measurable weakening of the political effectiveness of the pro-life movement, which is probably what Bernardin intended, so that in the weeks before his death polls showed that Catholics had in effect provided the margin of victory for President Bill Clinton's reelection, despite his fanatically pro-abortion stance. Another result was that abortion ceased to be seen as a Catholic issue, and moral leadership on the issue largely passed to evangelical Protestants, a result Bernardin probably also intended, since it gave the bishops relief from intense liberal opprobrium.
Choosing his friends
One of the most astonishing revelations following his death was an article by Ann Landers, in which the columnist who has made her fortune by giving advice to the lovelorn revealed that she had been summoned late one night to come to the deathbed of "my friend Joe," with whom she had long enjoyed the warmest of personal relations. The revelation was astounding because Landers has perhaps had more influence than any other single person in making abortion socially acceptable, for years using her syndicated newspaper column to promote abortion and to denigrate pro lifers. Landers has also effectively endorsed the sexual revolution, actually going so far as to ridicule her own earlier belief that people should remain chaste until marriage. (She also illustrates the pattern whereby those who admire Bernardin as a bishop often denigrate other prelates proportionately. Last year she claimed that John Paul II does not understand women because he is a "Polack" with a narrow cultural outlook.)
After Bernardin's death an abortionist in Indiana announced that, inspired by the cardinal, he was giving up performing abortions. It was an edifying episode which, if repeated enough times, would validate Bernardin's approach to the issue. However, the abortionist in question had no personal contact with the late cardinal. There is no evidence that Bernardin ever tried to persuade Ann Landers or anyone else that her views on abortion were in error. Indeed he seemed to thrive on warm friendships with people like Landers, while remaining aloof from people active in, for example, pro-life work. As one secular journalist put it, "We didn't talk about religion, only about the things that unite people."
Shortly before his death, referring to the slanders once directed at himself, Bernardin expressed the wish that "unfair attacks" on Hilary Clinton, the Presidents wife, would cease, so that she would be allowed to employ her talents for the good of the country. Altogether it was as blatantly partisan a statement as any bishop in America has ever made, given the fact that Hilary Clinton was involved in a number of questionable financial transactions and that several of her associates are now under criminal indictment. In addition, abortion has been precisely one of her major causes, and she has used the power of the White House to promote it in every way possible. But if the cardinal was friendly in his statements regarding the Clintons, the White House returned that friendly attention. Shortly before the prelate's death President Clinton bestowed on Bernardin the Medal of Freedom, indicating that he saw the cardinal as exactly the kind of religious leader the nation needs.
But even more astonishing than Ann Landers's revelation that she was the cardinal's close friend was the report by Tom Fox, editor of the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), that Bernardin over the years had occasionally telephoned him to encourage his journalistic work, urging him to "keep the flame lit" Ñ the "flame" being the causes the NCR champions, and calling the newspaper "a candle in the night."
Over its more than thirty years of publication, almost the sole purpose of the NCR's existence has been to mount increasingly bitter assaults on almost every aspect of official Catholic teaching, especially sexual morality, and against every member of the hierarchy who gives visible support to those teachings. It is a journal where, for example, it is almost routine for Vatican officials to be referred to as Nazis and to be accused of suffering from various kinds of psychological disorders. It is also the journal where Tim Unsworth has for years celebrated the rebelliousness of the Chicago clergy, and where the same writer attacked Mother Teresa.
The revelation that for years Bernardin was offering encouragement to the editors of that paper confirmed conservative Catholics' worst suspicions - that, while crafting for himself the image of a "moderate," Bernardin had always been firmly in the liberal camp. While he was occasionally criticized by people on the left for not going far enough, he was a consummate realist who understood that the methods he used were far more successful than direct assaults would be. Under the rubric of "reaching out" he was able to create an environment of maximum tolerance for dissent.
That he admired and supported the angrily abusive NCR also shed light on Bernardin's claim that he merely wanted to bring peace and harmony to a Church torn by bitter disagreements. On the contrary, it turned out that he was quite willing to encourage such bitterness, so long as it served the appropriate causes.
Greeley and the Chicago clergy
Another intriguing example of this tendency was the cardinal's enigmatic relationship with Father Andrew Greeley, a Chicago priest-sociologist who has been bitterly at odds with ecclesiastical authority for decades and habitually uses epithets like "moron" and "morally bankrupt" to describe clerics, including Vatican officials, with whom he disagrees.
In 1982 a journalist who had been given access to Greeley's papers found an audio tape in which the priest talked boastfully about "how to fix a papal election." On the tape he described how he intended to destroy Cardinal John P. Cody of Chicago by giving the media damaging information about him, thereby forcing his resignation. Meanwhile, he said, "Joe" Bernardin was in discussions with the Vatican about how he himself could replace Cody. Bernardin, Greeley predicted, would then swiftly be made a cardinal and might become the next pope. Greeley was recording his plan,he said, in order to receive credit should it prove successful.
Published in the waning months of Cardinal Cody's life, when he was indeed the subject of scandal, the tape was a sensation, and in many people's view virtually destroyed whatever chances Bernardin had of succeeding Cody. However, the Holy See chose to ignore the claims on the tape, which Bernardin denied and Greeley characterized as his own personal "fantasy." So Pope John Paul did transfer the Cincinnati archbishop to Chicago.
For several years after he arrived, Bernardin was reportedly cool toward Greeley, who responded with sharp public barbs and somewhat mysterious threats directed at the new archbishop. Then, according to Greeley, Bernardin said to him "let's be friends again," and from that point forward Greeley was one of Bernardin's most ardent supporters, in the typically abrasive style which Bernardin claimed to loath. For example, when Bernardin's illness was first reported, Greeley angrily accused conservative Catholics of spreading false rumors that the cardinal was dying, even though there had been an official announcement of the seriousness of his illness.
When the bishops' Committee on Doctrine, acting in response to proddings from the Vatican, issued a warning concerning one of McBrien's books, Greeley published an open letter to the committee chairman, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, in which he said, "you and your statements are utterly worthless," and referred to the bishops as "semi-literate incompetents." That Greeley continued to remain Bernardin's friend, and that Bernardin made no public comment on his very "divisive" remarks, was especially surprising in view of the fact that Pilarczyk was also Bernardin's friend, as well as his ecclesiastical protege. Over the years Greeley's frequent abusive blasts have not served to diminish his standing in the liberal Catholic community, a fact not unrelated to his having enjoyed Bernardin's support and protection.
Bernardin, when he came to Chicago, entered a very troubled diocese, where an unofficial organization of priests had "censured" Cardinal Cody. Characteristically the new archbishop swiftly made peace with the dissenting priests, whose spirit of rebellion is, if somewhat less conspicuous, now even more deeply entrenched. Indeed the intractable attitude of the Chicago clergy has come to the point where Greeley warns that if the next archbishop attempts to exercise discipline, he will provoke mass resignationsÑa prediction echoed by Unsworth.
Bernardin's formative clerical years were in the heady days of the Second Vatican Council and the Kennedy administration, when change for its own sake seemed self-evidently good and when grand plans for the remaking of Church and society were confidently advanced by self-consciously "progressive" individuals. It was an outlook which Bernardin apparently never outgrew. Highly conscious of being a new breed of bishop, replacing those of the Spellman model, he never seems to have reflected on whether his own breed was entirely suitable to the changed cultural, political, and religious situation at the end of the century. To him the ideas spawned in the heady days of "the 60s" remained unquestionably correct, those who raised doubts themselves the enemies of progress, as groups within the Church struggled to "liberate" themselves from past tyranny and a wise government in Washington sought to solve all the nation's ills.
The fact that less than a tenth as many people paid their last respects at his casket as did so for Cardinals Mundelein and Stritch was not a reflection on Bernardin himself, nor a measure of his personal popularity. It was a measure rather of the drastically diminished importance which the Catholic Church now has both in the lives of its own members and in the larger American community. Bernardin was not a leader in the sense that Mundelein and Spellman were - powerful men who forced secular leaders to take the Church seriously - but a leader mainly because the media conferred that status on him, precisely because he continued nudging the Church in the direction toward which the secular culture was itself pushing. The tragedy of his life was that he placed his considerable talents at the service of a strategy which, though designed to make the Church more relevant in people's lives and more influential in society, steadily had the opposite effect.
James Hitchcock, a history professor at St. Louis University and a founder of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, is a frequent contributor to Catholic World Report.
[picture caption] - Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.
[in sidebox] - The 100,000 people who filed past Bernardin's bier in Holy Name Cathedral represent less than a tenth the number who paid their respects to two of his predecessors.
[picture caption] - Cardinal Bernardin holds a child during an annual picnic for youngsters at the Chicago archbishop's residence.
[sidebox] - Bernardin was, in essence, the favorite prelate of those who despise the idea of prelacy, the most popular "overseer" (bishop) of those who deny that they require any oversight.
[picture caption] - After an unusual public disagreement over the Common Ground Initiative, Cardinals Bernardin and Law underlined their friendship during a September charitable event In Boston.
[picture caption] - By October 1996, the cardinal clearly showed the ravages of cancer.
[picture caption] - Cardinal Bernardin pauses during an August press conference at which he announced the Common Ground project.
[sidebox] - It was a classic Bernardin maneuver: giving respectability to a group which rejects Catholic doctrine and yet retaining the ability, if pressed, to say that it was merely a token of personal kindness, not an endorsement.
[picture caption] - Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral was packed for the Bernardin funeral.
[picture caption] - Msgr. Kenneth Velo, a longtime friend, delivered a eulogy at the cardinal's funeral.
[picture caption] - Chicago priests praying over their cardinal.
[picture caption] - Mourners pay their last respects.
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