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Culture of life wins with U.S. bishops’ election of conservative archbishop over liberal cardinal

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BALTIMORE, Maryland, November 16, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The electric moment at this week’s USCCB Fall Assembly came as the bishops registered their votes for new committee chairmen. The sixth and final vote was for the new head of the Pro-life Activities Committee, with Chicago’s progressive Cardinal Blase Cupich pitted against conservative Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.

When the 45-second window for electronic voting closed, Conference President Archbishop Daniel DiNardo called for the results to be displayed on the large screen behind him at the front of the cavernous room:

  • Cardinal Blase J. Cupich          82

  • Bishop Joseph F. Naumann    96

It was a stunning moment. The reaction was muted, but tension remained palpable.  

Whispers in the Loggia blogger, Rocco Palmo, later said, “The Floor shook a bit first thing this morning,” and likened it to “a kind of Armageddon.” A reporter for Jesuit-run America Magazine, seated among the journalists, was overheard to say, “They just gave Pope Francis the middle finger” –an opinion he publicly declared a few hours later in his published report.

Visceral reactions aside, keen observers of this election are attempting to answer key questions, offering their insights to the vote.

An unraveling of the seamless garment?   

Reacting to Rocco Palmo calling the election a “genuine shocker,” EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo suggested, “This was only a shocker to those who wanted to conflate prudential issues with intrinsically evil ones. Killing innocents is always wrong, limiting migration flows is not necessarily so.  

Indeed, during discussions on the first day of the conference, some bishops had suggested just that. One went so far to as to say that deportation is “a sin that cries out to heaven.” Arroyo was also perhaps alluding to Cardinal Cupich’s embrace of the “seamless garment” pastoral philosophy that deems many current social issues, including immigration, gun control, and capital punishment as fully equivalent in importance to abortion and euthanasia.  

Phil Lawler said the reason much of pro-life America was celebrating Archbishop Naumann’s election is “because his rival in the Tuesday election, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, would have brought radical change to the bishops’ committee.”

“Cardinal Cupich represents the extreme liberal wing of the American episcopate, particularly on questions involving the defense of life,” Lawler continued. “A pro-life committee chaired by Cardinal Cupich would undoubtedly have changed the tone and even the substance of the American bishops’ messages.”

Was it a winnowing to reveal a true pro-life warrior?

Carl E. Olson, writing at CatholicWorldReport.com, said, “Here’s my main point: both Naumann and Cupich have spoken against abortion. But while Naumann has shown that he is a warrior and a leader — who can also dialogue when the moment calls for dialogue — it’s not evident at all that Cupich, however much he ‘champions engagement and dialogue,’ would ever really do battle for the pro-life cause. I do think it’s that simple. Cupich talks a great deal about dialogue. Fine. But he does not have the tried and true record of Naumann when it comes to actively and consistently fighting for life and working against abortion.”

A clear rejection of Cardinal Cupich?

Massimo Faggioli said, “The US bishops have obviously the right to elect whomever they want as head of committees. But it is clear since 2013 that a majority of them sees the message of Francis' pontificate, esp. on life and marriage, as not adequate for the Catholic Church in the USA.”

Carl E. Olson observed, “Naumann is a proven pro-life leader (and warrior), while Cupich simply isn’t.” He continued, “Cupich doesn’t just lack the results, he doesn’t possess the sort of gravitas, charisma, and intangibles that would attract those ‘on the fence.’”

Was the vote a referendum on Pope Francis?

“Was the vote a slap at Pope Francis?” asked Carl E. Olson. “I think that is a political reading of a vote that was not very political. In other words, folks (such as Winters) who see everything in terms of politics are always ascribing political motivations while insisting they are above politics. It’s not convincing. Or at least it shouldn’t be.”

Whether a “political” message or not, many felt the vote delivered a strong message that extended across the Atlantic to the Vatican.

Francis X. Rocca and Ian Lovett of the Wall Street Journal said the vote was a  “barometer of support for Pope Francis among the American hierarchy.” Cupich and Naumann “represent the ideological poles of the U.S. church and have articulated different visions of what being pro-life should mean.”

Nick Donnelly suggested via Twitter that the USCCB had rejected the “advancement of Cardinal Cupich and wondered, “How will Francis react to this snub to his heterodox protégé?”

Catholic News Services (CNS) Jim Lackey had teeted the day before, “Can’t believe some media treating tomorrow’s election of @USCCB pro-life chair as quasi-referendum on Francis. Since ’86, a cardinal always has been elected – always!!” Fr. Kevin M. Cusack responded, “And when a cardinal is not elected there's a reason: in this case what it means to be pro-life. Cupich is a papal point-man in US and his brand of prolife was rejected.

A Triple rebuff to Cardinal Cupich, Pope Francis & the seamless garment

George Weigel averes, “The so-called Francis effect is a media concoction that is difficult to define. But if it means anything, it means a Catholic Church that embraces what Pope Francis calls ‘collegiality’ and ‘synodality. In choosing Naumann over Cupich — and in breaking 40 years of precedent by naming someone other than a cardinal to chair the conference’s pro-life committee — the bishops in fact embraced both of those principles, rather than rejecting them. It would be helpful if the herd of independent minds would recognize that, instead of repeating its mistakes ad infinitum (and ad nauseam).”

“The results will likely be viewed by many that the ‘Francis effect’ has yet to take hold fully of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” said Crux’s Christopher White, “and a rejection of the ‘consistent ethic of life’ methodology, promoted by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who served as Archbishop of Chicago in the 1980s and ’90s.”

Steve Skojec, writing at onepeterfive.com, said, “Cardinal Cupich was viewed by at least one member of the clergy I spoke with as a likely instigator behind the forced resignation of Fr. Thomas Weinandy from his doctrinal post at the USCCB following his letter criticizing the pope. Weinandy had held the position for some time. It’s entirely possible that for many of the more conservative bishops who have quietly been growing more concerned, such a naked display of intolerance towards a legitimate expression of conscience from one of their own trusted advisers — especially after that adviser made note of the silencing of critical voices as one of the chief problems under this pontificate — was a bridge too far.”

Some clerics and academics approached for this story expressed a similar sentiment, but are unwilling to go on the record. One said the Naumann win “shows a great split among the bishops, but it also shows that over half of them did not buy Francis's poster boy and thus are not entirely happy with Francis.”

The Culture of Life won

One high profile theologian, wishing to remain anonymous, expressed relief in a measured statement, “I think on Pro-Life there will be consistency — at least for the next four years.”

Carl Bunderson, a Catholic News Agency journalist, said simply that the vote was “seen as an endorsement of St. John Paul II's “culture of life” approach.”

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Doug Mainwaring

Doug Mainwaring is a journalist for LifeSiteNews, an author, and a marriage, family and children's rights activist.  He has testified before the United States Congress and state legislative bodies, originated and co-authored amicus briefs for the United States Supreme Court, and has been a guest on numerous TV and radio programs.  Doug and his family live in the Washington, DC suburbs.