The following is a letter from the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal George, to his priests. I present the entire letter so that you can see the entire context. After I will have a few comments. Emphases mine.
ARCHDIOCESE OF CHICAGO
February 1, 2009 OFFICE OF THE ARCHBISHOP
I am writing just to touch base on a few items at the end of an intensive Christmas season and in the middle of the economic crisis and the pressure of political events, especially here in Illinois. Even though I see each of you only sporadically, all of you remain daily in my prayers, especially at Mass. Prayer encourages all of us by keeping our lives centered on the Lord, who keeps us together as his priests.
In the current economic and social crisis, the Church’s ministry can take on crucial importance for those tempted to despondency and even despair. The Church should be the glue that holds individual lives and society itself together when faith in other institutions falters. This remains so, I believe, even in the midst of continuing problems surrounding the abuse of minors by some priests. Response to these events, in some instances, has as much to do with discrediting the Church as it has to do with helping victims to heal. This double goal has been clearly and publicly stated by some lawyers and some victims’ groups. The crisis will therefore remain with us for some time, not only in our ongoing efforts to help victims, which is the work of many years, but also in separating true from sometimes false claims about some priests and about the Church in general. The only adequate and long lasting resolution to this crisis is your own loving and effective care for your people, especially children.
As we approach the Lenten season, we should begin to think about how to preach what forgiveness means. This is a constant theme in St. Paul’s letters. If there is a spiritual root of many personal and social crises, it is the loss of belief in the possibility of forgiveness. People know they sin; they don’t believe, it seems, that forgiveness is possible or that it could make any difference in their lives. Civil law is based more on vengeance than on forgiveness, and that attitude often permeates lives and society itself.
The administration of President Obama has helpfully encouraged people to hope, which is a theological virtue as well as a psychological attitude. In our country, we often use what amounts to religious language in public, but we use it to speak of ourselves rather than of God. The danger in this is diminished if we help our people to situate our hopes for our country and ourselves, finally, in God’s loving providence. This is a moment that calls for immersing ourselves in the situation in order to try to interpret it in the light of salvation history, of God’s will for all his people. It is, I believe, a moment to be addressed.
As priests, we find the source of hope not only in our prayer but also in our fraternity. Difficult times should draw us together rather than drive us apart. As President of the USCCB, I find myself more drawn into concerns outside the Archdiocese than I had expected to be; and I am grateful to Fr. Canary and the Vicars for what they do to keep in good contact with all of you.
In this Year of St. Paul, the doctor of grace, each of us should make a retreat. About a third of the presbyterate, if statistics are right, doesn’t make an annual retreat on a regular basis. I’m going to ask the episcopal vicars to be especially encouraging about the retreat this year. One of our pastors wrote his people last year about his love affair with God. It was a beautiful letter. The annual retreat is a time to renew that affair and enjoy it.
Thank your for your prayers for me and your friendship with me and one another.
Fraternally yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago
Two things in this letter stand out to me. First is the mention of the dual nature of the response to the abuse crisis. Many use the crisis as a club with which to beat the Church yet give not a whit for the victims. Certainly this is true enough. This scandal clearly still weighs heavily on the mind of the Cardinal. It should. Just a few months ago, the Cardinal announced a $12.7M settlement for a case that occurred 2002-2006 ($77M in total to date) and released his own depositions. The Cardinal accepted responsibility for the failures. It is clear from this letter that the scandal is still very real and very fresh for the Cardinal. I hope it stays that way. Whether or not the enemies of the Church use these scandals for their own nefarious ends, the scandals must stop.
The other thing of note in the letter is the reference President Obama. I had to read it a few times to ascertain whether the Cardinal is lauding or criticizing the President. I am still not sure. First Cardinal George states that the Obama administration is encouraging people to hope. How exactly is the administration encouraging people to hope. They talk down the economy whenever they can. Obama himself tries to use fear to get his own way threatening that if he doesn’t get his Spending package immediately we may never recover. Never. That is not a very hopeful thing to say. His administration has reversed the Mexico City policy. Not a lot of hope there. I think it is entirely false to claim that the Obama administration is encouraging hope. They are doing quite the opposite.
Cardinal George rightly goes on to say that true hope comes from God, not from politicians and not from ourselves. This might be viewed as criticism of Obama’s mantra of Hope during the campaign. If it is indeed a criticism, it is well hidden and too polite by half.
I do not really disagree with much in this letter but I am bothered. I am bothered by language. The Cardinal has no problem directly criticizing the lawyers and the victims groups by saying they are equally motivated to discredit the Church as defending the victims of abuse. Heaven knows that this is certainly true of some of these groups.
But why the direct criticism of those defending victims and polite and very well disguised criticism for a President and administration determined to make the slaughter of innocents as widespread as possible.
I admit the possibility that I am reading too much into these comments, but it seems upside down to me.