Cardinal Facing Increasing Unrest in Chicago-area Parishes -- from Those in Pews and Pulpits

Chicago Catholic News
September 6, 2010

In a sign of increasing tensions within the Catholic Church locally, a west suburban pastor recently used his parish bulletin to rip Cardinal Francis George's decision to pursue the honorary title of "monsignor" for a number of Chicago-area priests -- calling the move "silly" and "shameful."

The Rev. Thomas McQuaid, pastor of St. Leonard Church in Berwyn, wrote a scathing column in the Aug. 15 bulletin that indicated there were more important things to be focusing on -- including the Church's response to sex abuse by clergy.

"Recently, the Cardinal has announced that he has recommended [to Pope Benedict XVI] that 40 among us be named monsignors," McQuaid wrote. "You might see all this, as I do -- as rather silly in light of far more important matters which remain unaddressed like the failure of the Cardinal, [Auxiliary] Bishop [George] Rassas and Fr. Ed Grace to have protected children from the abuse of Fr. Dan [McCormack] and the inestimable damage done to these young people and their families and the millions of dollars paid by the Archdiocese in settlements."

"Months ago, I asked the Cardinal not to move forward with this plan, calling it shameful in light of the economic situation we find ourselves in these days. You ask: 'Why is this an economic issue?' It is 'expected' that a 'gift' be offered to the Vatican for each title conferred. In the past, I think the 'expected gift' was around $5,000 each. I suspect that now it is probably $8,000-$10,000 each -- of course, we will never know.

Again, it's your money!"

In response to a question from about this, the archdiocese indicated the figure was substantially lower: $150 for each "scroll," which was covered by the cardinal. But the media office did not answer a follow-up question about whether that constituted the total offering.

Neither the cardinal nor Rassas returned phone calls. Grace, the former vicar for priests, declined to comment.

McCormack was convicted of abusing a number of boys while he was at a West Side parish. Archdiocesan officials -- including the cardinal -- have been criticized for not heeding warnings, investigating allegations fully and acting quickly enough to protect children.

George also has been under fire for petitioning the pope to bestow "papal honors" on a number of priests. The recently announced honors carry the "monsignor" title, which dates back centuries but fell out of favor starting in the 1960s with Vatican II reforms.

The cardinal consulted with a number of local priests, who told him resurrecting the title wasn't a good idea, because it would effectively create a new caste of priests. But George went ahead anyway, explaining in an archdiocesan publication:

"Some will not want to be honored because of their humility; but sometimes humility means accepting an honor that is not just for the individual but for everyone else as well. A few in the archdiocese might object to anyone receiving papal honors because they want to distance this local church from the Holy See. But alienation is not a virtue."

Twenty priests just received the title, although others may have been approached about it.

Either way, that's not the only thorny issue in the local Church these days. There are signs of rebellion elsewhere, rooted in part in a recent Vatican pronouncement that puts female ordination on the same level as priestly sex abuse. (Only men may be priests in the Roman Catholic tradition.)

In Oak Park, members of St. Giles Church launched a massive petition drive to advocate for better treatment of women in the Church.

And the pastor of Ascension Parish in Oak Park, the Rev. Larry McNally, recently apologized from the pulpit to the women of the congregation for the way they have been treated by the Church leadership.

His own spiritual director, who is a woman, recently stopped attending mass because she was so "totally disgusted" with the Church, McNally said.

Over in Glenview at the massive Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, the Rev. Tom Hickey touched on various themes in his Aug. 15 bulletin.

"Increasingly I don’t think the ordinary people of the Church should have the burden of trying to understand the machinations of what seems like an old boy’s club," Hickey wrote. "The way I see it, it is the institutional Church that needs to work harder at understanding us, the faithful."

He also wrote: "What can we do? Well for one, we need to speak our truth with love to our Church leaders, including parish priests like myself. Keeping silent is being complicit. We need to encourage one another, let each other know that we together are the Church. Each of us has a part to play. And we need to hang in; it is our Church too. Recently I visited Siena where St. Catherine, an unschooled woman, took on Popes and Bishops to reform the Church she loved. Can we do any less?"




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