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Modernist Cardinal Cupich misuses the words and teaching of Pope Benedict XVI

The Daily Knight

Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago

Back in January 2006, I wrote a post titled “Did I read the same encyclical as The New York Times?”, about the Grey Lady’s faintly funny and quite clueless reaction to Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est (“God Is Love”), which had been released on Christmas Day 2005. Of course, I didn’t expect anything different. It was par for the course. After all, secular newspapers cannot be expected to be deeply familiar with the many works written over many decades by Ratzinger/Benedict.


But Catholics should be, right? At the very least, Catholics should read and interact with major papal texts with a moderate amount of knowledge and acumen. However, as Cardinal Cupich demonstrates in his latest column, titled “A church called to love perfectly”, even prelates misunderstand (or misrepresent) texts in ways that are puzzling, annoying, or worse.


There are two points to consider here. The first is Cardinal Cupich’s assertion, at the start, that there are “many points of convergence between the late Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis is their emphasis on the power of grace, which is God’s love for his people. From different perspectives, both popes insist that this love is totally unconditional, mysterious, transformative and gratuitous.” Fair enough. I don’t disagree.


The problem comes with the argument presented in the next few paragraphs. It rests on Francis’s warning against trying to, as Cupich puts it, “domesticate the mystery of God’s grace or even the mystery of our lives by pretending to have all the answers.” God is, as Francis has famously remarks, “full of surprises.” We don’t determine when and how we encounter God. Those who think they know everything or have answers for every question are, in essence, trying to take God’s place.


Again, that’s fine as far as it goes. But Cupich then states: “So a pastoral approach that preemptively excludes someone from the life of the church and her ministry is a serious matter and must be challenged.”


How, it must be asked, does that follow? The claim is so big and vague that it’s almost pointless. Except, sadly, the point is fairly clear. As Phil Lawler writes, this surely is first and foremost about those holding to and living out beliefs about sex(uality) that are contrary to clear Church teaching. Why? Because that’s what Cupich and Co. (including Cardinal McElroy in recent writings and statements) have been pushing for years. For example, back in 2015, during the Synod on the Family, it was reported “Cupich told reporters in Rome he favors pathways to offer Holy Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. He said the church must respect the decisions those Catholics make about their spiritual lives and he believes the same is true for gay Catholics in relationships.” And so forth and so.


Cupich’s argument, in his column, is apparently as follows: since God is mysterious and is active in everyone’s life, it’s wrong for the Church to set limits on what anybody can do or be within the Church. And he attempts to employ some quotes from Benedict’s first encyclical in service of this stance. Cupich first quotes from a section (9) in Deus Caritas Est about the prophets and God’s enduring love for His people. Then he writes:


Notice that God forgives before anything else and before what justice would demand. Then, Benedict seems to double down on this and writes something quite astonishing to the point that he was criticized by some theologians at the time: “God’s passionate love for his people … a forgiving love … is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.”

Yes, it’s a striking quote, but it describes something that I, even as a young Evangelical Protestant, prior to becoming Catholic, understood to some significant degree: God had every reason and right to destroy sinful humanity, and could have done so in the name of true justice—but He instead demonstrated His love by offering forgiveness, redemption, and salvation. This should get our attention, without doubt, but it’s not some sort of doctrinal breakthrough of recent vintage, precisely because it is at the core of the Gospel and is the inner dynamic of the Incarnation itself! It is, in fact, exactly what the Apostle Paul describes in various places, such as in his epistle to the Romans:


While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man–though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Rom 5:6-8; cf Eph 2)


This is Soteriology 101 (a class I’ve taught several times, so I’m not saying it for effect). But, again, Cupich suddenly takes this somewhere else, apparently hoping his readers won’t notice how badly he confuses and conflates specifics that demand proper distinctions:

Unfortunately, some in the church struggle to understand the insights of these magisterial teachings. There are voices that insist the church must exclude sinners from fuller participation in the life of the church until they have reformed, out of respect for God’s justice. Yet, Pope Benedict would remind them that God’s love is so great and mysterious that it turns God against himself and turns his love against his justice.

Translation: those who think repentance is an essential part of participation—receiving Holy Communion and other sacraments, I suspect—are legalistic bullies. Don’t they understand that Benedict said God isn’t interested in justice? That’s bad enough (as I’ll show in a moment), but Cupich further adds:

And Pope Francis would warn them against domesticating the mystery of the grace of God by pretending to limit it by their cold and harsh logic. For treating God’s grace, no matter the moment or circumstance it may come, as if it were a reward for what we have done, robs it of any sense of mystery.

This is notable for both its sloppiness and doctrinal sophistry.


Here, to sum up the first point, is the problem. Francis, in the quotes above, focuses on the Mystery of God, warning against presuming that we can know or grasp who God is. In the words of St. Augustine: “If you understood Him, it would not be God.” But that does not mean (nor does Francis say it means) that we cannot and do not really know truths about God that have been given to us by Christ and His Church. Quite the contrary.

And while the New Testament is definitive in this regard because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, the same basic truth can be seen even in the Pentateuch: God is completely Other—“I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14; see CCC 206)—and yet He not only reveals something of Himself, He gives detailed and all-encompassing Commandments. God is not capricious; He doesn’t give a commandment against adultery or sodomy and then, for some people in some places, say that adultery and sodomy are fine. Or can be fine in some cases, because of complexities and difficulties. As Benedict emphasized so often, reason and logos are of God.


Meanwhile, Benedict, in his first encyclical, was intent on helping readers better understand the centrality of God’s love—that God is love (1 Jn 4:8); that He is not a violent deity driven by emotions and will for power (in some ways, his encyclical sets the stage for his widely misrepresented Regensburg Address). He showed that the Triune God is personal in His perfect love, offering forgiveness even when justice demands condemnation. And he points out that justice and love are reconciled in the mystery of the Cross (10).


Benedict in no way says that because God offers us His saving love there are no demands or criteria involved in accepting and living that love. Quite the contrary.


And that brings us to the second point: Ratzinger/Benedict constantly, in many ways and places, emphasized the need for repentance and Confession—and, in fact, lamented how often these vital actions are downplayed or even ignored.


In The Divine Project, a collection of six lectures given in 1985, Cardinal Ratzinger stated: “Too many people these days lack the courage to profess the prophetic message ‘Repent!’ in all its seriousness; that is, the part that comes before the words ‘believe in the Gospel.’ … [A]ll too often, the way we preach the Christian message today sounds like a recording of a symphony where the opening bars and the first major them have been cut out, laving the whole symphony amputated, it’s inner progressive unintelligible.” And, a bit later, he observes that sin “has become one of those things that are no longer spoken about in our age. We do our best to to avoid it in our preaching and teaching.” (pp 89, 90).


Then, in his 2007 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, on the Eucharist, Benedict wrote the following, worth quoting at length for reasons that will be apparent:

The Synod Fathers rightly stated that a love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Given the connection between these sacraments, an authentic catechesis on the meaning of the Eucharist must include the call to pursue the path of penance (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-29). We know that the faithful are surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin and to promote a superficial approach that overlooks the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach sacramental communion worthily. The loss of a consciousness of sin always entails a certain superficiality in the understanding of God’s love. Bringing out the elements within the rite of Mass that express consciousness of personal sin and, at the same time, of God’s mercy, can prove most helpful to the faithful. Furthermore, the relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation reminds us that sin is never a purely individual affair; it always damages the ecclesial communion that we have entered through Baptism. For this reason, Reconciliation, as the Fathers of the Church would say, is laboriosus quidam baptismus; they thus emphasized that the outcome of the process of conversion is also the restoration of full ecclesial communion, expressed in a return to the Eucharist. (par 20)

The loss of a consciousness of sin always entails a certain superficiality in the understanding of God’s love. That captures, in many ways, the problem with the not-so-divine project being pushed by Cardinals McElroy, Cupich, Hollerich, and others, such as Fr. James Martin, SJ.


In my experience, supposedly “rigid” and “neo-Pelagian” Catholics are not angry at homosexuals or at those committing adultery or at kids who say they are “trans”. They are frustrated with the refusal by so many bishops to call a spade a spade (or who are actively promoting falsehoods about moral truths), to stand firm against the reign of gay and the tyranny of trans, to uphold the perennial teachings of the Church rooted in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, and to exhort all Catholics to repentance and the state of grace.


Rather than catering to the dominant culture of death, our leaders should stop counting the cost and instead carry the Cross, which is both very challenging and absolutely necessary for all of us. After all, the same Apostle who declared that God is love also wrote the following:


By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. (1 Jn 5:2-4)



In Christ Crucified and the Most Victorious Heart of Jesus.


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