Is Pope Francis’ choice of Cupich for Chicago good news for liberals?

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Banner on website of the Archdiocese of Chicago

Banner on website of the Archdiocese of Chicago

Banner on website of the Archdiocese of Chicago

The American Papist’s Thomas Peters refuses to believe it. While Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich wouldn’t have been his numero uno to succeed Cardinal Francis George as archbishop of Chicago, Peters disputes the (RNS) story line that conservatives have been given a bitter pill to swallow.

For Peters, Cupich merely “talks in a way that makes liberals feel comfortable.” The substance of what  he has to say is “almost always sound and orthodox.”

Not by conservative standards. Take same-sex marriage. When Washington State held a referendum on it in 2012, Cupich (as Peters notes) spoke up in opposition. Here’s how he began an op-ed in the Spokane Spokesman-Review as follows:

The strongly held positions on both sides of the effort to redefine marriage at issue in Referendum 74 are a testament to the common desire to build a society that promotes human growth and advancement…My hope is that by focusing on the shared aspiration of promoting human progress, we can discuss our differing viewpoints, as passionately as they are held, with both civility and clarity.

But it wasn’t just that, in contrast to other bishops writing on the subject, Cupich rhetorically acknowledged the high moral purpose of those on the other side. He went so far as to support Washington’s existing State Registered Domestic Partnerships law. “Current state law already provides same sex couples with those rights and freedoms,” he wrote. “Nothing should be done to diminish them for the coming generations.”

In other words, it’s not just that Cupich won’t be following in the culture warrior footsteps of Cardinal George, who just this month portrayed acceptance of same-sex relationships as “worship of a false God.” The next occupant of the See of Chicago does not support the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that “legal approval” of civil unions or domestic partnerships “contributes to the erosion of the authentic meaning of marriage. As such, they are never acceptable.”

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, in Catholicism as in life, style can also be substance. At a time when prelates like Cardinal George have been concerned to enforce episcopal control over Catholic higher education, Cupich takes a different tack. While in Spokane, he has made it a practice to join the religious studies faculty at Gonzaga University annually for a free-wheeling seminar.

“He likes to participate in theological discussion,” said one faculty member. “He understands that Catholic universities have a responsibility to engage with thinkers and to discuss issues quite broadly; that they play a role related to but distinct from that of faith formation and teaching as carried out by parishes or dioceses.” He will, said the faculty member “be missed.”