Invoking Cardinal Mundelein, Francis Cardinal George Blasts “The Wrong Side of History”
The present political campaign has brought to the surface of our public life the anti-religious sentiment, much of it explicitly anti-Catholic, that has been growing in this country for several decades. The secularizing of our culture is a much larger issue than political causes or the outcome of the current electoral campaign, important though that is.
Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests, entirely outside of the current political debate, I was trying to express in overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization of our society could bring. I was responding to a question and I never wrote down what I said, but the words were captured on somebody’s smart phone and have now gone viral on Wikipedia and elsewhere in the electronic communications world. I am (correctly) quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. What is omitted from the reports is a final phrase I added about the bishop who follows a possibly martyred bishop: “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” What I said is not “prophetic” but a way to force people to think outside of the usual categories that limit and sometimes poison both private and public discourse.
An earlier Archbishop of Chicago once tried his hand at reading the signs of his times. On May 18, 1937, Cardinal Mundelein, in a conference to priests of the archdiocese, called the then-German chancellor “an Austrian paper-hanger, and a darn poor one at that, I am told.” Why did Cardinal Mundelein speak in a way that drew applause from the New York Times and local papers and brought the German government to complain bitterly to the Holy See? The government of Germany, declaring its ideology the wave of the future, had dissolved Catholic youth groups and tried to discredit the church’s work among young people through trials of monks, priests and religious sisters accused of immorality. Cardinal Mundelein spoke of how the public protests of the bishops had been silenced in the German media, leaving the church in Germany more “helpless” than it had ever been.