(CBS) — The possibility of married Roman Catholic priests was part of a candid and revealing conversation with Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine sat down with Archbishop Cupich, who said that is wouldn’t surprise him, though not right away.
The Archbishop reminded us that Pope has already told the worldwide bishops conferences to consider it and report back.
“I think that what the pope was saying is that he wants to make sure that whatever you do it creates unity within your own churches, your own country,” Cupich said. “There’s no reason for any decision to be taken that is going to divide the church. The first mark of the church is unity and I think that is why the Pope said ‘You all need to get together first and talk about this to see what impact this will have on your church, good or ill.”
Asked if he believes he will see married ordained Catholic priests in his lifetime, Cupich said, “Predictions are hard to make but I would say with the way the Holy Spirit works in the church, I’m not going to be surprised by anything.”
Married priests other than Eastern Rite Catholics from Europe and members of other denominations already married before being ordained, was just one part of a conversation that included the increasing role of women, and including more un-ordained leaders in general, as part of his management team.
The archbishop vowed to expand church leadership beyond men with clerical collars, beginning with his appointing Betsy Bohlen as the archdiocese’ first chief operating officer.
Asked if her appointment is symbolic as much as it is substantive, “ Cupich said, “ I imagine that it is symbolic in the sense that I gave a talk at the First Friday Club this last week and when I mentioned it, the women stood up and applauded. That said something to me.”
Cupich said he doesn’t believe there is any contradiction between having a woman being a leader of the archdiocese, yet women are not allowed to be priests.
“We can address the whole issue of disengaging ordination and power or authority, which I think has been collapsed for too long around the clerical state.”
Among his first challenges is dealing with Fr. Brenden Curran, removed last week after allegations of an improper sexual relationship with a woman. Though he said he could be back in a parish someday.
“We are a forgiving community and I know that there are people who have been rehabilitated and been stronger as priests after some sort of public or moral failing.”
Cupich said that tolerance wouldn’t extend to child abusers, “because I think you cross a line when you violate a child, when you injure a child.”
The archbishop is very much concerned with Catholic schools and how people can afford them.
On tax credits for private or charter schools, Cupich said, “I would think it would have to be done in such a way that would give some benefit to lower income, middle income families.”
The archbishop says he’d had cordial conversations with the governor and legislative leaders.
Cupich says he misses the late Francis Cardinal George every day and says the Cardinal was the “institutional memory” of the archdiocese, but is wasting no time putting a new management team in place and evangelizing in new ways.
One way that distinguishes him from his predecessors is that, when stopped on the street, he’s willing to pose for a “selfie.”
He says the requests began almost immediately, notably with children when attending school basketball games shortly after his arrival in Chicago. But he said he is approached by people of all ages when walking to and from work, on the bus and on the ‘L.’
Yes, Cupich has navigated beyond the GPS in his car and says he likes Chicago’s mass transit system, especially because he lives in the Holy Name Cathedral rectory, immediately adjacent to the Chicago/State Red Line stop. Work is at Archbishop Quigley Center, the former Quigley Preparatory Seminary two blocks from the cathedral, and Cupich says he walks it daily.
He says that when his schedule permits, he likes to drive himself because each trip teaches him more of Cook and Lake Counties. If it’s a busy day — and there are a lot of them, just as there were for Cardinal George — he will still use a driver.
His travels so far have taken him to about 35 of the 350 Catholic parishes in Cook and Lake Counties. Staff members field constant requests for his presence at everything from baptisms to burials, confirmations to first holy communions and all types of parish festivals. He says his goal is to get to all 350 soon.
He also has tried to reach out to leaders of other religions in the Chicago area before, during and since Cardinal George’s death.
“I want to join in partnership with others in this city to really be supportive of them,” he says to non-Catholics. “We want to be proud of this city and we have every reason to be.”
Cupich last week established a Hispanic Council to minister to the 42 percent of Catholics in Cook and Lake Counties who are Spanish-speaking. He says he will do the same for other ethnicities in coming months, including Polish-speaking Catholics.
One priest who does not appear to be going anywhere is the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has balked in the past at attempts to move him from St. Sabina’s Church, at 1210 W. 78th Pl. The outspoken priest has been assigned to St. Sabina’s since 1980, and has been pastor for most of that time. Typically, priests change assignments every six to 12 years.
The two have spoken at length, and Cupich speaks highly of Pfleger.
“He really is a loving pastor of his people, he cares deeply about them. He works hard every day on behalf of folks who many times would be neglected or on the margins,” Cupich says. “I think it’s important to keep in mind that it’s quite admirable the way he does sacrifice himself, and many people recognize that day in and day out.”
He said his discussions with Pfleger “have always been cordial” and says every time he speaks with Pfleger he comes away “having learned something.”
Asked by WBBM if that means Pfleger will remain at his post through retirement, Cupich says only that the office that oversees the assignment of priests updates assignments across the archdiocese on a constant basis, but says, “Father Pfleger continues to do a good job and I’m sure they’re taking note of that.”
Asked about recent comments regarding same-sex marriage, he says the position of the Catholic Church “has not been against anybody, but for.” He says marriage is more than a commitment between two people, and involves bringing children into the world as well.
“We think that deserves the support of law,” he says.
Cupich says he believes the Catholic Church in Chicago has done well to recover from the priest sex abuse scandal, notes that the average age of cases being uncovered is more than 37 years in the past, and says he continues to see Chicago as “the gold standard” of how such cases should be handled.
“Not only do we have a safe environment program that protects children, but we also through our background checks and everything else we do for a child safety, we are in a position to make sure that children are safe very safe in our communities,” he says.
Activists have voiced concern that the “zero tolerance” policies put in place under George are not being adhered to strictly.
Cupich begins his work in Chicago at the age of 66, a late start for anyone undertaking a career assignment — almost. He says one need only look at Pope Francis.
“In comparison, I’m just a kid,” Cupich says. The Pope took over at 78. Maybe he’s the one who could give some advice on that. He seems to have a lot of energy.”
He says people are working longer today than in the past few generations, and says it keeps those who do so “very much alive and fit.”
He says the key is to enjoy your work, and Cupich says he does.
As an archbishop, Cupich remains one rank below that of the late Cardinal George and is not among the elite group of “Princes of the Church” who elect Popes. He does not sound as if he is in any rush to take the next step and the title of cardinal that goes with it.
He said it was surprising to see Pope Francis name cardinals in Tongo and Haiti while not elevating archbishops in some large archdioceses that have traditionally been led by cardinals. Nor is he upset.
“I enjoy every day getting up as the Archbishop of Chicago and that really is what motivates me to do my job as best as possible,” he says. “I’m pleased about that.”