Bernardin redivivus?

Speaking of "Throwback Thursday," Pope Francis seems to be giving new life to a number of neglected aspects of recent church history -- off the top of my head I'd say that list includes Gaudium et Spes, Cardinal Martini, Evangelii Nuntiandi, and by extension Paul VI, as well as Oscar Romero, John XXIII (as if he needed it), the Holy Spirit (as if she needed it) and the list may go on.

The legacy of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin would also seem to be getting a boost as Francis' remarks align so closely with Bernardin's ideas on the consistent ethic of life, on "common ground" for dialogue in the church, and for reaching out to the wider world. I explore this in a story published today:

“The point that (Bernardin’s) consistent ethic makes is exactly the same point that Pope Francis is making – let’s look at the whole picture and not just focus almost exclusively on three or so issues,” said Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M., who had been close friends with Bernardin since the 1970s.

“I certainly think that if Cardinal Bernardin were alive he would be very pleased with what Pope Francis is saying and doing,” echoed Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, retired archbishop of Galveston-Houston, whose 1998-2001 term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was seen as one of the last in the mold of Bernardin.

“The consistent ethic of life theory that Bernardin proposed is getting a second look,” Fiorenza said.

Several other bishops, church officials and observers agreed. But if those assessments are manna to Catholics hungry for a new direction in the church, they are anathema to conservatives who believe Bernardin epitomized everything that was wrong with the U.S. church before Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI pushed the hierarchy to the right.

The story is long for a news service piece -- 1200 words! And yet much good stuff had to be cut. I made a glancing reference to Peter Steinfels' 2011 rebuttal to George Weigel's critique of Bernardin, and John Carr had a good line that didn't make it -- that while both Bernardin and Francis were children of Italian immigrants, "Bernardin wouldn't say grace without a prepared text!"

I think the evidence for the synchronicity between Francis and the late archbishop of Chicago is strong, and many agree, even though I could find no evidence that Bergoglio knew of Bernardin. The real question may be whether Bernardin's approach can return to currency in the U.S. church as much as it has in Rome.


David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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Conservatives are a crack up!

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