Chicago’s clerical monsignor tempest in a teapot

Recently, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago nominated 20 priests of the Archdiocese to receive the honorific title of “monsignor,” and these appointments were confirmed by the Vatican.

A small number of outspoken Chicago clergy called this move “divisive,” ostensibly since only a few clergy were singled out for this honor. Actually, Chicago’s almost 30-year-old practice of rarely nominating priests in leadership positions or known for their distinguished service for this honorific title was one of the principal vanities of leading “Americanizing” Chicago clergy, who looked to reduce formal ties with the Pope, in itself a more divisive act.

One usually needs a score-card to understand the finer points of clerical infighting, where up is usually actually down, and right is actually left to the Nth degree, etc., so I’ll explain. The title monsignor implies a direct personal relationship of service to the Pope. When Cardinal George acted to restore these ties by the reactivation of the monsignor title, his act was called “divisive” — for ending a previous division.

The last thing that the dying cohort of Americanizers (who dream of an American Church separate from Rome) among the Chicago clergy want to see is loyalty and commitment to the Pope, much less money sent in Rome’s direction.

But since the Americanizers do not have the intestinal fortitude to actually form a separate American church, they content themselves by maintaining symbolic vanities, like the abolition of the monsignor title. When such symbolic vanities are removed, they respond with pique and vituperation.

When one looks at some of the priests honored with the title of monsignor in Chicago’s history, such as Reynold Hillenbrand, his predecessors such as Francis A. Purcell and Joseph T. Kush, his contemporaries John M. Hayes, Harry C. Koenig, and Ignatius McDermott, and his students Daniel Cantwell, George G. Higgins, William J. Quinn, and John J. Egan, there is no doubt that these men deserved public recognition. They were distinguished priests who brought honor to the Chicago presbyterate. The priests honored with the same title recently are similarly distinguished. These have and will bring similar honor.

So pipe down, SNAP (which spits in the clerical soup whenever anything happy might be happening among the Catholic presbyterate), and you vanishing Americanizers among the Chicago clergy should take a deep breath. If we cannot honor clerical virtue, we will be left only with clerical vice.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


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