Has the Catholic Bubble in Chicago Finally Burst?

When Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law same-sex marriage in Illinois, he did more than redefine marriage in the state. His pen may have bursts the bubble in which many Illinois Catholics live.

That bubble had been growing for more than fifty years. Writing in Commonweal, Margaret O'Brien Steinfels describes how many Chicago Catholics lived in their own world where Democratic politics and Catholicism fit like hand and glove. She says of Chicago Catholics in the 1960s, "The important question (growing up) was: Did your tribe accept you?"

"Not by vote, (but) by the regular and steady process of instilling the tribal ethos... this process tutored children in deference and respect -- first to your mother and father, and then to... God, then to nuns and priests... then to the Democratic Party..."

There were gay men in Steinfels' Catholic bubble, but they were mostly hidden or conflicted. No one imagined Catholics supporting same-sex marriage in those days, let alone Catholic politicians supporting something so outrageous.

In her description of a party at, "a well-tended yard somewhere on the foreign southwest side of the city," (near the working-class neighborhood where I grew up), Steinfels relates that, "My friend said he was a homosexual... for me this was unknown territory..."

"We were sitting across from one another on lawn chairs... Did I pat him on the arm? I can't remember. But I clearly remember offering the consolation: "You'll get over it.'"

the times they are a changin'

When the civil rights movement and the protest to the war in Vietnam came to Chicago, things began to change in the Catholic bubble. The union of party and Church was tested. As the civil rights movement grew in the 1960s and 1970s, party bosses in Chicago realized they had to juggle both blacks and Catholics in a contentious coalition.

The Jesuits who ran Loyola University, where Steinfels attended (and I attended classes for two years on a U.S. Army scholarship), were intellectuals who were inclined to integration and liberalism, while in the neighborhoods, working-class Catholics wanted to preserve their way of life and had few options to do that besides supporting segregation.

At that time, Father Francis X. Lawlor, a Catholic priest on Chicago's southwest side tried to save some neighborhoods from blockbusting. He received little help from the Church or Democratic politicians. He realized that the Jesuits wanted civil rights, but the Democrats wanted votes. Caught in the middle, he was leading a lost cause.

The civil rights movement in Chicago taught Democrats that they could say one thing and do another, and get Catholics to go along with them. Democrat segregationists in Chicago won by putting a liberal mask on their policies. Today, living in the bubble, few notice that if Catholic Democrats really wanted civil rights for blacks in the 1960s, why is Chicago still the most segregated city in the nation?

At the same time, protests were raging in Chicago, many city churches closed and their congregations fled to the developing suburbs to establish new churches with a liberal facade. When the dance of civil rights was over, slowly, the way a dancer slips off his tights after a ballet, Catholic beliefs turned inside out.

living among traitors

Cardinal Francis George was born in Chicago, but left to study and become a priest. He returned to the city and was appointed archbishop in 1997. This was long after the assassination of President Kenney and after the city's Democrats finalized the borders of a segregated Chicago.

"'I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square,' said Francis Cardinal George as he looked over the political landscape of present day Chicago."

"He went on to say that 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."

Taking the Cardinal at his word, are we allowed to ask, who will make it necessary to rebuild civilization? Will the Democratic Party with which the Catholic Church is now joined be the agent of ruin seen by Cardinal George?

Catholic Democrats, still living in the bubble, argue that the Church must change because many of its teachings are incompatible with the modern world. These Catholics forget that the Church is incompatible with every world. The Catholic Church is for the ages, not in the ages.

The Church was incompatible with the world of the late Roman Empire, just as it is incompatible with the current world of Marxism. Yesterday, it was Nero who persecuted Catholics. Today, it could be Mike Madigan, Speaker of the Illinois House.

The realization many Catholics must make now that the bubble has burst is that the Church is incompatible with the Democratic Party. The distortion of doctrine that Gov. Quinn expressed at the signing of the same-sex marriage law shows how far meanings have been turned inside out. "'Love never fails,' Quinn said amid thunderous applause, immediately before sitting down to put his signature on the historic law."

Cardinal George was silent about what he thought when he read about this apostasy. After such a betrayal, how can the two men appear together in public? Furthermore, Gov. Quinn can turn the message of the Gospel into its opposite, and few Catholics, living in a bubble, care about it.

Cardinal Francis George must know that the Democrats in his Church will be the cause of ruin. He must know, too, that men are either converted by reason or by pain. Listening to the sophistry of Gov. Quinn, it looks like the time for reason has passed. Perhaps the Cardinal has been warned, too, that Democrats enjoy destroying men's lives in the name of their false god -- political power.

it's complex

It is winter, now, in Chicago. Snow, blown by the wind, curls off the ledge of the rectory wall. Perhaps Francis Cardinal George realizes he is old and does not have the energy in the winter of life to prevent perfidy in the state's high office. Nevertheless, the faithful want the Cardinal to do something more than broadcast words.

But the faithful don't understand. There's the sex-abuse scandals and the new Pope. It's Chicago. It's complex.

Here are two men. Both profess to be Catholics. One is the head of the Church in Illinois and the other is the head of the state. Inside the bubble where many Catholic Democrats live, they sound the same. Does one man feel betrayed by the other? Can we offer as consolation, "You'll get over it?"

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels is not the only one to have grown up in a Catholic bubble. An entire generation of Chicago area Catholics did so. Now that the bubble has burst with Gov. Quinn's signing of same-sex marriage into law, have they come to see the political party they tied their hopes to is a structure of evil?

The Democratic Party now stands against what Catholics should believe. Let's make a list: abortion on demand, the contraceptive mandate, continued urban segregation, same-sex marriage, and unending illegal immigration. The list goes on.

With this list in mind, it looks like the present-day Democratic Party will bring Cardinal George's prophecy to fruition. Many will be asked to choose: Catholic or Democrat? If history is a guide, most will choose Democrat.

That choice will be fraught with consequences. It could lead to what happened in Cuba or Nigeria. It could mean, as Francis Cardinal George imagines, lining up faithful Catholics against a wall in Chicago and shooting them dead. Nothing breaks your bubble like being shot by those you trusted.

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