It has already started. The Crux headline insists that Bishop Cupich is “a moderate voice.”  The AP leads with it in the first paragraph of its story.  The meme can already be found all over Twitter.

But it is false.

Or, perhaps more precisely, it is false if what we have in mind as a kind of “Goldilocks moderate.” Perhaps what is meant is that Cupich is “not too extreme X”…but “not too extreme Y”…he’s a warm and fuzzy just right.  Sort of “in the middle.” Doesn’t take clear stand on issues…perhaps to the point of something like moral relativism. Also, boring. Even weak.

But do these words he spoke at a recent conference on Catholicism and libertarianism sound moderate to you?  This is a radical call to get out of our own heads and participate in the lives of those on the margins of our culture:

In our country and particularly in an era when campaign fundraising absorbs so much of an elected official’s time, the Pope’s words are particularly challenging. But they are also a challenge to any of us who, already having our place at the table of life,  find it more secure to speak of the economy in the world of ideas rather than risk testing them by visiting the reality of the excluded and marginalized – thereby making sure that ideas do dialogue with reality. Rather, his first goal is to call believers, call us all,  to a renewed encounter with the Risen Christ, so that our lives may be marked by the joy that sets us “free from sin, sorrow,  inner emptiness and loneliness” to the point that we are compelled to invite others to enter into and participate in  that same encounter, life and joy.


Everything else, our economy, politics, social programs, our life styles are all measured by how they help or hinder others in participating in the life God has destined for humanity and in experiencing God’s loving encounter.  The Pope isn’t asking us to give over our wallets but to give over our lives to bringing about the Kingdom of God in our midst.  This is not about adopting an economic system that stifles personal initiative and creativity, nor for that matter is it about baptizing a market driven economy to the point that it sends the message, especially to our youth, that it is ok to organize your life around trying to make as much money as you can as long as you occasionally are generous to the needy. No, the Pope’s invitation is much more profound:  Is sharing with others the joy of our encounter with Christ our priority? Or do we seek to deal with our sin, sorrow, emptiness and loneliness on our own terms? And specifically when it comes to inviting the poor to participate in the life God is calling us all to share, we have to deal with their real life situation not only that they are in want but that they are excluded. It is within this context that he calls for a shift from an economics of exclusion to a culture of encounter and the need for accompaniment.

Someone might also confuse Cupich for a moderate on the basis of his multiple calls for civility. But what, after all, could be more boring or more weak than yet another capitulation to the kind of personal attacks which rule our public discourse?  It takes radical strength to resist the powerful market-driven forces which reward incivility. But are Cupich’s calls for civility a kind of ho-hum relativism? Hardly. Instead, he argues that “condemnations have limited impact.” He sees civility as the best opportunity for the Church’s argument–which is an argument on behalf of those on the margins–to be heard, respected and effective.  And he couldn’t be more right.

But then there are tweets like this:

@RorateCaeli “Moderate,” meaning “soft on abortion” Blase Cupich next Arch. Bishop of Chicago: … #FrancisEffect

And, indeed, in some pro-life circles, there is another meme going around: Cupich is moderate (read: weak) on abortion. After all, didn’t he discourage 40 Days for Life and other abortion protests in his diocese?

But the real disagreement, again, is not about goals. Bishop Cupich believes that abortion is the violent taking of a human life, and agrees that the “challenge is to get people to take a second look at the issue of abortion.”  But he disagrees with some strands of the pro-life movement about the best way to achieve that goal:

the Bishop asked the priests to approach respect life issues as teachers, for that is what they are. Teachers create new openings for learning and reduce obstacles. Their intense passion to share the truth leads them to greater patience and prudence and not frustration with and disdain for students who fail to respond appropriately. Their witness to the faith through teaching becomes all the more powerful when the presbyterate works together in unity and solidarity.

It is also important, the Bishop noted, to keep in mind that oftentimes decisions about abortions are not made primarily in clinics. Such decisions are made around kitchen tables and in living rooms and they frequently involve a sister, daughter, relative or friend who may have been pressured or abandoned by the man who fathered the child. Attitudes too are formed in homes and families. This would seem to suggest, the Bishop told the priests, “that our primary efforts as teachers need to be focused on our families and our parish communities, always demonstrating solidarity with vulnerable women.”

Cupich’s warning about rhetoric, tone, and strategy is well-placed. Far too often, certain strands of the pro-life movement can actually undermine our common goals of protecting prenatal children. Even in addressing his fellow bishops Cupich said, “A prophecy of denunciation quickly wears thin. We need a prophecy of solidarity with the communities we serve and the nation we live in, which needs healing.” And if anyone doubts this bishop’s pro-life credentials, check out his recent homily on Respect Life Sunday:

The truth will win out and we have to believe that a nation whose collective heart can break and grieve for babies slaughtered in Newtown has the capacity and God’s grace to one day grieve for the babies killed in the womb.

So we know that the new Archbishop of Chicago is no moderate. But he’s no conservative either. For those working with two-dimensional, binary categories it must follow that he is…liberal?  Not at all. Check the final line of his speech from the conference mentioned above:

John Paul II told us what to do; Benedict XVI told us why we should do it; Francis is telling us – “Do it.”

I take it that JPII and B16 were not liberals. Cupich, like our three last popes, is magenta.

And anything but a Goldilocks moderate.