Bishop Cupich: A View from Spokane


Now that he has been named archbishop of Chicago, many people have expressed interest in Bishop Blase Cupich’s time as bishop of the Diocese of Spokane. I should make clear that I barely know Bishop Cupich on a personal level. I am only a Catholic layman in the diocese of Spokane. I do, however, hold an endowed chair in “Christian Philosophy” at Gonzaga University, serve as academic advisor to Bishop White Seminary (an undergraduate college seminary at Gonzaga), and am a former director of Gonzaga’s small Catholic Studies Program. Gonzaga University is, primarily, a school of approximately 4800 undergraduates that calls itself Jesuit and Catholic and that operates within the Spokane diocese.

First, the good news: Not long after he was appointed to serve as bishop in Spokane, Cupich delivered a talk at Gonzaga as part of “Ignatian Heritage Week.” His lecture was devoted to the work of Christian Smith, an accomplished sociologist who is the director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame.

Professor Smith’s work is vast, but he is especially deft at using sociological tools to chronicle the inability of Christian parents and educational programs, including Catholic ones, to pass on the practice or even the mere knowledge of Christian faith to young people in the United States. In his presentation, Bishop Cupich seemed quite convinced by Smith’s analysis of our current and ongoing crisis.

This means that Cupich recognizesthat there are very serious problems within the Catholic Church and within Catholic education in the United States. But Cupich may be unaware that after his appearance, Ignatian Heritage Week was taken over by Gonzaga administrators and that ideas such as Smith’s have hardly been featured during Ignatian Heritage Week ever since.

Not long after Cupich became bishop, the Gonzaga administration gave permission for the Vagina Monologues to be performed on campus. This was widely perceived – if never openly stated – as Gonzaga’s repudiation of former president Fr. Robert Spitzer. (Spitzer had refused such permission.) In the uproar that followed the approval of the Monologues under the new Gonzaga regime, it came out that Cupich had given his own approval for the performance.

It has been said that Cupich received promises from university administrators that the performance of the Monologues would be framed in some sort of proper educational context, but in the event the educational context turned into plenty of radical feminist bashing of, among others, the Catholic Church and her bishops. In any case, whatever his intent, the upshot of Cupich’s decision was to undermine the position of traditional Catholic scholarship at Gonzaga.


        Cardinal George welcomes Archbishop Cupich to Chicago

Bishop White Seminary at Gonzaga, which was nothing short of an extraordinary success story until Cupich became bishop, fell quickly into desuetude after his arrival. Moreover, when Gonzaga University refused to continue club status for Gonzaga’s campus Knights of Columbus council, Cupich, it is widely whispered, told the remaining seminarians not to discuss the matter with the press. It has also been widely reported that Cupich did not want his diocesan priests involved with certain pro-life groups that he considered too strident. Cupich may not even know it, but at the time, students involved with Gonzaga’s Right to Life Club felt abandoned, even though they were not his direct target.

I once wrote to him expressing in particular my concerns about the direction of Gonzaga’s core curriculum. His reply was polite, but he made it quite clear that he had no interest in involving himself in such matters. Gonzaga adopted, and is now planning to implement, a core curriculum that diminishes the number of courses that students take in “Catholic or Christian religion” from three to one.

The formerly required course on the Bible is being eliminated and the course in applied Christianity, which often in practice meant Christian morality, is being changed to world religions. Gonzaga students, many of whom belong to Cupich’s diocese, will soon be devoting only a single semester course in four years of college (3 out of 128 credits, or 2.34 percent) to the study of “the Catholic or Christian religion.”

The local Spokane newspaper describes Cupich as “a moderate who has called for civility in the culture wars,” since he has said that Pope Francis doesn’t want “ideologues.” From what I can tell, the description is inaccurate. Real moderates engage all sides, trying to find common ground, if it is available, that will permit them to advance their principles. By not inserting his office into conflict situations, Cupich has often, whether intentionally or not, quietly ceded much ground to one side, and without advancing his principles. 

To be fair, Cupich was willing to debate publicly a local city councilman about legalization of same-sex marriage. Still, on the whole, the record is hardly a bold one. And one wonders: if he comes across as too timid to be effective in the small, rather polite, and humble diocese of Spokane, what are his chances to be effective in a large, muscular, broad-shouldered place like Chicago?

My advice to Catholics in Chicago? Your new archbishop is a very nice man; he is also very intelligent and talented. I respect him far too much to flatter him, as many of my fellow Spokanites are wont to do. And I refuse to believe that he really thinks that those of you trying to defend and advance the Church in the public forum are just “ideologues.” But he tends to be – to use a polite phrase – “conflict averse.”

We send him to you with our prayers and our charity. He’s got a very big job now, and he is going to need you to involve yourselves robustly in the struggles of the Church in Chicago if he is going to be successful.

Douglas Kries

Douglas Kries

Douglas Kries holds a doctorate in theology from Boston College; he is Bernard J. Coughlin, S.J., Professor of Christian Philosophy at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Among his published works is The Problem of Natural Law. He is not authorized to speak for or on behalf of Gonzaga University.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    Who is the latest incarnation of Joseph Bernadin who masterminds these appointments for the AmChurch?

  • Chris in Maryland

    I remember Fr. Barron lamenting that at “the best
    Catholic High School in Chicago, where his niece attended, all courses and materials were top-notch, except for Catholic course materials, which he called “coloring books.”

    Bishops and other “authorities” like Bishop Cupich are the guarantors of a Church that is impoverished of Christian maturity and inspiration. It is a Church where the “Catholic Charities” NGO will remain on life support, while the sacraments of Matrimony, Baptism and Holy Orders dwindle to almost nothing. It is a dead fish floating down stream.

  • Rich in MN

    Satan the serpent is a constrictor. I pray for Bishop Cupich that his “strategy of detente” may lead to a spreading the Gospel message and not a further restricting or corrupting of the Gospel message.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    Let us listen to what St. Augustine says in today’s Office of Readings:

    “Hear and learn, you sheep of God. God calls for an accounting of his sheep from the wicked shepherds and inquires into the death of his sheep at their hands. For in another passage he speaks through the same prophet: Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel. You shall hear the word from my mouth and you shall point out the way to them in my name.

    When I say to the sinner: You shall die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man from his wicked way, because of his wickedness he shall die, but you shall be held responsible for his death. If, however, you warn the wicked man to turn away from his wickedness, and he fails to do so, he shall die in his iniquity, but you shall have saved your soul.

    Dear brothers, what does this mean? Do you see how dangerous it is to keep silent? The sinner dies and rightly so; he dies in his wickedness and in his sin, for his failure to heed you has killed him. He could have found the Lord, the living shepherd who says: I live. But he was heedless; and the one appointed for this task, the watchman, did not warn him. The wicked one then justly suffers death and the watchman rightly suffers damnation.

    But the Lord says, if you say to the wicked man: You shall surely die, and if he fails to heed the sword of judgment with which I have threatened him, that sword will overtake and kill him, and he will die in his sin; but you will have saved your soul. Therefore it is our task not to keep silent, and it is your task, even if we ourselves are silent, to hear the words of the shepherd from the Scriptures.

    I have said that he will take the sheep from the bad shepherds and give them to shepherds who are good. Let us consider whether he does so. I see him taking the sheep from the bad shepherds, when he says: Behold, I myself am over the shepherds, and I will claim my sheep from their hands; and I will turn away from them so that they may not pasture my sheep, and the shepherds shall no longer give pasture. For when I say: “Let them pasture my sheep,” they give pasture to themselves and not to my sheep. Therefore, I will turn away from them so that they may not pasture my sheep.

    How does the Lord turn away from them to keep them from pasturing his sheep? Do whatever they tell you, but do not follow what they do. It is as if he said: “The words they say are mine, but their deeds are their own.” If you do not follow the example of the bad shepherds, they are not giving you pasture. But if you do what they say, it is I who am feeding you.”

  • GG

    Thank you Dr.Kries you are a scholar and a very charitable man. You have done a service to the bishop and to his flock by writing this piece.

    From what I have read many are concerned about this appointment. The folks I have read are not as nuanced and balanced as you are here. From reading different pieces on this topic I would say there is need to be concerned.

    Why is having a zeal for the faith now viewed as an ideology? Why would one be a bishop and not be proud his priests are praying in front of a office that commits murder? How is that being too strident?

    Are these stances based in the Gospel or some psychological and political error?

  • DS

    With all the angst over Cardinal Burke’s pending “demotion” and Bishop Cupich’s transfer to Chicago, maybe it’s time to return to a practice of the early church and allow the laity to play a role in the selection of bishops. Ironically, many of our Protestant brethren have seen the wisdom in recovering this tradition.

  • Ray

    Deacon Ed:

    The main part of your message is from Ezekiel 33. It was actually one of the readings for Sunday Mass about a month ago. I pray that more of our leaders take this message seriously but I’m not holding my breath. Our Church of Nice is full of milquetoast leaders who refuse to speak to Truth to most anyone. Their muteness on any controversial issue gains them damnation per this Bible verse. Guess they don’t care.

  • Greg Fazzari

    Bishop Cupich is a good person – very pastoral. But he picks and chooses his battles. The implementation of the liturgical changes came off without a hitch in the Spokane diocese, which is plagued with several priests of the 80’s ilk. At times there is no debate – his mind is made up.

    He seems to not want to be perceived as “too political”, sometimes to the detriment of needed moral leadership. But his perspectives are solidly orthodox. He seem to look for “clever ways” to get the Catholic message through and can articulate the Catholic position very well. However, he seems far more interested in building bridges, than challenging opponents.

    The Spokane diocese is embroiled in some abuse court cases that have not gone well, and Bishop Cupich seems to have taken these issues head on, and truly tried to right some wrongs.

    Dr. Kries is spot-on with the problems at Gonzaga – this aspect of the Bishop’s ministry has been most disappointing.

    Surely we must trust the Holy Spirit. Bishop Cupich must be exactly what Chicago needs right now.

  • Richard M

    The decay of Bishop White Seminary during Bishop Cupich’s tenure may be the most distressing development development in Spokane in recent years; it may also prove to be the most interesting of these stories to be told.

    Whatever the reason, we must all pray that the next ordinary of Spokane will dedicate special efforts to revitalize both vocations and formation in the diocese. Spokane needs priests – holy priests.

  • Peter O’Reilly

    Thank you Dr. Kries for speaking out from your experience and perspective which is very valuable. There is a tremendous temptation for both the laity and the clergy to remain silent when I believe the Holy Spirit is moving and inspiring the members of the Mystical Body to speak out. As an outside observer of Catholic campuses, I suspect that more courage is required to speak out as a Catholic on a Catholic campus on Catholic issues than even on a secular one. How strange. Thank you Dr. Kries for your charity in truth.

  • Richard M

    “The local Spokane newspaper describes Cupich as “a moderate who has called for civility in the culture wars.””

    Alas, in terms of the actual pastoral reality, the results seem to be not so much “civility” as “surrender.”

  • John

    Great, another Bishop who goes after the one lost sheep and allows the other 99 to be devoured by the wolves.

  • David S.

    If we are the salt of the earth, how much more should our spiritual leaders be? If they lose their flavor, what does that do to the rest of us? Seeing Gonzaga under his influence go the way of other nominally Catholic institutions of higher education is not an encouraging sign. Given the increasing hostility of the world to the Catholic Church, I’m not sure a “conflict averse” shepherd is what the Chicago area flock needs right now.

  • David S.

    In response to Richard M., I would only say that “civility” as most often used is a one-way street, a concept to muzzle traditionalists and conservatives, while those on the other side are free to spout their venom with impunity.

  • Dan Kennedy

    Well written. As the CEO of a statewide pro-life organization in Washington, I can affirm what Dr. Kries has reported. I fear that “dialogue” without muscular, yet loving action, ends in a tacit surrender. Does anyone really believe that an Obama-like “reset” with an aggressive secular culture will attain the desired ends?

  • K.R.

    I would like to read more about what happened with the seminary… it is alluded to in the article, but without elaboration. Can anyone shed further light on this?

  • Matthew

    I hail from Rapid City, the former home of Bishop Cupich and the article above is a quite accurate description of our experience here as well. The pro-life warriors on the ground (including many Catholic school students) were left out to dry or even chastised for involvement in a few key pro-life bills that came through our state legislature during his tenure. This is the way of secrecy and avoidance. Chicago we are praying for you!

  • Fr. Kloster

    I know Archbishop Cupich. I first met him in 1991. He is a progressive Catholic. I was pushed over the edge long ago and don’t feel the need to play any nuanced games with anyone no matter what it costs me personally. I don’t like using the secular political titles, because they don’t apply where the Church is concerned. You are either Catholic or somewhat less than Catholic (all the way from missing one doctrine or discipline to being aggressively anti-Catholic). Archbishop Cupich could never be described as a traditional Catholic. I’m trying to be as charitable as possible. I’ve had several face to face conversations with the man, so I know his tendencies well.

  • Manfred

    @Dr. Kries:

    Thank you for this very timely and well researched column today. Welcome to TCT. Keep columns of this caliber coming. I would also like to thank TCT for publishing timely columns which deal with the immediate problems “on the ground” and affect all Catholics.

    To sum up, we have a middling bishop with a mediocre track record now appointed to the third largest diocese in the U.S. His reputation has preceded him to the extent he already being referred to as “Bernardin II”. Think of it this way: After the 25 year pontificate of JP II, and the eight year pontificate of Benedict, both of whom attempted to hold the line or push back the Spirit of Vat. II, we now see our hopes of a restoration of the Church being dashed by this middling man who currently serves in the Chair of Peter. As Dolan pointed out in a recent radio interview, the culture wars are over, no pro abortion politician will be denied the Eucharist, and all points of view will be accepted. I would add that no lines would ever be drawn in the sand and modernist catholicism will just serve as an artificial construct.
    On the plus side, the SSPX just received good news after their meeting with Cdl. Mueller of the CDF. I have cited on this page that an FSSP priest who served our Chapel was invited by Abp Gomez and a pastor to bring the Traditional Mass to a Los Angeles parish with their full support. I learned last weekend that a wealthy supporter of the TLM in the parish has offered to buy an unused Catholic church in the L.A. diocese for the exclusive use of the FSSP.
    Be patient and prayerful, fellow readers, as God always wins.

  • Jeff T.

    Well done. You’ve presented the facts as you know them about as charitably as possible. Your approach is a good reminder for me to assume positive intent in all my judgments.

  • Chris in Maryland

    As to a decline in a seminary, I assume that means a decline in numbers of seminarians? (I can only imagine that’s what it means, because everything else is comparatively invisible.)

    If the decline is in numbers of seminarians, it is no wonder to me. Why would any young man want to offer to sacrifice his life for something not deemed of ultimate importance?

    My sense is that the reason why FSSP seminaries and orthodox men’s & women’s orders are reported surging, and “establishment” seminaries and orders are shrinking, is because the former are seen as worth the sacrifice, the latter, simply not.

    This – I believe – explains why, for example, the NY Archdiocese had only 8 seminarians when last reported?

    If my son tells me one day that his vocation may be to the priesthood, I could not in good conscience send him to just any seminary in the Church…my sense is…I would have to work diligently with him to find a seminary worthy of the Gospel.

  • Jon S.

    Where has the “conflict adverse” approach gotten the Mainline Protestant denominations? Ever-emptying pews.

    Where did the “conflict adverse” approach get the Catholic Church after Vatican II until St. John Paul the Great? Ever-emptying pews.

    Yes, we must speak the truth in love, but it must be the whole truth (kat’ holon) of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, including the truth that our Fallen human nature does not want to hear even though it will set us free, which will inevitably result in conflict.

    When Truth and Love Incarnate spoke the truth, it led to crucifixion–and Resurrection–as it has for many saints since then.

    Sadly, trying to speak the whole truth in love results in crosses to bear for those of us employed by the Church under “conflict adverse” bishops, pastors, presidents, and principals.

  • c matt

    Bishop Cupich must be exactly what Chicago needs right now.

    Or what it deserves.

  • Leo James

    In his first Mass as our new Pastor in Omaha, Father Cupich publicly chastised our teenage daughter for genuflecting,as was her practice, along with many others in our parish, before receiving the Blessed Sacrament. He said loudly so that all in the communion line could hear: “don’t do that in my church again”. We pray that he has reflected on John 12:3 since that time and for those he is called to serve in Chicago.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    Leo James, my heart goes out to you for this despicable publicly humiliating treatment of your daughter by then Fr Cupich. Please extend my apologies to her on behalf of the Catholic Church and Her ministers.

  • Robert Hill

    Very troubling in all regards. God grant us shepherds who are truly willing to die for their flocks and who will not tremble before the wolves.

  • MTF

    It is bittersweet to see Bishop Cupich appointed to Chicago. Bitter because he sees it as a promotion, when his priests and laity have suffered so much under his leadership. Sweet, because we can all breathe a little easier now, knowing that Our good Lord has come to rescue us from this wolf in sheep’s clothing. Without going into to too much detail, I will say that our holy priests are most likely VERY relieved. (Many of them have admitted in confidence, to many of us lay Catholics that B. Cupich terrifies them. Bishop Cupich has ruled over them with an iron fist, and this is not a secret, my friends (And his mandate to avoid praying in front of PP is only one of many of those examples.) “strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter.” We have been in the desert over here in Spokane since he was installed September 3rd, 2010. God has finally delivered us from his hands, though. I’ll be praying for you Chicago- you are gonna need it!! Oh, and one piece of advice for any of you who ever happen to go to him for confession: ask him to turn off his phone BEFORE the sacrament begins. He is on his phone CONSTANTLY,(which is not news to Spokanites), but I was STUNNED to hear text beeps occurring while he was listening to my confession. To this day, I regret not asking him why he would leave his phone on during this holy sacrament.

  • Lee Gilbert

    Maybe someone with some clout will have the brains to send this column with its comments to Pope Francis, together with a polite request to put Cardinal Burke back on the Congregation for Bishops.

  • Geno

    Let us not forget that firing and banishment of Fr. Vic Blasovich! A truly holy priest who stood up for the Blessed Sacrament! At St Mary’s parish in the Spokane Valley, he told the “Eucharistic Ministers” mostly comprised of older women to refuse communion to those living in public sin, homosexuals etc. They sent a letter to the bishop and the rest is history. Cupich is a brilliant man, a CEO minded person, however, he seems to be leading the Church from the rear allowing Doctrine and teaching to be severely neglected or discarded. Pray that he sees the truth…

  • TK

    We’ll now be able to assess Cardinal George’s comment, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. 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.” Then again, Cupich will have to deal with Fr. Phleger.

  • Michael McDermott

    Curious, Very Curious – One can only wonder how this story will unfold over time, particularly in the heart of the Abomination; where the Dead Really Do Rise – at least to Vote Demicrat on election day.

  • Tiffany

    Man. Bracing assessment — but I appreciate both the charity and clarity in your piece and the subsequent comments. Please pray for all three dioceses in Alaska (Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks…)

  • Brittany Schneider

    I think the new archbishop is a mistake. Archbishop Cupich does not seem like he would be fit for Chicago. If he couldn’t get his point across to a small group how will he get a point across to all of Chicago. I believe he has good ideas and wants to do the right things, this just isn’t the right thing for him.

  • madi moster

    I am interested to see how the bishop helps the Church.

  • Brittany Schneider

    I think he would not make a great archbishop. If he cannot get his point across in a small group how will he get his point across to Chicago. I think he has has the right idea he just wouldn’t fit in that role.

  • Sam Muniz

    I believe that this development is ideal for today’s church. Cupich mentions that he does see internal problems within the church and with the Catholic teachings with the youth. I also believe that Cupich will offer some new advancements with the ideology and teachings that the church is accustom to.



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