Are the new cardinals just 'Vatican pitbulls?'

by Joshua J. McElwee

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In a posting over at Religion Dispatches yesterday, feminist theologian Mary E. Hunt disagrees with John Allen's assessment that the new batch of cardinals were not picked on any ideological basis.

The title of her piece? "Vatican Pitbulls Make Cardinal."

The main argument? That "to become a cardinal you have to do in at least one fellow Catholic, at the very least."

Hunt takes a look at Cardinal-designates Wuerl and Burke's history in the church to make her point.

For Wuerl, she looks into his first appointment as bishop in Seattle:

Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle was a popular and liberal cleric who ran afoul of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Much like the US nuns who are being investigated now, Hunthausen was the subject of an Apostolic Visitation because he was supportive of civil and religious rights for women and LGBTQ people. The result was that Wuerl was named as his auxiliary bishop with final decision-making power over liturgy, ministry to LGBTQ people, and health care—areas that Archbishop Hunthausen was seen by the Vatican to be soft on. This was a most unusual arrangement, simply not done in a system where each bishop handles his own geographic area. It was an obvious affront to Hunthausen, a kind of ecclesial punishment.

Outcry from people in the Archdiocese of Seattle, including clergy and religious, was so fierce that the Vatican eventually backed down and sent Wuerl packing to Pittsburgh a short time later. But the damage was done. Hunthausen had been insulted and his power usurped. Wuerl was the one who did the Vatican’s bidding. The red hat took some years, but now he’s got it, ostensibly as a reward for showing loyalty at Hunthausen’s expense.

For Burke, Hunt looks at the case of Sr. Louise Lears, who received trouble from the Cardinal-designate for her support of women's ordination:

Louise Lears, who has a Ph.D. in medical ethics, served on the pastoral team of Saint Cronan Parish and was an adjunct professor at St. Louis University. Her support for, and presence at, the ordination of two members of the Roman Catholic Women Priests group in 2007 that got Burke’s Irish up. The ceremony was held not in the local cathedral but in a synagogue whose rabbi was a strong supporter of her sisters’ ministry.

Archbishop Burke, with scant attention to dialogue and little regard for her well-being, placed Louise Lears under interdict, prohibiting her from working in diocesan venues or receiving the Catholic sacraments. In fact, he issued the decree the day before he left St. Louis for greener pastures in Rome. He now heads the court that would be one of the few ecclesial venues for appealing Sister Lears’ case. So much for due process.

So which is it? Do Burke and Wuerl show, as Allen says, a "balance between traditionalists and pragmatists" in the Pope's choice of cardinals?

Or are they really just "Vatican pitbulls?"

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