At his concelebrated installation Mass on Tuesday, Blase Cupich, the new Chicago archbishop, continued to make Francis-like symbolic acts, choosing to give special prominence to the progressive-minded former archbishop of San Francisco, John Quinn, who stood behind the altar next to Cupich during part of the service.
Last month, in another symbolic gesture that sent its own signals, Cupich told priests he had decided not to live in a $14 million stately mansion that has been home to Chicago archbishops for decades. Cardinal Francis George lives there with four other priests. Cupich instead said he will live in an apartment building next to the cathedral.
Cupich's concelebration choice is noteworthy. Quinn is viewed as both a pastor and a scholar and, it appears, Cupich paid public respect to a mentor while perhaps saying something about the kind of bishop he would like to be.
The former San Francisco bishop was appointed head of Golden Gate City see in 1977 by Pope Paul VI. He was a widely respected bishop in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Influenced by the Second Vatican Council, he became president of the United States Catholic Conference and National Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1977 to 1980.
After the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in March 1980, he issued a statement lauding the murdered prelate as "a voice for the poor and the oppressed." He later attended Romero's funeral in San Salvador, El Salvador.
However, Quinn slowly lost influence in the 1980s as a more conservative generation of episcopal appointments under Pope John Paul II gained ascendancy in the U.S. hierarchy.
In 1999, Quinn wrote a book, The Reform of the Papacy: The Costly Call to Christian Unity. That book was Quinn's response to Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, a meditation on ecumenism and the role of the office of the pope as sign of church unity.
Quinn said he took up John Paul's offer, contained in the encyclical, to further discussion. Quinn examined the centralization of the office of the pope that has occurred over the centuries. He made the point in his book that decentralization of Vatican authority is a prerequisite for any serious consideration of union between the Roman Catholic church and other Christian church bodies.
Recently, Quinn told a gathering of priests in St. Louis that he met the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio about a year* before he was elected Pope Francis. At their meeting in the Vatican, Bergoglio told Quinn that he had read his book hoped it will be implemented.
With Cupich, Francis' first major U.S. appointment, being a Quinn promoter, the former San Francisco archbishop might have newly gained access into Francis’ still forming papal court. Francis, the Jesuit, clearly values thoughtful input. Quinn's writings are widely respected, viewed as thoughtful and scholarly.
Francis, it appears, is looking for fresh ideas and idea men who think outside the box. For example, Orlando Quevedo was among the first 19 cardinals Francis appointed in February. Quevedo is from the Philippines and has had his hands on nearly every pastoral document that came out of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, a progressive voice in the church, in the 1990s and 2000s. Those documents stressed the importance of local church as primary. They called for what the FABC termed "the triple dialogue": with the poor, other religions and other cultures.
Quinn, the FABC in general and Quevedo in particular have argued that for Catholicism to evangelize successfully in the 21st century, it must decentralize and place a greater emphasis on local church and local cultures. The colonial model, they have argued, is if not dead, certainly ineffective.
Whatever the outcome, it was a sensitive move on Cupich's part to invite the seemingly exiled 85-year-old Quinn to center stage for another, if not last, hurrah.
*Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the time of the meeting between Quinn and Bergoglio. NCR regrets the error.