Wish list for an archbishop-in-waiting

The rush is on to get your special requests to Bishop Blase Cupich before he gets entangled in those notorious Chicago pizza contests. From the fanfare that's greeted his impending arrival from Spokane, Wash., a charming cultural hybrid with relative serenity, appointment of the brainy bishop to that bustling town has already scored a major accomplish.

That is, the mere announcement has lifted the gloom of Catholic liberals by striking a death knell to the forces of traditionalism that they'd bemoaned for capturing all the big jobs in the nation's dioceses. In one fell swoop, the revivalist Pope Francis rolled back the march of backwardism and paved the way for a Bernardinian renewal of the hierarchy in the minds of many reformists. It seemed just the day before that liberals and moderate and whoever else had declared bishops as a hopeless source of anything that would improve the church. They were utterly useless  yes men and worse; the "people of God" would have to do it themselves.

In a twinkling of a tweet, hope has returned with confidence that the next archbishop of Chicago can turn it around almost all by himself. Like the pope, he's celebrated as "moderate" because he treats people kindly and tolerates differences. And mark their words, there will be lots more like him who will effortless make everything all right because they're like the pope and leave musty, crusty doctrine well enough alone. Women, gays: Forget your troubles. We're in store for popular, good-guy bishops who, like the pope, can move beyond the grisly past and do positive thinking. Whew.

Since the new bishop has vowed to extend an ear and a hand to the world beyond the church, I'd hope that he could devote his fine heart and mind to everyday assaults on human dignity through technology.

One example, especially relevant to Chicagoland maze of highway tolls, is E-ZPass. Whatever its other purposes, it is a pressure tactic to eliminate toll takers, those steadfast men and women who respond if addressed and sometimes offer dog treats. It's another instance of technological unemployment in the works. No one I know could upgrade by learning to be an E-ZPass device, so they're sitting ducks. The drivers who choose cash gates instead of the automated processors get punished -- we pay more for choosing the human.

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Another affront is the self-checkout at the supermarket. The more of us who can be enticed to use them, the fewer nimble-handed humans will be on hand to shepherd our items. With any corporate luck, they'll eliminate all those admittedly low-paid jobs. But those jobs help keep older people alive and younger people in school; they are people who become familiar, with whom we exchange brief, often uplifting chats about health and daily ironies, people who have a place to be with other people socially and professionally. You know what I mean. Their fate as workers is magnified all over creation even as we bewail unemployment and announce the benefits of healthy human interaction.

This kind of deprivation the name of decreasing costs and increasing you-know-what goes on everywhere. It is so commonplace that we fail to notice. An archbishop could speak to a wide swath of silent suffering by placing an emphasis on its root causes by Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Only a few issues have such actual reach, unseen as they are.

Finally, Bishop Cupich's previous assignment to Spokane probably didn't entail the following test, but who knows? One time at the Vatican, a resident priest with a storehouse of local anecdotes told me a story about Pope Pius XII that touches on the topic. As the story goes (and perhaps is reported in some form elsewhere), Pius was learning English and felt good about grasping certain nuances. One of them was the proper pronunciation of Spokane ("Spo-can," not "Spo-cain"). He would pose the question to visitors to gauge how much they knew about America. Bishop Cupich would surely have passed with flying colors.


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