"Simply Catholic," Cont'd.
[In the book,] George knits together anecdotes, lectures and homilies to provide context for many of the sound bites and quotes that have aired during his more than 11 years as Chicago's archbishop....and Sun-Times:
In a recent interview, George said he has wanted to write a book about relationships for a while. As the archdiocese's administrator, opportunities to talk about such issues don't come up quite often enough.
"We are defined by our relationships, not by individualism," he said. "Nothing in Catholicism is unrelated. Our local church is part of the universal."
But the local church in Chicago has its own distinct spirit, he added, reflecting on a passage in the book where he recounts a midnight conversation with [his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph] Bernardin in 1994.
After hearing Bernardin explain the difficulties of trying to unify a divided archdiocese, George asked him what was going to happen.
"Well, you know, Francis, Chicago is sometimes ungovernable," Bernardin said with a smile. George still insists Bernardin was cracking a joke. George had no idea he would find out for himself four years later. "That statement comes back to me again and again at odd moments!" he wrote....
The book also lets George offer his vision for spreading the gospel in a modern American context, reflecting on dialogue with Jews and Muslims, the rise of liberal and conservative brands of Catholicism and Catholic liturgy.
George contends that liberal or conservative labels are not effective for evangelization, and faithful from both camps rely too much on the hierarchy to fix the church. Bishops do not speak for themselves or constituents, he said. They speak on behalf of Christ.
"Bishops cannot be co-opted by state authority or political power, nor by pressure groups within the Church, lest the bishops fail in their office," he said.
While liberal Catholics seem to follow "a mandate to change whatever in the church clashes with modern society" as to abortion, gay marriage and contraception, conservative Catholicism can be so narrowly focused that it risks becoming a sect, George writes in his book....For the record, much of the book's treatment of the church's ideological divide is nothing new; while The Difference returns to its author's famous 1998 statement that "liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project," George's "simply Catholic" antidote was first developed in a 1999 speech he gave to a conference hosted by Commonweal magazine.
The shortcomings of liberal and conservative Catholicism -- and the need for a different way to think about the faith -- are among several topics George tackles in the book, his first since becoming archbishop of Chicago in 1997.
With the exception of a few chapters, the book is a collection of essays based on conferences the cardinal has given in recent years.
George, 72, writes that the priest sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the church "is a great tragedy of unbounded proportions and bishops must take responsibility for it; but it is also an occasion to unleash the anti-Catholicism that has never been far beneath the surface of U.S. history."
He also argues that the emphasis on individuality in American culture has led people to put their personal desires and interests above their commitment to God and to each other.
To counter this, people need to realize "the importance of relationships in understanding who we are," he said in an interview with the Sun-Times.
"You're born someone's daughter before you know that. And you're born a creature of God before you know that," George said. "If we had that sense of what would this do to others as we make our individual decisions, which are freely made, I think then we have the vision of the difference God makes."
George compares this idea to ecological consciousness.
"The ecologists are telling us that when a butterfly flutters its wings in Indonesia, we have a snowstorm in Illinois. That's what we're saying here. We're all related, so no matter what any one of us does, it affects everybody else. It's a question of recognizing what the consequences are," he said.