Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin

Dates: 1928-1996
Status of Cause: no cause
Prognosis: fading

Had his death been the only measure, Bernadin's chances at sainthood might have been greater. As it is, powerful voices in the church are less convinced of the heroic virtue of his acts in life. The openness and grace with which the Archbishop of Chicago bore his suffering with pancreatic cancer, admitting to fear and grief, and also welcoming death as a "friend" and a passage to eternal life, inspired millions, and almost single-handedly revived the Catholic concept of the "good death". Immediately prior to revealing his condition, Bernardin had similarly impressed observers with the calm and compassion that he brought to a hurtful (and eventually retracted) claim that he had been a sexual abuser. However, Bernardin was also a hero to the church's moderate left. He made famous the idea of the "seamless garment of life" — while conceding the primacy of the church's anti-abortion position, he maintained that anti-militarism, opposition to the death penatly and other politically liberal stances were part of the same pro-life spectrum. Many currently powerful Catholics remain chary of his idea that his church's conservative and progressive camps can find "common ground". And he founded no order keep his cause alive pending some far future Vatican leftward shift.

David Van Biema