Pope Francis will appoint Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich as a cardinal on Saturday, according to an announcement made last month, calling into question the future of the Catholic Church's conservative credentials.
Cupich has most certainly not avoided controversy over the years, which explains Vatican reporter John Allen Jr.'s characterization of the pope's appointment as a "seismic shift."
"Pope Francis on Sunday engineered what may prove to be a seismic shift in the Catholic hierarchy in the United States, elevating not one or two, but a full three new American cardinals seen as belonging to the centrist, non-cultural warrior wing of the country’s hierarchy," the Crux journalist wrote in October.
The other two Americans being elevated are Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, and Bishop Kevin Farrell, who was recently appointed prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life. But it is Cupich, with his laundry list of controversial positions, who is seen as most concerning.
When he was bishop of Spokane, Washington, Cupich turned heads in 2011 for requesting priests and seminarians not participate in traditional 40 Days of Life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. While the demonstrations are peaceful, Cupich advised against using confrontational tactics in a political climate that is "very toxic and polarizing."
"People have become fixed in their positions, especially in regard to abortion, and are unwilling to talk to each other," the diocese statement read in part. "The pastoral challenge is to get people to take a second look at the issue of abortion."
And when the Center for Medical Progress released its videos in 2015, leading to the scandal surrounding Planned Parenthood's alleged trafficking of fetal body parts, Cupich, though he remains pro-life, seemed to place abortion and a handful of social issues on equal footing in a Chicago Tribune editorial last year:
This newest evidence about the disregard for the value of human life also offers the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment as a nation to a consistent ethic of life. While commerce in the remains of defenseless children is particularly repulsive, we should be no less appalled by the indifference toward the thousands of people who die daily for lack of decent medical care; who are denied rights by a broken immigration system and by racism; who suffer in hunger, joblessness and want; who pay the price of violence in gun-saturated neighborhoods; or who are executed by the state in the name of justice.
In 2014, Cupich advocated giving pro-abortion lawmakers Communion, which, according to the Code of Canon Law, is forbidden, as it bars those "conscious of grave sin" from receiving the sacrament. And at the 2015 Synod, he suggested LGBT, divorced and remarried couples should have access to Communion, telling LifeSite News that the sacrament is "for everybody":
I think that gay people are human beings too and they have a conscience. And my role as a pastor is to help them to discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the Church and yet, at the same time, helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point.
It’s for everybody. I think that we have to make sure that we don’t pigeonhole one group as though they are not part of the human family, as though there’s a different set of rules for them. That would be a big mistake.
This latest appointment will be yet another milestone in the pope's shift to the left on certain issues.
During a September message, he recognized climate change as a "sin against God," noting his 2015 encyclical on the environment, which read, "For human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life — these are sins."
Francis also weighed in on the presidential election earlier this year, saying in February that President-elect Donald Trump, then a candidate, was "not Christian" if he stands by his promise to build a wall along the United States' southern border.
"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel," he told reporters at the time.
Since the election, the pope has said he does not intend to make judgements on Trump's decisions as president, noting that he is "interested only if he hurts the poor."