Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

The InterVIEW

Council tries to be cardinal’s ‘eyes and ears’

Michael Cahill

A regular feature of The Catholic New World, The InterVIEW is an in-depth conversation with a person whose words, actions or ideas affect today's Catholic. It may be affirming of faith or confrontational. But it will always be stimulating.

Michael Cahill has led the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council for the last two years, after serving as a member for three years before that. The council, which is to include members from each deanery as well as religious men and women and representatives of a few other groups, acts as the “eyes and ears” of the cardinal, according to Cahill, letting the cardinal know what the people in the pews are thinking and talking about.

The financial planner and father of two—one college student, one in a North Side Catholic elementary school—will step down this summer after an experience that he says was even better than he thought it would be.

Cahill sat down with assistant editor Michelle Martin and talked about the role of the council.

The Catholic New World: What does the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council do?

Michael Cahill: We made most of the meeting an open conversation with the cardinal. We meet five times a year, and three times a year, he would present an issue two months in advance and say I need feedback on this. Examples of that were when the revisions in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal came out for the liturgy, the cardinal wanted feedback on how it was being implemented and how people felt about that. He got a lot of strong feedback: people who were upset that it happened at all, people who were upset at the way it was being handled, other people who really liked it. That led to a number of parishes having listening sessions on how they should implement the changes.

He asked for feedback on the sexual abuse crisis, and he got a lot of feedback on what people thought the diocese was and wasn't doing, and what it could be doing better.

The fourth meeting is an open forum where he hears from us: what are you hearing out there and what do I need to know?

The last meeting was a long discussion on women in the church and what is their proper role, is it diminishing, is it increasing, what is the diocese doing to foster respect for women in ministerial roles.

TCNW: Does it makes a difference?

MC: Absolutely. The cardinal has said to us on numerous occasions that it helps him think things through. He's said that of all the councils he deals with, he finds this the most valuable because he gets a sense of what is going on in the parishes that he might not hear otherwise.

We have the advantage on his priests' council in that we don't work for him, and I think that probably makes it easier for us to be forthright. I've sat on the priests' council as the APC representative the last few years, and there's been some very good discussions there as well, but they're a little more restrained, I would say.

One example would be that people- and these would be active people-were saying that they felt they didn't have enough foundation in the basics of the faith, and they wanted to hear about that from the pulpit. So we passed a resolution asking the cardinal to ask his priests to do more catechetical preaching either at the homily or after Communion. Eventually that led to bringing it to the priests' council. Right now Father (John) Canary (the vicar general) is leading a joint committee of members of the PPC and the APC to try to implement that proposal.

TCNW: Why does the cardinal-archbishop need eyes and ears ?

MC: As the archbishop of Chicago, he has many administrative things he has to do, so he's stuck in that chancery most of many days. Then he has all sorts of events that he goes to in the parishes, but generally he's there for a Mass. You're there and you meet and greet and you're gone. How much time you actually get to interact with people on the level of a real conversation about women in the church, Catholic schools, unity, whatever, I don't know. My guess is not very much.

Then there's always the problem of once people get to know and like the cardinal, will they continue to tell him the truth? Part of the job of the chair is to make sure people are hearing from as many people as they can in their deaneries- not just active people, but everybody, to the extent possible-and also to make sure people aren't sugarcoating things for the cardinal, out of a well-intentioned but misguided sense of concern for his well-being.

TCNW: How representative is it?

MC: I don't think it's completely representative, in terms of people who have backed away from the church, but there are many members who have connections with people like that. It is fairly representative in that there are people who are very conservative, very traditional; there are people who are for lack of a better term progressive; there are people who are just salt-of-the-earth Catholics who just want to be of use and serve and they don't have a particular agenda.

We've tried to make it more representative ethnically. One of the things I was struck by at our last meeting, when we had elections for next term, was that one of the gentlemen who was running for vice-chair got up and gave the first half of his speech in Spanish, I was thrilled, although I'm not sure everyone on the council was. From the looks on their faces, I think some of them were like, "What is this?"

This is the face of our diocese and we need to do a better job of bringing those people in. I'd say we're up to nearly 30 percent either black, Hispanic, Filipino or other Asian. We should probably be closer to 40 or 50 percent if we were really representative.

TCNW: What direction would you like to see the council take now?

MC: We want future councils to focus on the conversation with the cardinal. I'd certainly like to see that conversation continue.

I hope we become more reflective ethnically of Hispanics and African-Americans and Asians as we go forward.

I think those are things the new chairperson, Jacqueline Hebein, is aware of and is going to try to focus on. As far as I know, she's the first woman chair of the APC, so in that sense, we've become a little more diverse.