Bishop Jenky said there are too many Catholic politicians in the U.S. who “like to wear green sweaters on St. Patrick’s Day and march” or “have their pictures taken with the hierarchy” or “have conspicuous crosses on their forehead with ashes” but who then “not only do not live their faith they collaborate in the assault against their faith.”
The 64-year-old Chicago native is currently making his “ad limina” visit to Rome to discuss the state of his diocese with the Pope and the Vatican. He is part of a larger episcopal delegation from the states of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Bishop Jenky said the issue of religious freedom in the United States has featured in all their meetings so far, including their audience with Pope Benedict XVI Feb. 9.
“Determined secularists see the Catholic Church as the largest institutional block to a completely secularized society and not for the first, and probably not for the last time, we’re under assault,” he said drawing parallels with the anti-Catholic “Kulturkampf” in late 19th century Germany or the anti-clerical laws in France in the early 20th century.
“I am a Holy Cross religious and my own community had six colleges in France and they turned our mother house chapel into a stable,” he said. As for the United States in 2012, “it is always difficult to predict the future but the intensity of hatred against Catholic Christianity in elements of our culture is just astounding.”
He believes the present White House administration is also motivated by a “determined secularism,” while Communist dictator Joseph Stalin would “admire the uniformity of the American press, with some exceptions.”
In 2010 the Illinois legislature voted to legalize same-sex civil unions, a move which led to the closure of Catholic foster care services. This, said the bishop, took the Church “entirely out of the work that we started when the State of Illinois could not have cared less about beggar kids running up and down the streets.”
Bishop Jenky is very conscious of this patrimony of Catholic schools, hospitals and other social services “built by the sacrifice of Catholic believers” in previous generations of Illinois Catholics. “There weren’t a lot of multi-millionaires who built the churches, opened those orphanages or built those schools,” he said.
The bishop fears that socially liberal elites ultimately want to secularize such institutions by stealth. “I assume that is the underlying goal,” he suggested, “so that is robbing Christ but it is also robbing the heritage of generations of believers. So we would try to resist this in every way possible. It would be an incredible injustice.”
In conversation, he quoted the stark 2010 prediction of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, “I will die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” So is Bishop Jenky prepared for prison or worse?
“I hope I would always prefer Christ to anything so, if it came to it, yes but I would be one of the trembling martyrs.”
He recalled how in ancient Rome some Christians would run towards their martyrdom. He, on the other hand, would “probably be walking down the Forum with eyes downcast a little.”
“I think most of the bishops of our Church, though, would be faithful to Christ above anything, including our own personal freedom.”