Friday, December 04, 2009
Richard Cardinal Cushing (1895-1970) was archbishop of Boston during my Boston Irish Catholic youth. I remember him as the ancient gravelly voiced prelate rumbling the rosary of the radio. He seemed to have a gift for public relations and established a power base in my politically minded hometown. He wasn't afraid of controversy and he was known as good copy. I remember during the busing riots in Boston in the mid 70s, after his death, my parents saying "Cushing would walk right into Southie and tell them all to knock it off." He was known as a friend of the Kennedys (surprisingly, not always a good thing in Boston) and his support of Jacqueline Kennedy at her marriage to Onassis was cited as contributing to his resignation in 1968--his resignation was not accepted by the Vatican, which continued to criticize the President's widow. Cushing was said to me discouraged and angered at the volume of hate mail he received in support of her.
I thought of Cardinal Cushing again while reading "Practising Catholic" by James Carroll. A lot it is a re evaluation of Cushing, who if remembered at all is as a sodden old man. Cushing stood up to the conservative movements tying to overtake Vatican II. He complained loudly when the sessions were conducted in Latin. He wouldn't tolerate the anti Semitic rants of Father Feeney and he practically invented the dialogue between Catholicism and other faiths. Cushing's sister was married to a Jew-very dicey in Boston 80 years ago-and the Cardinal's love for his sister and her husband enabled him to face down criticism and hierarchical nonsense and embrace people as he found them. No Nulla salus ex Ecclesia for this Ironmonger's son. If Cushing himself wasn't a comfortable man he made Catholicism a structure to embrace all of humanity. Yes, he took the Nuns to the Dodge 'em cars at Nantasket Beach-he dodged the Curia too, and seemed to remember the working people who made up the church in his day. I'm sure he would have hit abusive clergy right up side the head, and they woulda been history, goddammit!
Cardinal Cushing awaits a serious biographer.