After being elected to the Illinois Legislature in 1936, Richard J. Daley would do the same thing every morning in Springfield.
The future mayor of Chicago would kneel and a priest would intone: "Corpus Domini Nostri Iesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam, Amen.”
And then the Host would be placed on his tongue.
The late newspaperman Mike Royko remarked it was only in church the future Chicago mayor and power broker knelt for anyone.
Daley’s devotion was indicative of the power of the church in those days and the shared religious heritage of many Chicagoans.
House Speaker Mike Madigan was mentored by Daley.
Like Daley, when Madigan first came to work in Springfield he was a devout Catholic.
In a 2004 interview, I posed this question to the House speaker:
“You are a product of Chicago Catholic schools, you went to Notre Dame and a Catholic law school, how has that shaped your political outlook, your personal ethics?”
Madigan said, “It taught me a lot of personal discipline -- thank God. In my experience in Catholic schools and the Catholic community was an experience of ethical conduct, caring for those who are needy, open-mindedness and a strong sense of responsibility, a strong drive for following the rules. That was part of the Catholic environment where I was raised. So, whatever I took from all of that, I bring to this. The Catholic Church and the Catholic environment have their critics all over the world and a lot of the critics say a lot of things that are true. But in my personal experience I think it gave me the intellectual resolve that has helped me in what I have done.”
His Catholicism has defined his life and career in other ways. For example, when Madigan’s infant son Andrew was baptized in 1986, he asked a young lawmaker named John Cullerton to be the boy’s godfather.
It’s a familiar and political alliance that has lasted decades.
Cullerton, who is now Senate president and a father of five, is a graduate of St. Francis High School in Wheaton, and Loyola University and Loyola Law School. Catholicism has played a major role in his life, as well.
But both men recently caught the ire of a bishop.
Last week, Thomas Paprocki, the bishop of Springfield’s Catholic Diocese, decreed Madigan and Cullerton, “are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois because they have obstinately persisted in promoting the abominable crime and very grave sin of abortion as evidenced by the influence they exerted in their leadership roles and their repeated votes and obdurate public support for abortion rights over an extended period of time.”
Once upon a time, a pronouncement like this from a bishop would have politicians shaking in their wingtips.
I can’t imagine Madigan’s mentor, Daley, defying a prince of the church. But today the influence of the church has waned in the political arena.
In fact, Madigan and Cullerton’s response to the bishop might be best summed up as, “Oh, whatever.”
Cullerton’s spokesman John Patterson said he is unaware whether his boss ever has attended church in Springfield.
In a deposition released earlier this year, Madigan said he doesn’t attend church. He said “once upon a time” he regularly attended services at St. Adrian and that “for a time” he “would be a regular attendee at St. Nicholas of Tolentine” but he does not belong to a church or parish.
So, Paprocki’s action was symbolic.
But even symbolism stirs controversy -- as it did in my home.
I’m Protestant, my wife is Catholic. We both are active in our churches and view most elective abortions as sin.
But our initial reactions to the bishop’s decree were quite different. My wife, Joan, praised it as an example of the church taking a stand against an evil. She said Paprocki was courageous in his actions and deserving of praise.
I couldn’t help but note Jesus Christ served Communion to a man who had betrayed him and one he knew would deny him. If those aren’t “abominable crimes and very grave sins” what are?
Neither my wife nor I reached agreement on the bishop’s actions. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even among bishops there is disagreement. Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich said the two leaders are welcome to take communion in his diocese.
The disagreement left me remembering a purported favorite Daley saying: “Politics is everywhere -- even in the church.”