In San Francisco, The End of An Era – John Raphael Dies at 88
For the second time in a month, the City of St Francis is made to bury an archbishop… yet this time, it’s the “Big One.”
The figure who enshrined a progressive style of Catholicism to fit the nation’s most liberal city, Archbishop John Raphael Quinn died early this morning at 88.
Head of the San Francisco church from 1977-95, the San Diego native – ordained a bishop at 38 – led the US bench as the modern conference’s fourth president from 1977-80, amid the hierarchy’s post-Conciliar zenith of action and activism.
Despite months of declining health, the news came suddenly nonetheless; Quinn had just been released from hospital last week and was said to be settling well into a nursing home, until his breathing became labored early today.
Almost majestically in church circles as “John Raphael,” the archbishop’s condition had first taken a downturn last November in Rome, where he was on hand for the elevation of one of his proteges, now-Cardinal Blase Cupich, who tapped Quinn to pronounce the papal bull granting the Chicago prelate his titular church, St Bartholomew’s on Tiber Island, as Cupich took possession of it. (In a similar vein, no shortage of eyebrows were raised at the latter’s 2014 installation in Chicago, as the new archbishop pointedly placed Quinn at his side among the major concelebrants at the altar of Holy Name Cathedral, even with most of the American cardinals in attendance.)
Over his two decades at the helm by the Bay, Quinn’s sense of the church’s role in public life saw the archbishop become the first US prelate to meaningfully tackle the outbreak of AIDS, marshaling his Catholic Charities into its enduring role as the city’s lead caregiver to the stricken, while most other locales remained stuck in misunderstandings on the epidemic or a lacking sense of its potential spread. Along the way, history was made in 1987 as – during his sprawling two-week Stateside tour – Pope John Paul II first met victims of the disease in San Francisco, among them two priests.
At the same time, by its mid-1990s end the archbishop’s tenure had become mired under a cloud of controversies ranging from his handling of sex-abuse to parish closings, leading Quinn to seek a coadjutor at 66 as his allies accused the local media of “journalistic terrorism.” In prior years, meanwhile, he had become the first known American Catholic leader to openly admit to a struggle with depression, entering treatment during a sabbatical in the late 1980s.
Having dedicated his retirement to research and writing on ecumenism – and, consequently, the reform of ecclesial structures to facilitate it – Quinn experienced something of a second spring under Pope Francis, who eagerly sought out the retiree as a sounding board for his own plans to enhance synodality in the Western church.
As the topic was the focus of the archbishop’s 1996 book The Reform of the Papacy – written with an eye to rethinking the Pope’s role in the name of Christian unity – much of Quinn’s vision has come to bleed into Francis’ mindset, a meld the pontiff expressed most daringly alongside the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the Pope’s 2014 visit to Jerusalem, and in his landmark address in October 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.
Even before the current pontificate, though, the Quinn renaissance was already underway with Benedict’s choices of several of his aides and favorites to the episcopacy, most of them shepherded onto the bench by his San Francisco successor, William Levada, from his eventual cardinal’s seat on the Congregation for Bishops.
Led in tandem by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe (Quinn’s onetime secretary) and Bishop Bob McElroy of San Diego – his last vicar-general, now making an increasingly “disrupt”-ive imprint on the national stage – as one of the group once underscored to Whispers, “You say we’re Levada’s but, really, we’re Quinn’s.”
In a notably effusive statement on the passing of his predecessor – reflecting the devoted status with which the elder churchman was held – current San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone (above, with Quinn at his side) said in announcing the death that “our hearts are breaking at losing such a great priest and friend.”
Funeral arrangements remain pending. Ever himself, however, Quinn will still have the final word – long in the works, the late prelate’s last book was almost completed at the time of his death, the work to focus on the First Vatican Council, an event headlined by its definition of papal infallibility on matters of faith and morals.
According to Whispers ops close to John Raphael, the author spent his last weeks poring over the galleys from his sickbed.