During this past presidential race, I was more than a little concerned when I saw
the level of acrimony that developed among Catholics—red states versus blue
states, pro-life versus anti-war, Communion versus non-Communion for certain politicians.
There was even talk of the Church’s tax-exempt status being put in jeopardy
because of what some felt was obvious support for one candidate by some bishops.
At times it seemed the level of debate was so loud that no one could hear what the
other side had to say.
This month our nation will celebrate the inauguration of President George W. Bush
to a second presidential term. But even though the ballots have been counted, questions
and disagreements still linger among Catholics. It seems a perfect opportunity to
recommit ourselves to a dialogue within our Church.
As Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia pointed out after the election, Christians
must “work for a just society not only on Election Day but in the many circumstances
of everyday life.”
the Common Ground?
“It is widely admitted that the Catholic Church in the United States has entered
a time of peril. Many of its leaders, both clerical and lay, feel under siege and
Those words seem so timely, given the trials of the past few years in the Catholic
Church. But those words were actually written before the sexual-abuse crisis and
this past presidential election. The words are from the 1996 statement “Called
to Be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril.”
The statement, produced by the National Pastoral Life Center, became the impetus
for the Catholic Common Ground Initiative (www.nplc.org/commonground.htm).
That initiative, its founders suggested, “will be marked by a willingness
to approach the Church’s current situation with fresh eyes, open minds, and
changed hearts. It will mean pursuing disagreements in a renewed spirit of dialogue.”
They then offered the following principles as a way to get the discussion going
among all members of the Church:
• We should recognize that no single group or viewpoint in the Church has
a complete monopoly on the truth.
• We should not envision ourselves or any one part of the Church as a saving
• We should test all proposals for their pastoral realism and potential impact
on living individuals as well as for their theological truth.
• We should presume that those with whom we differ are acting in good faith.
• We should put the best possible construction on differing positions.
• We should be cautious in ascribing motives.
• We should bring the Church to engage the realities of contemporary culture.
Unfortunately, there seems to be less acceptance among U.S. Catholics of these principles
today than there was in 1996.
Currently, the Common Ground Initiative continues its work through lectures, a monthly
publication and conferences.
Work to Do
As we move past the rhetoric of the election, it’s important that we hold
our president—as well as all of our elected officials—to task. If they
promised during their campaign to vote for something we hold near and dear, we must
hold them to that promise.
Likewise, if they hold a position we find troublesome or contrary to our beliefs,
it is our duty to let them know. Write them letters, call their offices, let your
voice be heard. Only by doing so is there any opportunity for change.
Will it be easy? No. Will we always be successful? Probably not. But it’s
worth the effort. When the 109th Congress convenes in January, Catholics will account
for 29 percent of the House and Senate.
In a statement presented to the bishops this past November during their annual meeting,
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., pointed out, “Together, we
have much more work to do to teach, engage and persuade.” Cardinal McCarrick
currently heads a task force addressing the issue of Catholics in public life. He
outlined several steps the task force will be taking in the near future to further
dialogue on this issue. His report is available at www.usccb.org/bishops/mccarrick1104.htm.
And so, this month, as we celebrate the presidential inauguration, let us vow to
make a renewed effort to continue the fight for those ideals we Catholics hold close
to our hearts. But let us also make a renewed effort to bridge the gap that is growing
within our Church—and society—over those very issues.
“Called to Be Catholic” emphasized that an invitation to this dialogue “should
not be limited to those who agree in every respect on an orienta-tion for the Church,
but encompass all—whether centrists, moderates, liberals, radicals, conservatives
or neoconservatives—who are willing to reaffirm basic truths and to pursue
their disagreements in a renewed spirit of dialogue.”
Now is the time, as the saying goes, when the rubber meets the road. It’s
time for us to find some common ground. Are you up for the challenge? S.H.B.