Divisive! Church in a Time of Peril!

Do you know of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative?

It got started with a letter of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago to his priests in 1992. In the words of CCGI, the letter encouraged priests to “combine fidelity to church teaching with deep pastoral sensitivity,” and encouraged “a ‘both/and’ approach to issues that could be divisive, for example, concerns about liturgical life, parish devotions, and approaches to religious education.”

Then Msgr. Philip Murnion talked things up with Cardinal Bernadin, and small groups of pastoral leaders came to meet for conversations over the next four years. Eventually a statement was produced, “Called to Be Catholic:  Church in a Time of Peril.”

A committee was gathered to model and foster constructive dialogue. The Catholic Common Ground Initiative was born.  This was in 1996.

Here are the Principles of Dialogue of the CCGI. I think they have held up very well, and in fact are more useful than ever at this moment in the life of the U.S. Catholic Church. What do you think?

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  • We should recognize that no single group or viewpoint in the church has a complete monopoly on the truth. While the bishops united with the Pope have been specially endowed by God with the power to preserve the true faith, they too exercise their office by taking counsel with one another and with the experience of the whole church, past and present. Solutions to the church’s problems will almost inevitably emerge from a variety of sources.  

  • We should not envision ourselves or any one part of the church a saving remnant. No group within the church should judge itself alone to be possessed of enlightenment or spurn the Catholic community, its leaders, or its institutions as unfaithful.  

  • We should test all proposals for their pastoral realism and potential impact on individuals as well as for their theological truth. Pastoral effectiveness is a responsibility of leadership.  

  • We should presume that those with whom we differ are acting in good faith. They deserve civility, charity, and a good-faith effort to understand their concerns. We should not substitute labels, abstractions, or blanketing terms–“radical feminism,” “the hierarchy,” “the Vatican”–for living, complicated realities.  

  • We should put the best possible construction on differing positions, addressing their strongest points rather than seizing upon the most vulnerable aspects in order to discredit them. We should detect the valid insights and legitimate worries that may underlie even questionable arguments.  

  • We should be cautious in ascribing motives. We should not impugn another’s love of the church and loyalty to it. We should not rush to interpret disagreements as conflicts of starkly opposing principles rather than as differences in degree or in prudential pastoral judgments about the relevant facts.  

  • We should bring the church to engage the realities of contemporary culture, not by simple defiance or by naive acquiescence, but acknowledging, in the fashion of Gaudium et Spes, both our culture’s valid achievements and real dangers.

7 comments

  1. I like them. But in my experience, fwiw, they are not actually functional. That is, they rest on assumptions that are not shared sufficiently to bridge real divides. Even within Catholic progressivism, they don’t always work, for the same reason.

    I value a Rogerian emphasis on commonalities as a fundamental matter, but realize that we typically give too little attention to differences in assumptions because sifting those out is more work than most people care to invest in engagement. We pay more attention to differences in seeming conclusions because it’s easier. It’s a very human commonality. I suggest that’s a modest starting point.

  2. Thank you Father for starting this discussion. This would be my take and I do love Cardinal Bernadin. The line:
    “While the bishops united with the Pope have been specially endowed by God with the power to preserve the true faith, they too exercise their office by taking counsel with one another and with the experience of the whole church, past and present. ”

    has been practiced this way:

    “the bishops united with the Pope have been specially endowed by God with power.”

    I know it’s open season on these apostolic succession men and some really do not deserve the wide paintbrush that has covered others. It is the area of the abuse of that power that is splitting wide the Church in the US as now the bishops are going after each other. Pope Francis, whose name has been thrown into the swamp, has asked Catholics to address the clericalism which is exactly what Bernadine was seeking to address.

    What has risen since this Common Ground initiative of 1996? To me it is the rise of a smaller group of men with greater power than ever before. I am in a diocese where many desire this CCGI…except for the bishop. You don’t need to be “taking counsel with one another” when you’re always right.

  3. “We should test all proposals for their pastoral realism and potential impact on individuals as well as for their theological truth. Pastoral effectiveness is a responsibility of leadership. ”

    As the new media giant Dr. Jordan Peterson puts it, postmodernism is the combination of the very true notion that there are an infinite number of ways to conceive of a problem with the very false notion that there are also an infinite number of ways to ACT properly to solve that problem.

    This above quoted statement from Bernardin is pure postmodernism, by Peterson’s definition. To believe – let alone teach – that concepts must be tested pastorally AS WELL AS theologically implies that the pastoral methods might be at odds with Theology, but that the ends might justify the means.

    With the scandal attached to this particular cleric, is this a good time to be analyzing his teaching?

    1. No. This isn’t necessarily postmodernism, and you can find sentiments such as these in a thousand other places too. Go find them on your own.
      No, this isn’t only Bernadin’s statement or teaching – it comes from a group process (which he was instrumental in setting in motion.)
      Ad hominems are not helpful, btw.

      1. Indeed, Anthony.

        Also:
        1. There might be two possible ways of solving a problem, one shows itself to be pastorally effective, the other not. Two is rather less than infinite.
        2. St. Francis de Sales (more Early Modern than Post-Modernist, I should think) once summed up the highly effective pastoral methods he used as he tramped across late 16th / early 17th century Savoy persuading its inhabitant not to become Calvinists (there are no Calvinists in Savoy, but plenty on the other side of Lake Geneva in the Cantons of Geneva and Vaud). He wrote, “You attract more flies with one spoonful of honey than with one hundred barrels of vinegar”. That could be taken to mean that gentle persuasion, and a joyful presentation of the joy of the Gospel, form a better evangelical tool than stern-faced denunciations and righteous finger-wagging.

        He also wrote, “It is better to lead people to repentance by mildness, than to make them into hypocrites by severity”.

        St. Francis de Sales is a doctor of the Church. His doctrine is more relevant than ever today.

    2. Since we’re talking about how the Church should act, we’re talking about a matter of practical wisdom, not speculative. As Aquinas says (neither postmodern nor early-modern but pre-modern), matters of practical wisdom do not have the kind of certainty that matters of speculative wisdom do, so it is hardly a surrender to postmodernism to say that a plan of action that seems to pass speculative muster—as we say, looks good in theory—might be ineffective in practice. Likewise, the same end might be attained by a variety of means.

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