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August 23, 1996     The Message
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August 23, 1996

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SPEC II SETZON IIIIII II III I III II iH I I i Catholic unity statement calls for 'fresh eyes, open minds and changed hearts' CHICAGO (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago has launched a major new ini- tiative by 24 U.S. Catholic lead- ers to overcome the "distrust, ac- rimony and deadlock" they see as threatening the future of U.S. Catholicism. At a press conference Aug. 12, the cardinal released the guid- ing statement for the new pro- ject. It warns that "ideological lit- mus tests" of the left and right and intramural bickering have increasingly drained Catholic energies, creating a "dynamic of fear and polarization" that ob- structs candid dialogue. "Unless we examine our situ- ation with fresh eyes, open minds and changed hearts," it says, "within a few decades a vital Catholic legacy may be squandered, to the loss of both the church and the nation." American Catholics have to work together from "a common ground centered on faith in Jesus, marked by accountability to the living Catholic tradition and ruled by a renewed spirit of civility, dialogue, generosity and broad and serious consultation," it says. It adds that even the liturgy, which ought to be "drawing the Christian community into its mystery and power," has become a partisan battleground. "No effort to assess the state of worship or develop new trans- lations or refresh liturgical skills escapes suspicion of moving to one extreme or the other or pres- Sure to move in the opposite di- , rection as a safeguard," it says.  The 3,000-word statement is ] titled, "Called to be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril." It Was prepared by the National Pastoral Life center in New York in consultation with Car- dinal Bernardin and the leaders Who have joined him in the ini- tiative. The initiative itself, called the ject, will be staffed by the Na- tional Pastoral Life Center, a re- search and consultation center devoted to improving Catholic leadership and parish life. Msgr. Philip J. Murnion, director of the center, is a member of Car- dinal Bernardin's project group. The project is to sponsor con- ferences and papers which deal with critical issues in the church in a way that exemplifies and promotes the kind of dialogue called for in the statement. The statement urges Catholics to refocus on the central, com- mon ground they share. "Jesus Christ, present in Scripture and sacrament, is cen- tral to all that we do; he must always be the measure and not what is measured," it says. "Around this central convic- tion," it says, "the church's lead- ership, both clerical and lay, must reaffirm and promote the full range and demands of au- thentic unity, acceptable diver- sity and respectful dialogue, not just to dampen conflict but as a way to make our conflicts con- structive." But it warns that a hardening of party lines within the church has made such constructive dia- logue difficult. "Candid discussion is inhib- ited. Across the whole spectrum of views within the church, pro- posals are subject to ideological litmus tests," it says. "Ideas, journals and leaders are pressed to align themselves with pre-ex- isting camps and are viewed warily when they depart from those expectations." Among "urgent questions" to be addressed it cites: * "The changing roles of women." "The organization and ef- fectiveness of religious educa- tion." "The eucharistic liturgy as most Catholics experience it." "The meaning of human sexuality and the gap between victions of many faithful in this and several other areas of morality." "The image and morale of priests and the declining ratios of priests and vowed religious to people in the pews." "The succession of lay people to positions of leadership... (and) an adequate formation for minis- ters, both ordained and lay." "The ways in which the church is present in political life .... " "The capacity of the church to embrace African-American, Latino and Asian populations, their cultural heritages and their social concerns." "The survival of Catholic school systems, colleges and uni- versities, health care facilities and social services" with their distinct mission and identity. "The dwindling financial support from parishioners.  "The manner of decision- making and consultation in church governance." "The responsibility of theol- ogy to authoritative church teachings." "The place of collegiality and subsidiarity in the relations between Rome and the Ameri- can episcopacy." The statement cites the widely reported religious illiteracy of young adult Catholics as a key example of the challenges facing the church and the debilitating impact of ideological wars. "The practical realities of our young people's needs are quickly lost amid accusations of infi- delity to church teachings, re- flexive defenses against criti- cism, or promotion of pet educational approaches," it says. "It is an atmosphere unlikely to generate the massive and cre- ative effort required to meet today's crisis of religious illiter- acy or link it with young people's search for a sense of participa- tion and belonging." On liturgy, it says, "An infor- mal or 'horizontal' liturgy, de- MOST REVEREND JOSEPH C. BERNARDIN Archbishop of Chicago ticipation of the congregatlonl is pitted against a solemnor, er- tical' liturgy, unchangeable and focused on the sacerdotal action of the priest." Neither extreme captures the fullness of the liturgy, it says, but "again polarization blocks a candid and constructive re- sponse to the situation," hinder- ing the needed liturgical re- newal. "The same dynamic of fear and polarization afflicts the church's discussions of other topics, from efforts to accommo- date language orpractice to the changing consciousness of women to efforts to define the- ology's relationship to the hier- archy," the statement says. Among seven other bishops Roger M. Mahony of Los Ange- les and Archb'mhop Daniel E, Pi, larczyk of Cincinnati, who like Cardinal Bernardin is a former president of the National Con- ference of Catholic Bishops. The priests, nuns and lay peo- ple joining the cardinal's initia- tive include such diverse public figures as former Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John T. Noonan Jr.,AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Novak, Com- monweal Editor Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, Harvard Di- vinitySchool professor Father J. Bryan Hehir, and Fordham Uni- versity theology professor Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, a Sister jis. Catholic Common Ground Pro- church teachings and the con- mystified and stressing the par- joining the project are Cardinal of St. Joseph. ,00IC ardinal Bernardin initiative draws swift, varied reactions ly Cy sh, By JERRY FILTEAU Catholic News Service WASHINGTON (CNS) -- hicago Cardinal Joseph L. ernardin's announcement Aug. [2 of an initiative to try restor- ag Catholic unity through dia- Ogue drew swift and widely var- ed reactions from U.S. Catholic i ,aders and from some of the aCtional groups he apparently toped to reach. The initiative, called the ,atholic Common Ground Pro- J tt, aims to revitalize Catholic Orlcerns and discussing differ- s constructively to overcome ades of polarization.  Cardinal Bernard F. Law of - r . a Ston said Aug. 12 that some " "that conflict cannot be dia- logued away." Cardinal Law described "Called to be Catholic," the 3,000-word framework statement for the Bernardin initiative, as a flawed document that "breathes an ide- ological bias which it elsewhere decries in others." "The fundamental flaw in this document is its appeal for 'dia- logue' as a path to 'common ground," he said. Bishop Anthony M. Pills of Cleveland, president of the Na- tional Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Cardinal Bernardin "has indicated that this effort will be made in the context of church tradition and teaching." "I pray for this effort and hope the cardinal's stated purpose and goal of better understanding and reconciliation can be achieved," he said. Archbishop Rembert G. Weak- land of Milwaukee, one of 23 U.S. Catholic leaders joining Cardinal Bernardin as advisers on the project, said such an ef- fort is needed in the church be- cause "people are attacking each other, instead of ideas. This pre- vents us from moving ahead." He praised Cardinal Bernardin, who is still in chemotherapy fol- lowing cancer surgery a year ago, for taking leadership in such a project. =I think this is very important to him in terms ofhis limited en- ergies at this moment of his life," Archbishop Weakland told his archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Herald. He said the cardinal =sees his own genius as being the reconciler, the person who can bring together opposing factions and views. Bishop Edward J. O'Donnell of Lafayette, La., also a member of the project's advisory corn- mittee, said he was "pleased and honored" to be part of it. "It is time to get together and dialogue with civility and char- ity and not describe those who disagree with us in uncompli- mentary terms," he said. =We don't expect complete agreement but we hope to bring about a continuing forum in which members of the ch can reach out to each other and un- derstand each other's positiorL" Call to Action, a Chicago- based national Catholic group seeking changes in some church teachings, expressed support along with some reservations. =Our response is basically positive," said Dan Dale)', Call to Action co-director. But he ex- pressed disappointment that only five of the Catholic leaders on the advisory committee are women and that "some topics like women's ordination are ap- patently off limits." Chicago Catholic Women, a local group in the cardinal's back yard, dismissed the project as =a call to divert the real is- sues and the media away from the discrimination (against women) and exclusion by the church's hierarchy and the Vat- ican." Andrea Johnson, Women's Or- dination Conference national co- ordinator, called the initiative =a good start toward full inclusion of women in the church's min- istries" and said the conference wants to be part of the dialogue. Lomtm Sister Maumon Yiedkr, national coordinator of the We Are Church coalition, which in- s00lWomen'a Ordination Confemm among its 00gmups.00 that repmmntative of chumh re form organization" were inited to be part oetbe proje_