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August 23, 1996     The Message
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August 23, 1996

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Called to be Catholic: CHICAGO (CNS) -- Here is the text of "Called to be Catholic," prepared by the Na- tional Pastoral Life Center in consultation with a variety of U.S. Catholic leaders and re- leased Aug. 12 by Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago. The statement, subtitled "Church in a Time of Peril," is to serve as the basis for the Catholic Common Ground Pro- ject, an initiative to restore church unity and vitality led by Cardinal Bernardin with a group of other bishops and Catholic leaders. Io Will the Catholic Church in the United States enter the new millen- nium as a church of promise, aug- mented by the faith of rising gen- erations and able to be a leavening force in our culture? Or will it become a church on the de- fensive, torn by dissension and weakened in its core structures? The outcome, we believe, depends on whether American Catholi- cism can confront an array of challenges with honesty and imagination and whether the church can reverse the polariza- tion that inhibits discussion and cripples leadership. American Catholics must reconstitute the conditions for addressing our dif- ferences constructively -- a com- mon 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 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 increasingly polarized. Many of its faithful, particularly its young people, feel disenfran- chied, confused about their be- liefs and increasingly adrift. Many of its institutions feel un- certain of their identity and in- creasingly fearful about their fu- ture. Those are hard words to pro- nounce to a church that, despite many obstacles, continues to grow in numbers, continues to welcome and assist the poor and the stranger, and continues to foster extraordinary examples of Christian faith and witness to the Gospel. The landscape of American Catholicism is dotted with vital communities of wor- ship and service, with new ini- tiatives and with older, deeply rooted endeavors that are kept alive by the hard labor and daily sacrifices of millions of Catholics. In the face of power- ful centrifugal forces, many Catholic leaders have worked to build consensus and coopera- tion. We hesitate to say anything that might discourage them or add to the finger pointing and demoralization that in too many cases already burden these ex- emplary efforts. But this discor- dant and disheartened atmo- sphere is itself one of the realities which cannot be ig- nored. For three decades the church has been divided by dif- ferent responses to the Second Vatican Council and to the tu- multuous years that followed it. By no means were these ten- sions always unfruitful; in many cases they were virtually un- avoidable. But even as conditions have changed, party lines have hard- ened. A mood of suspicion and acrimony hangs over many of those most active in the church's life; at moments it even seems to have infiltrated the ranks of the bishops. One consequence is that many of us are refusing to acknowledge disquieting reali- ties, perhaps fearing that they may reflect poorly on our past efforts or arm our critics within the church. Candid discussion is inhibited. Across the whole spec- trum of views within the church, proposals are subject to ideolog- ical litmus tests. Ideas, journals and leaders are pressed to align themselves with pre-existing camps and are viewed warily when they depart from those ex- pectations. There is nothing wrong in it- self with the prospect that dif- ferent visions should contend within American Catholicism. That has long been part of the church's experience in this na- tion, and indeed differences of opinion are essential to the pro- cess of attaining the truth. But the way that struggle is cur- rently proceeding, the entire church may lose. It is now three decades after Vatican II. Social and cultural circumstances have changed. The church possesses a wealth ofpostconciliar experi- ence to assess and translate into lessons for the future. There is undiminished hunger for au- thentic faith, spiritual experi- ence and moral guidance, but many of the traditional supports for distinct religious identities or for the institutions that convey them -- have disap- peared. Meanwhile, positions of lead- ership in the ministries of the church are passing to those with little exposure, for better or worse, to the sharply defined in- stitutional Catholicism of ear- lier decades. Still younger Catholics, many with absolutely no experience of that preconcil- iar Catholicism, come to the church with new questions and few of the old answers. The church's capacity to re- spond to these changed condi- tions may be stymied if con- structive debate is supplanted by bickering, disparagement and stalemate. Rather than forging a consensus that can harness and direct the church's energies, contending viewpoints are in danger of canceling one another out. Bishops risk being perceived as members of differ- ent camps rather than as pas- tors of the whole church. Unless we examine our situ- ation with fresh eyes, open minds and changed hearts, within a few decades a vital Catholic legacy may be squan- dered, to the loss of both the church and the nation. There are urgent questions that the church in the United States knows it must air openly and honestly, but which it in- creasingly feels pressed to evade or at best address obliquely. These issues include: * The changing roles of women. The organization and effec- tiveness of religious education. The eucharistic liturgy as most Catholics experience it. The meaning of human sex- uality and the gap between church teachings and the con- 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 for- merly held by priests and sis- ters, and the provision of an ad- equate formation for ministers, both ordained and lay. The ways in which the church is present in political life, its responsibility to the poor and defenseless, and its support for lay people in their family life and daily callings. 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, and the ar- ticulation of a distinct and ap- propriate religious identity and mission for these institutions. 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 be- tween Rome and the American episcopacy. As long as such topics remain inadequately addressed, the near future of American Catholic life is at risk. Yet in al- most every case, the necessary conversation runs up against po- larized positions that have so magnified fears and so strained 'Common Ground' sets ground rules CHICAGO (CNS)  If Catholics want to re- stablish a common ground, they need to follow to be Catholic," unity special God-given role, "they too exercise their of- fice by taking counsel with one another and with the experience of the whole church," "We should presume that those with whom differ are acting in good faith. They deserve civility, charity and a good-faith effort to un- initiative; called the Catholic Common derstand their concerns," not dismissive labels. attempt to get U.S. "We should put the best possible construc- ;ions looking for good ad of just attacking weak ones. cautious in ascribing motives. We should not impugn another's love of the church and loyalty to it." "We should bring the church to engage the group or realities of contemporary culture," critically ad- both its "valid achievements and real sensitivities that even the sim- plest lines of inquiry are often fiercely resisted. Consider, for example, just two of these top- ics. On every side there are re- ports that many Catholics are reaching adulthood with barely a rudimentary knowledge of their faith, with an attenuated sense of sacrament and with s highly individualistic view of the church. Some of us are tempted to minimize the seriousness of this situation out of an attach" ment to young people and an ap- preciation of their generosity or out of loyalty to those who work, often with insufficient re- sources and scant rewards, to provide religious education. Others among us rush to reduce complex questions of pedagogY, theology, limited time turnover in teachers and the pressures of an aggressive and "pervasive youth culture to some single fac- tor -- and some simple solution. 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 is an atmosphere unlikely to generate the massive and creative effort required to meet today's crisis religious illiteracy or link it with young people's search for a sense of participation and be- longing. Or consider the church's pub- lic prayer. The faith thrives where the eucharist is cel e brated worthily, drawing the Christian community into its mystery and power. Yet in many parishes Mass attendance has plummeted; congregational par ticipation is indifferent; anu liturgies are marred by lack o.f preparation, casual or rushed gestures, unsuitable music an.d banal sentiments in hymns and, above all, in homilies. There;; widespread awareness thats'o* years after the council, the g , of liturgical renewal have bee. met more in letter than in spi But again polarization bloCks a candid and constructive re" sponse to the situation. An in- formal or "horizontal" liturgY' demystified and stressing the participation of the congrega" tion, is pitted against a solerO or "vertical" liturgy, unc hange'- able and focused on the sacer" dotal action of the priest. The former is rightly feared as u.m able to carry the weight of the Director of Music Ministries Half-time, 50-week position, fall 1996. Responsibilities include administering music program, coordinating music for liturgies, directing youth and adult choirs. Requires organ/keyboard/vocal and directing skills, appreciation of traditional and contemporary music, knowledge of Roman Catholic Liturgy. Two years experience and music degree preferred. Send rdsumd by 9/30/96 to: Rectory Sacred Heart Church 2004 N 2nd St. Vincennes, IN 47591 r , .i