Words we need to hear, especially now

The great John Allen has some wise words about building “zones of friendship” with a divided and often polarized Church:

Tensions surrounding Catholic identity are very much in the air these days, and when they erupt they’re always a prescription for heartburn. People who regard themselves as authentically Catholic rarely enjoy being be told they’re not, or that they’re only selectively so. Likewise, people who believe the faith they treasure is being misrepresented, or distorted, or eviscerated from within, typically get their Irish up.

A key question facing the church, therefore, is how to manage those tensions constructively. I offered some thoughts on that subject on Wednesday, at a conference in Chicago sponsored by DePaul’s Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology and titled “The Discourse of Catholicity.”

My bottom line was that Catholicism needs a grass-roots movement to rebuild zones of friendship in the church.

I’m not talking about formal programs of dialogue, and I certainly don’t mean debating societies. What the church needs instead are spaces in which relationships among Catholics of differing outlooks can develop naturally over time. The plain fact of the matter is that such spaces have been badly attenuated by the ideological fragmentation of both the church and the wider world.

To be clear, friendship won’t magically make hard choices go away. Catholicism has to stand for something, and somebody has to decide what that is. There will be times when certain versions of Catholic identity have to be ruled out of bounds, and there will also be times when certain defenders of orthodoxy have to be reminded that it’s not their job to determine who’s in and who’s out. (Recent events at the University of Dallas illustrate the latter point, where Bishop Kevin Farrell recorded a web video responding to concern about a new undergraduate degree in pastoral ministry. Critics objected that the program is soft on Catholic identity, to which Farrell replied: “Let me remind the Catholic people of this diocese that … I’m the one who has to stand before God and say whether this is truly Catholic. That is my responsibility, and I do not take it lightly.”)
My experience is that when such moments arise, they can lead to either creative tension or destructive division. Which way things break often hinges not just on the issues involved, but also the quality of the underlying relationships among the parties.

I prefaced the call for zones of friendship with three observations, outlined three challenges to implementing it, and closed with three examples which suggest there’s hope.

Read the rest. It’s well worth it!

  • HMS

    I think he’s got it! By George, he’s got it!

  • naturgesetz

    He makes a very good point.

    Who will create our zones of friendship.

  • Fr P

    Well I guess this presentation explains how a man of John Allen’s integrity and clear insight can work for the National Catholic Distorter I mean reporter. I guess I need to work on the concept of friendship. Cardinal George’s recent book is insightful in this regard as well when looking at autonomy in the world and Church today.

  • elmo

    We used to say of people who insisted on defining what is truly “Catholic” that they were more Catholic than the pope. It wasn’t a compliment. Now these types are proudly claiming to know more about the faith than our bishops. And many of us are praising them for this.

  • cathyf

    This is one advantage of living in sparsely-populated small-town America. We have one parish for the entire county, and basically we have to suck it up and put up with each other. In other places you can put on your high dudgeon and ride your high horse down a few blocks to a “tribe” more to your liking; we don’t burn bridges in a place where everyone is but a few degrees of separation apart.

  • Greta

    When a bishop says, “Let me remind the Catholic people of this diocese that … I’m the one who has to stand before God and say whether this is truly Catholic. That is my responsibility, and I do not take it lightly.” I wonder if what he says is not what the Pope is saying if this is then true. He seems to be saying that whatever he says is the teaching of the Catholic Church. But what if he is in open dissent on matters of faith and morals from the Pope as has happened over the years, especially since Vatican II. After all, we have many that seem to be lost on things like the support of abortion supporting politicians and some that are spot on correct. We have teaching about the Eucharist and some say canon law should prohibit these politicians from further sin with reception of the Eucharist without repentence and stopping of this grave sin.

    I think too many Catholics today are placing themselves in serious sin and the Church is not doing a good job in helping them develop a well formed conscience. Proof of this is 56% of Catholics supported the most pro abortion politicians in our history and abortion went up on his first day in office. We need some more Catholics willing to speak out, even if it is to a dissenting bishop..

  • Deacon Norb

    “Words we need to hear now. . .” and Greta #6.

    Some twelve years ago now, The Catholic New World, archdiocesan newspaper out of Chicago printed an “op-ed” piece written by one of their fairly prominent — but since deceased — deacons. It said, in summary, something I have always suspected but never had the courage to voice. In so many words, his key thesis was: “The rate/number of abortions in our American society is directly dependent upon the unemployment rate. The more our economy sinks, the more unemployment we have, the more abortions we have. Bishops and priests and deacons who preach about abortion being an evil will not affect that number at all. It takes solid preaching for social justice to turn this mess around.”

    In light of that statement, I’m not at all surprised that the gross number of abortions in the US climbed after the 2008 election — although I had not heard that data before. Nor was I surprised when I found statistics from Kentucky which — after twenty years of gradual declines — had an abortion increase “blip” about ten years ago. Fascinatingly enough, statisticians found that during that period of time, Kentucky’s economy had a fall — one that no one else in the US suffered.

    I seriously doubt if the election of President Obama had any direct bearing on the abortion increase you cite. He certainly did not run around the country insisting that having an abortion is the way out of the economic mess we found ourselves in. For that matter, I really do not recall any Republican candidate moving out of their pro-life position into a “seamless-robe” one either.

    Bottom line: Both major political parties sin and fail to live up to the highest moral standards that the Risen Lords demands of us. The role of the American Catholic laity is to work within the jungle of which ever political party they are native to and then to “baptize” that jungle.

    Thus, if you are Republican/ conservative/ Tea-Party you need to add a “preferential option to the poor” to the rest of your Pro-Life stance to complete yourself. Also, if you are Democrat/ liberal/ Libertarian, you need to move beyond your “anti-war” and “anti-capital punishment” and pro-social-justice stance and become completely Pro-Life.

  • Mr Flapatap

    With all due respect Deacon Norb, I am tired of hearing the old diatribe by pro-abortion politician apologists that pro-life people do not give a hoot about the poor. You may have some Elmer Gantry-Ayn Randt hybrids out there but most of the people involved in the pro life movement are heavily involved in helping the well being of the mother, child, and family.

    This is what crisis pregnancy centers do. They try to find ways for mothers to improve their lives and for fathers to take responsibility. Yes, you have some pro life activists who lobby, some who counsel outside abortion clinics, and some who pray. Many others raise funds to help mothers. Instead of condemning those who work on the advocacy part, we would all do better by remembering St Paul’s description of the faithful as members of a Body with many different parts each one performing a particular function for the common good.

    We are all under the obligation to care for and love one another regardless of ideology, religion, class, race, etc. We ARE our brother’s keeper and Jesus told us that we will be judged on how we treated the least of us. However, I can’ find the part where it says that it is our obligation to do so by throwing money and resources to bureaucratic, inefficient, wasteful, and many times corrupt government programs. Programs where even God’s mention is forbidden and that frequently contribute to immoral practices and behavior.

    Finally, I wish that all these calls for civility and dialog were sincere. Most times they only mean “have your other side chill out and listen to me even if I won’t care about what they have to say.”


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