Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal

Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal April 23, 2015

Vox Nova is pleased to welcome the following guest post by reader Mike McG.

Sean Cardinal O’Malley calls polarization “a cancer on the church.” How is the current degree of polarization within American Catholicism working for you?

Well, it is not working for me. In fact, I find it quite disheartening. Yet I have often felt alone in my desolation. The good news is that those of us who feel wounded and broken by polarization are not alone.

A number of American Catholics deeply concerned about polarization will gather in South Bend in a few days and, as you will note below, we have devised a way for the Vox Nova community to tap into this gathering.

On April 27th and 28th, the University of Notre Dame is sponsoring a conference entitled Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal. Please check out this link: http://csrs.nd.edu/events/polarization/ The rationale the organizers offer for this conference includes the following comments:

“Rather than the healthy debates characteristic of a living tradition, we have witnessed in our public politics—and often, also in the local contexts of everyday lives—an absence of genuine engagement and dialogue. Catholics of good will are alienated from one another. This is a disturbingly apt metaphor applied to the Church as the body of Christ.”

“The premise behind this conference is that, although particular “hot button” issues, including those surrounding issues of gender, sexuality, and authority, have divided American Catholics, there is much that yet binds us together as both Catholics and citizens. In fact, despite the magnified influence those at the poles can exert, sociological studies of polarization suggest that only 20% or less of the population occupy truly polar positions on these contested issues. Our goal, then, is to better understand the social and religious underpinnings of our divisions, to explore how our common beliefs and aspirations can help us heal some of the hurts that the divisions have caused, as well as how open dialogue with those with differing views of issues that have proved contentious might challenge us to revise and incorporate new understandings of them that might help bring healing and hope—unity in our diversity.”

And now for Vox Nova participation!

First, please plan to watch to the conference’s plenary addresses on Monday, April 27th from 4:30 pm to 6:15 pm, Eastern time. This event will be live streamed at csrs.nd.edu/events/polarization/ on that date and at that time. Five very impressive plenary panelists will address the conference: Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores; Notre Dame President John Jenkins, CSC; St. Louis University Professor of Christian Ethics Julie Hanlon Rubio; Notre Dame Professor of Sociology Christian Smith; and National Catholic Reporter Columnist Michael Sean Winters.

Secondly, please plan to share your thoughts after listening to the plenary speakers. Our blog conversation will take place in the comment boxes of a new post which will go online Monday when the convocation begins. I will be attending the conference and sharing my observations on Vox Nova at the same time that you are doing so. In this Monday evening posting I will be asking you to comment on the five panelists’ presentations in light of your lived experiences as an American Catholic. I will want to know whether any of the panelists particularly spoke to your heart, and if so how so.

In preparation for our conversation on Monday, here are some questions to ponder:

…What is your read on the challenge polarization represents to American Catholicism? Given a range of 10 (high/severe threat) to 1 (low/no big thing), how would you rate this as a challenge to the tradition?

…Have you felt wounded by interactions with other Catholics who seemed to disparage your deepest and most cherished beliefs and convictions?

…Do you ever find yourself wounding other Catholics by disparaging their deepest and most cherished beliefs and convictions which seem remote from your own?

…How can we begin to heal the wounds and change the tone?

…Quite apart from agreeing or disagreeing among ourselves, do Catholics of various cultural, theological and ideological persuasions fundamentally understand one another?

…Is there a ‘center’ in American Catholicism? If so, can it hold?

We know that there are occasional and even regular Vox Nova readers who rarely or never comment. Please plan to participate in this forum. All voices but particularly new voices are most welcome!

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