CHICAGO—It appears that Cardinal Joseph Bernardin has given critics of the Common Ground initiative he launched last August more ammunition. Speaking at this city's new Sheraton Hotel Oct. 24 after a closed-doormeetingoftheCommon Ground committee, the Chicago prelate, citing Veritatis Splendor, suggested that“that limited and occasional dissent”is acceptable, as distinct from“an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine.“

Thepassagefromthe1994papal encyclical on the Church's moral teaching reads in part:“… [A] new situation has come about within the Christian community itself, which has experienced the spread of numerous doubts and objections of a human and psychological, social and cultural, religious and even properly theological nature, with regard to the Church's moral teachings. It is no longer a matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain anthropological and ethical presuppositions. At the roots of these presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth”(Veritatis Splendor, 4, emphasis added).

“I do find a‘consensus about dissent'but it is very different than that of Cardinal Bernardin's statement,”said Father Matthew Lamb, a professor of theology at Boston College.“The statement, by referencing Father Dulles and the Pope, confuses two very different sets of teachings: 1) legitimatedisagreementsregardingtheological opinions and 2) dissent from authoritativeChurchteachings. Thetextof Veritatis Splendor makes it clear that there is no acceptance of dissent, limited or otherwise, from authoritative Church teachings. Indeed, the only‘consensus about dissent'in conciliar and papal documents is that there is no acceptance or legitimization of dissent whatever.

“This statement seems to again illustrate exactly what Cardinal [Bernard] Law criticized when he took to task the Common Ground's launching statement, Called to be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril, for finding some way of making truth and dissentequalpartnersintheso-calleddialogue.”According to Father Lamb,“when one accepts limited and occasional dissent in a culture that separates freedom from truth, then, as the Holy Father observed, it becomes too easily generalized.“

Dominican Father Romanus Cessario, a professor of theology at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Mass., argued that the virtue of faith leads one first to ponder the precious deposit of Christian doctrine. Thisexplains,hesaid,why VaticanII's Lumen Gentium invites believers to embrace the Magisterium with a religious submission of will and intellect (25). Because faith can never oppose charity, Veritatis Splendor, said Father Cessario, insists that“opposition to the teaching of the Church's Pastors cannot be seen as a legitimate expression either of Christian freedom of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts”(113).

Cardinal Bernardin also cited Fordham University scholar Father Avery Dulles, S.J., whom, the cardinal said,“no one can accuse of being radical or reckless in his views.”

“Roommustbemadeforresponsibledissent,”Father Dulles was quoted as saying;“the good health of the Church demands continual revitalization by new ideas.”According to the Jesuit theologian, said Cardinal Bernardin,“theologians ought to alert Church authorities to the shortcomings of its teachings.”Asked to comment, Father Dulles said that“Cardinal Bernardin has quoted me correctly and responsibly. I have always favored dialogue within the Church as well as among Churches and religions. I assume that the Cardinal holds, as I do, that dissent should be reluctant, respectful, and relatively rare, and that dissenting opinions should never be presented as they were accepted Catholic doctrine.“

The Catholic Common Ground Project, launched Aug. 12, called for a process of dialogue to end the polarization dividing the Church in the United States with regard to the role of women, liturgical reform, religious education and a host of other issues.

With the exception of Cardinals William Keeler of Baltimore and John O'Connor of New York, who have not publicly comment on the initiative, and Cardinal RogerMahonyofLos Angeles,amemberofthe Common Ground Committee, the Chicago prelate's fellow cardinals have expressed varying degrees of reservation.Despitethepresenceonthecommitteeof Templeton Prize winner Michael Novak and Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon, many believe the project is misguided, saying that Church teaching should not be subject to a popular review. On the other hand, some have criticized the composition of the 25-person committee picked by Cardinal Bernardin to direct the initiative as too conservative. The committee's seven bishops, five priests, three woman Religious and eight lay people also include Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati; Robert Casey, former governor of Pennsylvania—who did not attend the committee meet-ing—Msgr.PhilipMurnion,headoftheNational Pastoral Life Center in New York; and Margaret 0'Brien Steinfels, editor of Commonweal magazine.

In his address, Cardinal Bernardin cautioned that the Common Ground Project is not synonymous with merely seeking a middle ground, or a process that follows purely democratic principles. The project's goal is to arrive at the truth, he said, as proclaimed by Catholic tradition and the Magisterium. Common Ground will not rethink Church teaching but more fully examine it, the cardinal said.

“Our aim is not to resolve all our differences or to establish a new ecclesial structure,”the cardinal said.“Rather, it is, first of all, to learn how to make our differences fruitful.“

“This project does not aim at the lowest common denominator. Nor when it speaks of dialogue does it imply compromise,”he said.“Rather, in both instances, its goal is the fullest possible understanding of and internalization of the truth.“

In many cases differences among U.S. Catholics has led to mistrust and deadlock, he said.“Candid discussion is inhibited. Ideas, journals and leaders are pressed to align themselves with preexisting camps,”he said.

The cardinal's address, open to the public, came after the Common Ground committee met for the first time earlier in the day, behind closed doors. The committeewillholdaconferencenextMarchand announced that it will work toward engaging ordinary Catholics in dialogue.

Cardinal Bernardin said the process of dialogue he envisions will meet certain conditions:

&atilled; Jesus Christ will be central to the project.

&atilled; It will be accountable to Scripture and Catholic tradition, conveyed to humanity by the Church and its Magisterium.

&atilled; The complexity of the tradition will not be reduced to fundamentalist appeals to a text or by narrow appeals to individual or contemporary experience.

&atilled; The Church will be treated not merely as a human organization but as a Communion, a spiritual family.

&atilled; Proposals will be tested for pastoral realism. -

&atilled; The Liturgy will not become a battleground.

Cardinal Bernardin argued that many of the differences among Catholics, including matters of religious education and the quality of the Liturgy, are pastoral, not doctrinal. Yet even the most pastoral questions have doctrinal aspects, he said.“It is both justified and imperative to ask what are the implications for doctrine of pastoral proposals or the implications for pastoral proposals of doctrine,”he said. The process, he added, will affirm legitimate debate and discourage“pop scholarship, sound-bite theology, unhistorical assertions and flippant dismissals,”the cardinal said.

Mary Ann Glendon, in an Oct. 21 letter to Cardinal Bernardin (see box) had warned that the project could lead to more disunity unless certain safeguards are taken.

In her letter, Glendon urged the committee to adhere to the words of Pope John Paul II in Tertio Milliennio Adveniente and affirm that the papacy is the chief servant of Church unity. She called on the committee “to recognize the new Catechism as the most effective remedy [for disunity]we possess: the foundation as well as the tuning fork of our discussions.“

AmericanEnterpriseInstitutescholarMichael Novak also sounded a note of caution.“Tradition is democracy of the dead. We can't betray what they gave us,”said Novak following the committee meeting in Chicago.“It's very hard to know how to give assent. It's easier to dissent,”Novak said.

Cardinal Bernardin, his voice sometimes weak and hoarse, announced that Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., will succeed him as chair of the project. The cardinal, who has cancer, was told by his doctors last summer that he has perhaps a year to live. Whether Archbishop Lipscomb, the prime mover behind the U.S. bishops'ill-fated pastoral on women, can bring opposing sides together remains to be seen.

Cardinal Bernardin, whose long distinguished leadership has been marked by the ability to bring Church factions together, urged Catholics to embrace dialogue, saying that he has chosen to devote some of his final days to this project.“A dying person does not have time for the peripheral or the accidental. He or she is drawn to the essential, the important, the eternal,”he said.“To say it quite boldly, it is wrong to waste the precious gift of the time given to us, as God's chosen servants, on acrimony and division.”

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., a committee member and theologian at Fordham University, N.Y., spoke after Cardinal Bernardin and reminded the audience of how ancient Christians would tell those soon to be martyred to pray for them once they were in heaven. Turning toward Cardinal Bernardin, she said:“Pray for us for the Common Ground vision when you get to heaven.“

Jay Copp is based in Chicago.