National Catholic Register

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A Letter to the Cardinal

BY Jim Cosgrove

November 3-9, 1996 Issue | Posted 11/3/96 at 2:00 AM

 

HARVARD LAW Professor Mary Ann Glendon, Common Ground project committee member, addressed the following letter to Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. It was dated Oct. 21.

“Thank you so much for your gracious response to my letter of Sept. 20. I am taking the liberty of writing again to share a few additional thoughts about how to assure the best possible conditions for the success of the Common Ground Project.

The measured reactions of several of your fellow cardinals to the statement “Called to be Catholic,” suggest that this document, though well-intentioned, carries a significant risk of undercutting its own purpose to promote unity within the Church. Fortunately, our project is at such an early stage that we can learn and benefit from this experience. Afew simple steps at this stage could, I believe, greatly improve our chances of success by averting unnecessary misunderstandings and anxieties.

What is most urgent, in my humble view, is to clarify what is meant by dialogue, and to acknowledge that dialogue has conditions. Hence the following suggestions that I plan to make at our Oct. 24 meeting.

1) The first condition for effective dialogue is an atmosphere where the participants can get to know and understand one another. Your response to my Sept. 20 letter is greatly reassuring on this point

2) Genuine dialogue must be informed dialogue. Much, perhaps most, “disunity” in the Church is simply the result of poor formation, plus a culture which makes it difficult to lead a Christian life. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “We have a wisdom to offer those who have reached maturity, not a philosophy of cur age, still less of the masters of our age.” A prerequisite for any discussion of Catholic common ground must be familiarity with the essential elements of that Common ground which are, as you yourself have made clear, Scripture and the authoritative teachings of the Church. Alas, such familiarity cannot be presupposed. Thus it would be well if the group were to explicitly acknowledge this problem, and to recognize the new Catechism as the most effective remedy we possess: the foundation as well as the tuning fork of our discussions. We should be mindful of the fact that if our group is to try to model dialogue, it must also model exceptional knowledge. That 'is a daunting challenge!

3) Dialogue among Catholics, as within a family, takes place within a framework of shared commitments. Unfortunately our project has received some undeserved praise as well as criticism from Catholics who confuse dialogue with negotiating and compromising the “precious deposit of Christian doctrine.” We should act immediately to negate any notion that dialogue means dumbing down doctrine to the comfort level of persons in a highly permissive society. As St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to the spirit of this age.”

4) The best way to get the common ground project off to the best possible start, on the firmest possible basis would be to place our work directly and explicitly within the program recommended by John Paul II in Tertio Millennio Adveniente.This would simultaneously:

&atiled; alleviate the worries aroused by the statement,

&atiled; cure the statement's omission to recognize the papacy is the chief servant of Church unity,

&atiled; provide us with a peerless set of starting points for discussion,

&atiled; establish a model for similar discussions based on the same document around the country, and with the help of God's grace,

&atiled enable us to make a uniquely valuable contribution to the Great Jubilee 2000 as well as to Church unity.

With continued prayers and all good wishes for you personally, dear Cardinal Bernardin, I am sincerely yours in Christ, Mary Ann Glendon.