National Catholic Register

News

‘Faithful and Hopeful: The Catholic Common Ground Project’

BY Jim Cosgrove

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

 

(ExcerptsofcardinalJoseph Bernardin's Oct. 24 address)

“… Asweknow,differences have always existed in the Church. St. Paul's letters and the Acts of the Apostles and the fact that there are four gospel accounts rather than one all tell us that Christian unity has always coexisted with Christian differences. Differences arethenaturalreflectionofour diversity,adiversitythatcomes withcatholicity.Differencesare thenaturalconsequenceofour grappling with a divine mystery thatalwaysremainsbeyondour complete comprehension. And differences, it must be added, can also spring from human sinfulness.

“… You may have noticed that so far I have spoken about differences without using the word“dissent!' Some people have objected that the Catholic Common Ground Project will legitimate dissent, and others, perhaps, have hoped that it will. In part, I have addressed this concern by noting the range of differencesamongU.S.Catholics that are not strictly or primarily doctrinal. But dissent, in addition, is a complicated term. I mean neither to avoid it nor to pretend to address all the issues surrounding it.

“One can find, however, some major points of consensus about dissent.

“On the one hand, consider the view that all public disagreement or criticism of Church teaching is illegitimate.Suchanunqualified understandingisunfoundedand wouldbeadisservicetothe Church.‘Room must be made for responsible dissent in the Church,’ writes Father Avery Dulles, whom no one can accuse of being radical or reckless in his views.‘Theology always stands under correction’

“‘Dissent should neither be glorifiednorbevilified,’ Father Dullesadds.Itinevitablyrisks weakening the Church as a sign of unity, but it can nonetheless be justified, and to suppress it would be harmful.‘The good health of the Church demands continual revitalizationbynewideas,’ Father Dullessays,addingthat ‘nearly everycreativetheologianhas at one time or another been suspected ofcorruptingthefaith’ Infact, accordingtoDulles,theologians ought to alert Church authorities to the shortcomings of its teachings.

“Similarly, in Veritatis Splendor Pope John Paul II distinguishedbetween ‘limitedand occasional dissent' and‘an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional moral doctrine’ I would argue that dissent ceases to belegitimatewhenittakesthe formofaggressivepubliccampaignsagainstChurchteachings that undermine the authority of the Magisterium itself.

“Noonecandenythatsuch campaigns exist. But I would go further. Theproblemofdissent today is not so much the voicing of serious criticism but the popularity ofdismissive,demagogic, ‘cute' commentary, dwelling on alleged motives,exploitingstereotypes, creating stock villains, employing reliable‘laugh lines’ The kind of responsible disagreement of which I speak must not include‘caricatures' that‘undermine the Church as a community of faith'by assuming Church authorities to be‘generallyignorant,self-serving,and narrow-minded’ It takes no more than a cursory reading of the more militant segments of the Catholic press, on both ends of the theological and ideological spectrum, to reveal how widespread, and how corrosive,suchcaricatureshave become.

“ThisiswhytheCatholic CommonGroundProject,while affirming‘legitimate debate, discussion, and diversity,’ specifically targets ‘popscholarship,sound-bitetheology,unhistoricalassertions,andflippantdismissals’ Moreover, it aims at giving Catholics another model for exploring our differences. Before speaking of that model I want to make it clear that, in speaking of a‘common ground'this project does notaimatthelowestcommon denominator. Nor when it speaks of dialogue does it imply compromise. Rather, in both instances its goal is the fullest possible understanding of and internalization of the truth.“