Catholic common ground

Bishops are searching for it.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, who at least on some matters, would be regarded stereotypically as representing “liberal” and “conservative” views, will headline together a major convening of Catholic leaders this June aimed at overcoming division, building relationships, and strengthening the Catholic community’s contribution to the common good.

“Through Many, One: Overcoming Polarization Through Catholic Social Thought,” will take place June 4-6 at Georgetown University and is a project of the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life in response to what its organizers have described as “the harmful divisions within our Church.”

Cupich – who was appointed to Chicago in 2014 – is widely perceived as one of Francis’s closest allies in the U.S. Church and has been a strong champion for worker’s rights, immigration, and the consistent ethic of life. Gomez has led the nation’s largest and most diverse diocese since 2011 and is currently the vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). He was ordained a priest through Opus Dei, a movement that is widely viewed as having conservative leanings, and has been a vocal advocate for pro-life and religious liberty causes. In recent years he has also become one of the most vocal leaders within the U.S. Church hierarchy calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

The gathering will focus not on internal Church issues, but on “the neglected challenge of bringing Catholic principles to public life so as to truly be ‘salt, light and leaven’ in a divided society.”

Well, there does some to be one conspicuous piece of common ground, one that sets apart these holy bishops from all those grubby nativists in the pews.

Actually, I don’t understand why these freedom-and-democracy types are bothered by polarization.  Why shouldn’t Catholics be divided on everything under the sun?  Otherwise, would it not mean that we had failed to evangelize one faction?  If we need a core that unites us and distinguishes us from the world (and we do!), we could point to the seven sacraments and the Nicene creed.  However, that would mean giving up on “bringing Catholic principles to public life”, at least insofar as “public life” means what are commonly called “political disputes”.

Instead, the goal is a united witness to Catholic social teaching.  I’m all for this, but I doubt either the Cardinal or the Archbishop is.  After all, if the Church has a duty to bring something distinctive to public debate, then it must advocate a position different from the main non-Catholic positions, a position that nonbelievers by-and-large disagree with.  Banalities about caring for the poor and the common good don’t count.  The anti-Catholic communists agree with them.  The same could be said for pleas to protect the environment.  Even the episcopal common ground of open borders advocacy is a completely common position in elite circles.  A robust defense of the social kingship of Christ would certainly qualify, but American bishops would recoil from any such thing.

The trouble is that, to episcopal ears, “Catholics social teaching” means “the things we can say that will make us popular, that will attract the young people and get the newspapers to write nice things about us”.  There are indeed things men in the public eye can say that carry no risk and some degree of social reward.  (Nobody ever lost a job or status for attacking “racists”.)  However, such popular, consensus-affirming positions simply by being popular and consensus-affirming are not distinctive, and the Church serves no urgent or irreplaceable function in articulating them.

If Catholic social teaching is important, it must be unpopular.

3 Responses

  1. There seems a strong tendency among the hierarchy to attribute primacy to man-made morality (and it is necessarily not all bad) over that which is Divine. The most likely explanation seems to me that they are, in general, atheistic humanists. They should admit this.

  2. “They should admit this” presumes that they have some awareness that atheistic humanism is distinct from Catholicism, which, having been educated in post-conciliar seminaries, they almost certainly don’t possess.

  3. “If Catholic social teaching is important, it must be unpopular.”

    This is the logic of aristocracy.

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