Cardinal George: Committees on Catholic Identity

Now that the bishops' meeting has begun (see Michael Sean Winters' post below, and keep looking for his continuing coverage for America) Cardinal George has revealed what has been whispered about in Catholic circles for the past few weeks: the USCCB will discuss setting up committees that will determine whether those in three separate groups--the media, colleges and universities, and other organizations (lay groups, etc.)--are legitimately Catholic.  Here's David Gibson on that point, who is covering the meeting for Politics Daily: 

The leader of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States on Monday launched a new effort to rein in Catholic debates and dissidents and to remind the flock that the bishops will be the arbiters of what it means to be a Catholic.

In remarks at the opening of the hierarchy's annual meeting in Baltimore, Chicago Cardinal Francis George made it clear that after years of repeated questions about the bishops' credibility, it was time for the bishops to clarify just who can and cannot speak for the church. He also confirmed that he had set up three committees of bishops to develop guidelines for determining what will be considered legitimate Catholic entities.



Church insiders said the divisions and open dissents, and the criticisms that often bombarded the bishops from right and left, increasingly frustrated George and others in the church leadership, and led George to quietly form several committees that will try to find a way to certify which universities, media, and other organizations can claim to be Catholic.


But several bishops and church officials I spoke with doubted whether George's desire to implement the certifying committees would gain any traction among the bishops. For one thing, beneath the surface of civility, the bishops are as divided on many of these issues as the rest of the American church.

In addition, George played it so close to the vest in setting up the committees--he launched the initiative over the summer--that up until the first day of these meetings many bishops didn't know who was on the committees or how many there were. There are, it turns out, three such committees: on Catholic universities, Catholic media, and other Catholic organizations, reportedly those involved in lobbying.

San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer, chairman of the committee on Catholic media, told reporters after Monday's opening session that in recent years the political and media landscape has sprouted so many organizations and websites and lobbies using the Catholic label--and advocating competing agendas--that churchgoers are confused.

"Catholics will approach us, and approach their pastors in their church, and ask us, 'Well, I hear this outfit is called Catholic and it says this and another says this and another one something else. Can they all be Catholic and disagree so vehemently with each other?' That does challenge us to makes sense of it and to speak as bishops," said Niederauer, who is widely regarded as a media-savvy prelate with a moderate temperament.

Read the rest of Gibson's story here.

Where this will lead is anyone's guess. 

James Martin, SJ


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Brian Thompson
8 years 4 months ago
I understand the fear some might have of witch hunts, but I believe the bishops will go about this soberly. After all, they are being harassed from all sides of the ideological spectrum, not just one or the other.
It seems only fair that our bishops, who are held accountable either legally or popularly-opinion-wise for anything anyone with "Catholic" in their title does, be allowed to regulate the use of the term. Indeed, guiding and governing the faithful is a huge part of the episcopal vocation, and part of that is to teach the people about what is or is not compatable with our Christian mission. Yes, hostorically some people have discerned the need to challenge a complacent hierarchy, but as y'all remind everyone constatly, this is not the middle ages; our bishops are hard working and do indeed care very much for the people of God.
I doubt the bishops will outright silence people who are within the bounds of Catholicism. It is those who stand outside the tent yet still claim the title, and those who are on the edges pusing on the walls or darting in and out who will likely be addressed by these councils and paternally but lovingly corrected.
That is to say, we should not worry unless we are falling off one or the other side of the boat.
Eugene Pagano
8 years 4 months ago
This, from the same episcopate that has George Weigel's column in so many diocesan newspapers, lambasting Catholics who do not fully accept his brand of Roman (or Republican?) Catholicism?
Joseph Farrell
8 years 4 months ago
I would remind Mr. Gibson that the Catholic Church is unique. The bishops are those who decide what it is to be Catholic because it was to them that Christ gave the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. That is Catholicism whether or not he chooses to acknowledge that fact
Stephen SCHEWE
8 years 4 months ago
All institutions, including schools, businesses, hospitals and churches, have a natural tendency to hide mistakes to avoid embarrassment or liability. This natural tendency needs to be countered wherever possible by open decision making and outside oversight. Openness and accountability help the Church become healthier and more just.  Any attempt to marginalize the few independent voices by labeling them "not Catholic" or rewarding compliant media, colleges, and lay groups as "Catholic" will be perceived as attempts to evade transparency and accountability.  Like the mandatum required of theologians in U.S. universities, the very attempt by the bishops will have a chilling effect on dialogue and will enhance the contradictions at the heart of the Church's approach to governance.
I wonder what would happen if lay people of influence in the various dioceses advocated for elected editorial boards for diocesan magazines and newspapers to encourage vigorous, objective coverage of parishes, dioceses, and governance?  Or if the independent institutions in the Catholic world formed a compact, saying "an attack on the Catholic identity of one of us is an attack on all of us?"
Carolyn Disco
8 years 4 months ago
Well, I should not be surprised. George’s ham-fisted effort to reassert episcopal authority and relevance is a page right out of the old handbook: secrecy wedded to unilateral statements of “you shall obey,” or else. We bishops deserve submission because we are just like Jesus Christ, and you are to stop advocating for anything we disagree with. The poor bishops are frustrated by criticism, and without crediblity? Stop whining, for God’s sake, and show some integrity for a change.
George said abusers have been removed and their sins cannot be allowed to discredit Catholic teaching. But, but, it is the sins, nay crimes of George and his peers that do more to discredit the Church than any sick, dysfunctional priest. Their arrogance and denial of lies and cover-up are unhealed wounds that can’t be ordered away.
Read grand jury/AG reports and bishops’ depositions under Legal Documents on . We may soon have Egan’s for posting when the Bridgeport documents are released. Any resemblance to the Lord in all that testimony? Actually, the documents are an overdue eye-opener to the dark underbelly of the Church, known before mainly to insiders with cynical knowledge of the bureaucracy’s capabilities, according to sociologist William D’Antonio and Sulpician Anthony Pogorelc
Now, most Catholics of my knowledge no longer find an episcopal seal of approval necessary, much less “licensing” of anything, to live their faith meaningfully. Bishops of their own doing have become noisy background at best. There are far better pastors than in chanceries.
Fr. Martin asks where George’s initiative will lead. More self-important huffing and puffing no doubt, much chatter, and a sad increase in the divisions George cites. An interesting piece of theatre perhaps, if only the stakes for those whose living depends on the church weren’t so painful.
“Bishops Try to Reassert Control of a Restive Flock” is Gibson’s headline. George has yet to learn it is not control that is needed, but Gospel leadership, which by the way is NOT synonymous with power. For starters, how about bishops with humility who speak truth from the heart and do not practice deceit.
Jim McCrea
8 years 4 months ago
Joe Farrell:  I'll repeat what I posted on the "What Should A Gay Catholic Do?" thread:
Martin in #81 said:  “I do think that Jesus did intend a teaching Church whose teachings would be protected by the Spirit.”
 Which teachings?  Any and all?  Infallibly defined? Those dealing with Creed (belief)?  Code (disciplines)?  Cult (worship practices)? 
I suggest to you, my friend, that a cursory review of Church history will reveal more than one instance with the Holy Spirit has been derelict in Her/His duty if what you believe is supposed to be true. 
 Three related citings may help bring clarity to the dogmatism of “Truth”:
 If our understanding of God develops slowly and somewhat uncertainly, then there will always be as much reason to regard any putative (i.e., commonly accepted or supposed) heresy as a new insight as there will be to regard it as a distortion of the truth.   
 Gordon Graham, "The Goodness of God and the  Conception of Hell"  New Blackfriars, November 1988
 “Heresy is willful theologizing of conduct unworthy of the faith.  It's not always possible to be sure we're dealing with it.  It can for a while be perfectly sincere:  people may honestly not see the contradiction between confession and conduct.  But we're not talking about complicities with evil that are part of our human lot. We can repent of these, pray to be delivered, bear the burden of guilt, so long as we don't defend them theologically.  Heresy is rather the hardness of heart that knows something is wrong but seeks to cover it up with doctrinal blustering.  It is most often the heresy of the establishment.  But it can also be the heresy of the prophet who embraces causes for personal aggrandizement rather than legitimate conviction.“ 
   Thomas Oden, Can There Ever Be a Center Without a Circumference:  A Response to Lewis Mudge (see article immediately above), Christian Century, 4-12-95.
 “Heresy may be the result of poor timing.” 
 Jaroslav Pelikan, "The Christian Tradition:  A History of the Development of Doctrine", Vol I, "The Emergence of Catholic Tradition."  


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