Subscribers can read our editorial in America online here, but here's a few snippets in advance.
"The clouds roll with thunder, the House of the Lord shall be built throughout the earth, and these frogs sit in their marsh and croak—‘We are the only Christians!’” So wrote St. Augustine about the Donatists, a perfectionist North African sect that attempted to keep the church free of contamination by having no truck with Roman officialdom. In the United States today, self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy, like Randall Terry and the Cardinal Newman Society, push mightily for a pure church quite unlike the mixed community of saints and sinners—the Catholic Church—that Augustine championed. Like the Circumcellions of old, they thrive on slash-and-burn tactics; and they refuse to allow the church to be contaminated by contact with certain politicians.
For today’s sectarians, it is not adherence to the church’s doctrine on the evil of abortion that counts for orthodoxy, but adherence to a particular political program and fierce opposition to any proposal short of that program. They scorn Augustine’s inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics, who will not know which of them belongs to the City of God until God himself separates the tares from the wheat. Their tactics, and their attitudes, threaten the unity of the Catholic Church in the United States, the effectiveness of its mission and the credibility of its pro-life activities.
Four steps are necessary for the U.S. church to escape the strengthening riptide of sectarian conflict and re-establish trust between universities and the hierarchy. First, the bishops’ discipline about speakers and awards at Catholic institutions should be narrowed to exclude from platforms and awards only those Catholics who explicitly oppose formal Catholic teaching. Second, in politics we must reaffirm the distinction between the authoritative teaching of moral principles and legitimate prudential differences in applying principles to public life. Third, all sides should return to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI that in politics there are usually several ways to attain the same goals. Finally, church leaders must promote the primacy of charity among Catholics who advocate different political options. For as the council declared, “The bonds which unite the faithful are mightier than anything which divides them” (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” No. 92).
Jim Keane, S.J.