Head of U.S. bishops: We must resist the division caused by hot-button issues

Bishops pray during Mass Nov. 12 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore on the eve of the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Resisting the division caused by hot-button church and political issues must be a priority for U.S. bishops, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told the group Monday morning.

“Ours is a diverse flock. People look, talk and even think differently from each other,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said in Baltimore. “This is a fact that the forces of division will use all the more.”

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The cardinal, giving his first address as president of the U.S.C.C.B., said society has not been able to come to a consensus on a number of questions regarding fraught political issues, including “how best to care for the sick, the unborn, the poor, the immigrant and the refugee, the unemployed and the underemployed in cities and towns across America.”

Regardless, he said, bishops must “enter the public debate with civility.”

Cardinal DiNardo told bishops that the United States is “facing a time that seems more divided than ever,” citing “hotly debated” issues including “health care, conscience protection, immigration and refugees, taxes, abortion, physician assisted suicide, gender ideologies, the meaning of marriage and all the other headlines.”

“But our role,” he said, “continues to be witnessing to the Gospel.”

The bishops meeting comes at a time when internal divisions among U.S. Catholics have become public, including earlier this month when a theological adviser to the U.S. bishops conference released a strongly-worded letter of critique addressed to the pope. When that adviser, Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., resigned, Cardinal DiNardo took the unusual step of professing publicly that U.S. bishops “always stand in strong unity with and loyalty to the Holy Father, Pope Francis.”

The theme of division in the church and in society has been frequently invoked during the bishops’ deliberations this week.

Speaking to the U.S.C.C.B. Sunday night, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also picked up on the theme of division, telling bishops that a “spirit of unity is more than ever necessary.”

“Only through the unity that is forged from dialogue and encounter,” he continued, “will you find the wisdom to rise to the challenges of the coming century.”

When it comes to division within in the church, Cardinal DiNardo said in response to a question from America during a press conference that social media accounts and websites pushing divisiveness is an issue that bishops must grapple with.

“There is some division,” he said, but he also suggested that “some of it sounds more raucous than it actually is.”

He said bishops should make sure they have people on their staffs who can “quietly and with reason put all of these things into context” when people call dioceses after reading incendiary material online.

Bishop Christopher Coyne, the head of the bishops communications committee, said the U.S.C.C.B. has increased its rapid response media operation in order to combat divisive social media by “getting true facts out there.”

During Cardinal DiNardo’s address, he mostly avoided divisions within the church and instead focused on social and political issues that continue to divide Americans.

For example, he asked bishops to consider the issue of abortion in light of other social justice issues.

“If we cannot come to love and protect innocent life from the moment God creates it, how can we properly care for each other as we come of age?” he asked.

On immigration, he said “the system is broken” and he said that the United States should seek “border security in a humane way.” He also gave a word of encouragement to recipients of the D.A.C.A. program, which the Trump administration has begun to phase out, telling them to “keep on dreaming.”

He cited specifically the violence in Charlottesville, in which a young woman was killed while protesting a white supremacist gathering, saying “racism always destroys lives and it has no place in the Christian heart.”

The bishops gathered will hear an update later on Monday from working groups about racism and immigration.

Reacting to recent spates of gun violence in the United States and around the world, Cardinal DiNardo said that the “time is long past due to end the madness of outrageous weapons—be they stockpiled on a continent or in a hotel room,” a reference to the October mass shooting in Las Vegas that left nearly 60 people dead and hundreds injured.

He also highlighted the global persecution of Christians and announced a “Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians” to be held later this fall “to express our solidarity with those who are suffering.”

Despite the many challenges he highlighted, including recent natural disasters such as the hurricanes that battered Texas and Puerto Rico, Cardinal DiNardo sounded a note of optimism, telling the bishops that the “forces of division prey upon our fear.”

“But fear is not of God,” he said. “God does not divide; God united. And God, who is love, created us to love.”

This story includes updates.

Eileen Malloy
1 week 2 days ago

The biggest hot button issue for the bishops is Amoris Laetitia which has resulted in massive division within the Church. If the Pope retracted it, it would go a long way towards unity.

Michael Barberi
1 week 2 days ago

Yes, the big hot button issue is Amoris Laetitia (AL). There is a division in the Church here, but there has been a division in the Church for the past 50 years over other teachings such as Humanae Vitae. However, a call for Pope Francis to retract his Apostolic Exhortation is being disingenuous and unrealistic. A retraction would rupture the Church credibility even further.

Teaching development, even the pastoral application of a doctrine, takes time to implement and assimilate into the praxis of the Church. It is about time that the Church is taking a turn for the good.

James Haraldson
1 week 2 days ago

Slapping God in the face by insisting that truth is malleable and not eternal is not a "turn for the good."

Greg Smith
1 week 2 days ago

The Bishops could lower the heat on the so-called hot button issues by agreeing not to fire people who are in same sex marriages or, worse yet, refuse to bury them. Just a thought.

Eileen Malloy
1 week 2 days ago

You’re divisive and against Catholicism which teaches what Jesus and St. Paul say: same-sex genital acts are mortal sin. That is not God’s plan for any person.

Lisa Weber
1 week 2 days ago

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. Absolutely nothing.

Anne Danielson
1 week 2 days ago

True, these acts, which deny the inherent Dignity of the human person as a beloved son or daughter, can never be reconciled with respect for the marital act, and thus an affirmation that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage.

Greg Smith
1 week ago

So,your Pastor gets an anonamous note that the parish maintenance man got "gay married" and it's OK to fire him. The beloved school secretary dies and someone points out she's a lesbian and father won't give her a Catholic funeral ... and this is OK with you? I don't think it would be OK with Jesus,at least not the same Jesus we read about in the Gospel every Sunday.

Lisa Weber
1 week 2 days ago

If the bishops quit harping on issues related to sexuality, unity would be more likely. Adults generally do not ask the Church for advice or permission about sexual issues. The Church cannot do anything about the sexual choices of adults. Endlessly stirring up emotionally sensitive issues in which nothing much can be done is a recipe for divisiveness that serves no useful purpose. It would be nice if the Church could move on from the topics of contraception, abortion, gay marriage and divorced Catholics receiving communion.

rose-ellen caminer
1 week ago

For the Catholic church to "move on" against the issue of abortion would be an inversion of Christian ethics and theology. If the taking of innocent, capable- of -suffering- sentient- made- in- Gods -image -unborn humans , is framed and accepted as a "personal choice" issue, and absurdly as a "sexuality " issue, then the Church on earth abrogates its mission to be the Good News of Gods love for His creatures;created in God's image humans , including the[unborn] least among us. Instead of the church on earth upholding a Christ/humanistic ethics , Its becomes a might- makes- right- demonic entity.
Pope Francis has rightly said it is not the only moral life affirming issue for the church; the value of all human life and therefore all life issues are of equal moral import, but he never abrogated the church's humanistic /Christ centered, anti abortion stand.

Frank Pray
1 week 2 days ago

I read the first part of the article as a retreat from stating the Christian ethical and scriptural position on abortion, immigration, same sex marriage, environmental degradation, the death penalty, and other like issues. Then Cardinal Nardo in the second part of the article opines on these very issues. Which is it?

I don’t think being completely silent or completely political is the answer. The “good news” is God has freed us from living in the darkness of sin. We can and should be sources of light on these issues, and speak out boldly with civility and love, Inevitably, there will be division with those who reject God’s truth. But it is far better to fear God than to fear division.

James Haraldson
1 week 2 days ago

So the bishops what us to ignore Our Lord's command that we be a force for courageous divisiveness but imitate the moral cowardice they've been practicing for the past fifty years?

Anne Danielson
1 week 2 days ago

The division is caused by those who profess to be followers of The Christ while denying that God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage.

Charles Erlinger
1 week 1 day ago

In regard to the basic premise for the article, namely, that

"...society has not been able to come to a consensus on a number of questions regarding fraught political issues, including “how best to care for the sick, the unborn, the poor, the immigrant and the refugee, the unemployed and the underemployed in cities and towns across America.”

the emphasis on how best to care perhaps misses the prior condition, which would be that the various contending points of view are held by those who share a common objective, that is, those who agree that these subjects are problems, and that their solution is characterized by some commonly held desired end-state. Only if we are sure that contending advocates share a common objective does it make sense to worry ourselves with differences as to how best to achieve it.

Robert Killoren
1 week ago

Here is a consequence of division.
Fact: Community is a constituent element of true worship.
Without commUNITY true worship cannot happen.
Now resume fighting amongst yourselves if you want. But if you cannot at least find unity in diversity then your worship is not true,
“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

Andrew Wolfe
5 days 13 hours ago

My problem with the statement is that, apart from sexual morality, the bishops consistently embrace language biased towards one side of the divide. Conservatives feel that legal status of an immigrant is extremely germaine to the question of immigration, and have no problem with legal immigrants. However, the bishops almost exclusively talk to "immigrants." This tends to support the divisive accusations of racism and xenophobia against political conservatives. They consistently accept interpretations of legislation and rhetoric from the Democrat party, which itself tends to discount or even excoriate small-government conservative views. We care no less about the country or our neighbor, we just note that government interventions in society have been counterproductive. Now there are whole classes of brothers and sisters, especially children, who are chronically dependent on government. I understand and accept that "radical individualism" is a gravely sinful tendency, but abject dependency is not the answer. The bishops are concerned about withdrawing support from those who are dependent, but why aren't they concerned about the political exploitation of those whose dependency is fostered by the government? Instead they accuse conservatives of heartlessness.

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