Community of Disciples

St. Ignatius Loyola suggests that in any exchange, “it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false.” To this call for charity, St. Ignatius added that if correction is necessary, it ought to be delivered with respect and kindness. Those qualities of respect and kindness have at times been hard to find in many of the heated arguments in which American Catholics have found themselves embroiled over the past 12 tumultuous months.

Can a Catholic in good conscience vote for Barack Obama? For John McCain? May pro-choice politicians be given Communion? Should the legal fight to overturn Roe v. Wade bear the full weight of Catholic political energy; or are there other, more effective strategies for combating the culture of death? Should the University of Notre Dame award an honorary degree to President Obama, or even invite him at all? Should there be more frequent celebrations of the liturgy in Latin; and if so, what version of the Mass texts should be used? Issues like these have always sparked much discussion in the Catholic community, but they are now often dominated by a tone that is decidedly dangerous—harsh and often lacking in respect or courtesy.

This rhetoric has threatened the credibility of the church, as the Catholic tradition of trust and toleration has been de-emphasized. Even a few bishops have made statements like “We are at war” and “Tolerance is not a Christian virtue,” suggesting that any notion of the common good has given way to a sharply defined “us versus them” mentality. Such rhetoric also subtly undermines the Catholic principle of subsidiarity first put forth by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno, according to which a pluralistic social structure allows and encourages constructive input from a variety of groups on the grass-roots level.

This polarization must stop; otherwise our identity as a faith community will be torn asunder and Catholicism will cease to be an elevating force for change. How can we decrease the polarization? A vital first step is to seek out our common ground in the major civic areas where almost all Catholics agree: religious liberty; the sacredness of all human life; the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating abortion; support for social programs that provide a safety net for the poor; the elimination of segregation, racism and discrimination; and respect for differing religious and social traditions and diverse cultures. Few are the Catholics who do not share these principles, which provide a ready-made common ground.

We also need to find a way to foster civil debate and dialogue on how to incorporate and share our values in a pluralistic society. Recognizing the distinction between moral principles and their application, we can disagree in good conscience on the way such principles are prudentially applied in the public sphere. Even when disagreeing over the concrete applications of moral principles, we also must respect the good will of those with whom we disagree. Tolerance, charity and respect are not “weasel words,” nor are they excuses to paper over legitimate differences among Catholics. Rather, they are essential elements for a church in which members work together toward common goals, by supposing, as St. Ignatius wrote, that everyone is striving to act for the greater good.

Our bishops must take the lead in this conversation in the Catholic community. As the Second Vatican Council noted: “Bishops should make it their special care to approach men and initiate and promote dialogue with them. These discussions on religious matters should be marked by charity of expression as well as by humility and courtesy, so that truth may be combined with charity, and understanding with love.” As many have noted, our bishops also need to be careful that they do not overstep their bounds when they prescribe specific policy recommendations, lest they sacrifice their spiritual authority by appearing to be partisan political figures.

In his book Models of the Church, the late Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., highlighted the image of the church as a “community of disciples.” This image from the early church (Acts 6:1-2) sees every Christian united in learning from and following Christ. Here the church is always a learning church led by the Spirit, not yet in full possession of the truth. A disciple is by definition one who has not yet arrived, but is on the way to full conversion. This more humble view of a pilgrim church always in need of purification and improvement may help to tone down the rhetoric and encourage Catholics to work together in addressing the great issues of our day, especially those involving the culture of life. True dialogue, as Cardinal Dulles noted, enables the church “to understand its teaching better, to present it more persuasively and to implement it in a pastoral way.”

medardo chua
8 years ago
The suggestion of St.Ignatius you put in the opening of your piece applies also to those who disagree with the bishops. I am belaboring this obvious because your essay is subtly against our pastors. However much we try to be objective, our biases always find a way to shine through.
8 years ago
If you don't recognize what you call "polarization" is in fact a rejection of the authority of the Church to teach and bind Catholics on doctrine and morality, then you will never reach the roots of the alleged polarization. This debate is not about polarization but fidelity. While all this polarization-talk is a result of the strong negative response to ND and Obama, it is interesting that the negotiables seem to be abortion, and contraception, and homosexuality. Would we be having this talk about polarization if the issue were one of a politician and racism, let's say? From your perspective I doubt it. I always get the feeling reading your publication that the interpretive lens is orthodox liberalism/pc ideology rather than the Jesuit tradition and the Catholic Faith. I doubt St.Ignatius would be on board with any of this.
8 years ago
The trouble with avoiding polarization is you also avoid any chance of doing any good. You make the church irrelevant. It simply affirms what we already beleive and does not call us to anything better. It is a call to cowardice. Catholics have never accepted consensus as the goal. Holiness is the goal. That is not something we get without a fight. Were all the martyr's bad Catholics because they obviously offended somebody? That seems to follow from you line of reasoning.
8 years ago
Political loyalty is obviously taking precedence over the search for Truth. There can be no legitimate reason for advocating the murder of innocent human life. That is one of the most serious violations of God's commandments.
Daniel McGrath
8 years ago
Christ is the Shepherd and we are His flock. But in our modern age, the sheep all have blogs or Twitter accounts, and they are tweeting on about all kinds of things about which they are unqualified to opine. For centuries, the learned men (and women) of the Church debated the big ideas among themselves, and we followed their authority. But a funny thing happened on the way to the kingdom of God. The debate became public, and now anyone, regardless of their qualifications, can challenge the teaching and authority of their churches (or anything else for that matter). So we line up behind one loud-mouth or another, or we get online an yammer on about whatever thoughts are on our minds. But we're still sheep. And the Shepherd has been removed to heaven, leaving us with His words, the Holy Spirit and these usually well-intentioned men who can forgive our sins or hold us bound by them. God bless those of you with years of religious formation and education, with advanced degrees in theology or divinity or the history of the Church, those of you who can read and write in Latin. I pray that you all are given the Grace to teach us. I pray that we are given the Grace to learn and understand.
Elaine Tannesen
8 years ago
During the 1980’s, I ran a home schooling learning center serving mostly fundamentalist families of various Protestant denominations. I was always the only Catholic in the group. We treated each other with respect, loved each others children, and found that in our basic values and in many, many ways we were in agreement. We may have differed in the voting booth but our personal respect for the integrity and thoughtfulness of our differing opinions was integral to our relationship. As Catholics we have so much in common, so much to respect in each other. Lets stop circling the wagons and name calling. Thank you for this excellent and timely article.
8 years ago
Excellent article-hopefully the Bishop of Scranton reads it.
8 years ago
Who dares to take up a contrary position for the pleas of this editorial essay for "dialogue," "respect," "civility," and so forth? A clever rhetorical slight of hand to say, in essence, "Please stop making the rest of us Catholics who seek assimilation, and the approval of non-Catholic elites, look like wierdos. 'Catholicism' is something we do for an hour on Sunday, but we certainly don't intend for it to be taken THAT seriously, nor do we want to appear out of step to anyone on any of the wedge/social issues of the day. Furthermore, we want a 'strict wall of seperation between Church and State' when the Catholic goes into the voting booth." I encourage the fans of this op/ed piece to read "Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice" written by the Episcopalian historian, Phillip Jenkins. It's sad when "The Nation's Catholic Weekly" feels the need dress down the nation's Catholic bishops for being . . . too Catholic.
Joseph Franklin
8 years ago


Maybe we need two Catholic Churches: The Roman Catholic Church whose members would believe in the faith handed down by it and follow this faith, trusting in the Shepherds to oversee and guide it. This church would be based on a hierarchy and its members would share and follow its beliefs. This church would not be a democracy. The second church could be called the American Catholic Church: This Church would be a democracy: it would elect its Bishops and vote on its doctrines and core beliefs. There would be dialogue. I suspect that the second church would eventually divide into a multitude of churches as their protestant brethren did over the centuries. The Catholic Colleges and Universities who practiced their Catholic identity and taught and followed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and obeyed their Bishop could retain their RC Church identities. These colleges would hire teachers that were members of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Colleges who subscribed to the current beliefs and philosophies of secular society would be renamed American Catholic Church identities and could do it their own way. As it now stands everyone is unhappy and there will never be unity.
8 years ago

The problem, as it appears to me, has to do with unavoidable cultural influences. In the manner of discourse, there appears clearly that today, people are driven more by sentiments and feelings rather then reason. This indicates a failure of education going back to primary school. I met a worrysome number of Catholics who equate the will of God with their feelings and emotions. Even more who equate nice, worm, fuzzy feelings, with love. Many cannot carry on arguments, let alone refutations, in the spirit of the great classics, without grudges or emotional upheavals. Add to this the rapidly moving landscape typical of the last thirty years, the lack of rootness and stability and voila...The separation of Church and State served the Church well. Perhaps, a partial solution to the problem might be the separation of schools too.

Vince Wisser
8 years ago

 What I take away from the comments that are critical of the editorial  is a belief that, before the mid-1960s, the Church was an static, top-down institution where the hierarchy dispensed with unchanging doctrine that the faithful in the pews absorbed in an obedient and uncomplicated manner. This just isn't an accurate history of the Catholic Church.  At best, it captures  the nostalgia for Catholicism in the period just before Vatican II that many today use in the service of partisan politics.  The liberal Catholics I know don't fit the descriptions I read here either: far from being  "feel-good" relativists who could easily be worshipping in any church, they are deeply committed to their faith and struggling to address the large moral questions of the day.

8 years ago

Today, my partner and I will celebrate Gay Pride in NYC and we will begin it by attending Mass at St Francis Xavier Church in Manhattan, the very church where we met over 26 years ago.  At that point, Dignity, a group of gay Catholics, was allowed to meet there and in other Catholic churches around the country.  Regreattably, that soon changed on instruction from Rome.  How sad that Catholics were evicted from their own church!  That said,  over the years, we have found some parishes that meet Cardinal Dulles' vision of a pilgrim church where people try to see the good, find common ground and work to build the kingdom and we have also found parishes where we clearly did not fit in as an openly gay couple.  Whether Rome or anyone one else may like it or not, we are a big church in a big tent and God has welcomed all of us on the day of our Baptism.  The good news is that  the Spirit is moving and that tend is getting ever-larger. Thank you, America, for a great piece!

7 years 12 months ago

Saint Ignatius trained his men to defend the Faith and to use their intellect to defend the Church against erroneous teaching so I find it sadly ironic that this article instead of defending and supporting the Bishops for coming out strongly in defence of Church teaching in regard to abortion and same sex attraction it dismisses their courage as cowardly conservatism and accuse them of causing disunity.It seems to me that some religious forget that Christ did not alter His message to suit the world. He also warned us we must be salt and He had no time for the lukewarm.Being loved by the world is no measure of faith.Yes there is room for diplomacy and gentleness but we have different temperaments and gifts and it is wise to remember it is not our individual strength that spreads the faith but our allowing the grace of God to work through us. A very wise old priest once said to me the only difference between the saints and you and I is that the saints reduce their ego and pride so God's light is able to shine through them.

7 years 12 months ago

I have found that many biships and cardinals are partisan politically, especially when a president is up for election. In any parish I have ever been a member of ,I doubt if I ever have heard one homily or sermon on abortion vs pro-choice during the whole year until election time, then our parish gets a letter from the bishop of our diocese or a short film shown at all the masses as to the evil of abortion.  I have been a member of parishes in New York City, Long Island and now Florida.  Several have been large parishes with different income  and probably educational levels.  The letters literally are telling you in no uncertain terms: vote republican.

Not to long age while reading  the letters to the editor column in a monthly Catholic magazine one of  the writers send they were horrified that the magazine dared show a parishoner receiving the host in her hand . They asked the magazine to end their subscription,  How do  you deal with Catholics who think like this. I had read an article in America some time ago where I believe a Father O'brien who taught in a Fordam. that he believed himself a middle of roader as a Catholic , but was having a rough time finding the middle of the road. I don.t believe he will have any trouble now.

Salvatore Ferrara






7 years 11 months ago
I have to echo what a few others in this thread have noticed.  Based on the tone of the majority of comments, the purpose of the editorial failed.  There is a lot of talk about tolerance, followed immediately by intolerance of those with whom the writer disagrees.
I do think the editorial makes a very good point.  But it also falls into a common pitfall.  We need to be charitable in our interactions with people.  We need to believe that they act and speak from good intentions.  But tolerance of people does not mean tolerance of ideas.  And respectfully listening to dissenting ideas does not mean remaining silence if they are wrong.  To address the common reference:  It is true that Jesus dined with sinners, but he also told them to sin no more.
The problem is that tolerance truly is *not* a virture.  Charity is a virtue.  And while they often coincide, sometimes tolerance is an immensely uncharitable thing to do.  And that is the difficult balance to acheive.  We must act truly charitably and not take the comfortable out of tolerance.  We have to dine with sinners (and recognize that we are the sinners with whom others are dining), but we must also tell them to sin no more.  If a person espouses sin, or ideas contrary to Truth, we risk tolerating them right out of the Kingdom of Heaven.
7 years 10 months ago
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7 years 10 months ago
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7 years 10 months ago
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