Cardinal Bernardin, the Catholic Church would not be where it is today
It is extraordinary today to picture that it when seemed extraordinary for American cardinals to assault a fellow cardinal publicly. In August of 1996, after Chicago’s Cardinal Bernardin revealed his Catholic Common Ground Initiative, a call for discussion among the American Catholic Church’s progressively fractious followers, five cardinals in significant American cities launched declarations expressing their severe doubts.
It was amazing then. We have actually come a long method.
Bernardin would succumb to cancer three months in the future Nov. 14, an anniversary we at the Bernardin Center and others across Bernardin’s previous archdiocese are observing 25 years later on. Those events of his last days are worthy of some attention now.
In Bernardin, Catholics had a leader who anticipated the design and ministry of Pope Francis in his openness to dialogue and his efforts to engage the world in constructive discussions. But Bernardin’s final years likewise expected the sort of opposition Francis has actually faced, particularly amongst American Catholics.
The seeds of our divisions, as Catholics and Americans, were being watered in 1996. As those seeds have blossomed and propagated in 2021, we can look back on Bernardin to understand what has taken place and how things may be different.
Bernardin was the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago from 1982 until his death, but his significance extended far beyond Chicago. No bishop in the U.S. could be associated more with the church’s efforts after Vatican II to engage and embrace the contemporary world as St. John XXIII had actually hoped when he called the council. Bernardin as soon as wrote that his whole ministry had actually “taken place in (the Second Vatican Council’s) shadow.”
Bernardin’s effect was not limited to the Catholic Church. In 1996, John Rawls– a liberal thinker devoted to removing religion from public discourse– acknowledged that the constant principles of life advocated by Bernardin “is clearly cast in some form of public factor.” No accomplishment better shows Bernardin’s capability to make arguments for Catholic moral positions in terms accessible to nonbelievers, or his commitment to bring Catholicism to the world.
The Catholic Common Ground Initiative was Bernardin’s last and most substantial effort to promote discussion in a significantly divided Catholic Church. Starting in 1992, Bernardin had grown worried about how divisions over political issues and the implementation of Vatican II were beginning to interrupt parish life. With Monsignor Philip Murnion, he began working quietly to gather influential Catholic bishops and laypeople who were dedicated to dialogue and church unity in spite of their disagreements.
The initiative challenged American Catholics to honestly discuss their views on the function of women in the church, human sexuality and how the church is governed.
invested at the service. St. John Paul II puts a red biretta on the head of Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago as he was elevated to cardinal throughout a Feb. 2, 1983, consistory at the Vatican. RNS archive image Bernardin hoped that such a discussion would bear witness to how Catholics with extremely different opinions can be in dialogue with fellow believers in
the same gospel. It would be a design for parishes, dioceses and Catholic companies. The Catholic Common Ground Initiative still is a program of the Bernardin Center today. When Bernardin revealed Common Ground shortly prior to his death, he undoubtedly intended to be leaving a present to direct the church during a challenging duration. Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua (Philadelphia), James Hickey (Washington), Bernard Law (Boston), John O’Connor (New York) and Adam Maida (Detroit) came out against Common Ground. Law captured the flavor of the criticisms when he stated, “Dialogue as a method to mediate between the truth and dissent is mutual deception.”
The New York Times called the attacks on the initiative “uncommon.” That was an understatement. Absolutely nothing like it had ever taken place prior to.
Bishops are meant to work for collegiality and unity (a minimum of in public) for the good of the church. A consummate churchman, Bernardin had actually flowed his statement among those cardinals for their comments prior to its public release so they would not be surprised when the statement was made. The cardinals provided no remarks and made no objection– till their press releases attacking the initiative after the announcement. Together, those 5 cardinals closed the door on dialogue. The church and the world have reaped the effects.
Today, when Francis requires discussion about married priests in the Amazon, or Communion for separated and remarried Catholics, or equivalent rights to civil marital relationship for LGBTQ+ people, he satisfies the very same opposition Bernardin’s require dialogue satisfied. Dialogue appears to many Catholics to be a capitulation or surrender, and too many Catholics today are so sure about this that they feel entitled to state the pope is wrong.
This vision, and these Catholics, have been ascendant in the 25 years given that Bernardin passed away. That trend has actually had an effect on the Catholic Church, naturally, however there also have been consequences outside the church.
Catholics have a profound impact on life in the United States. Normally, we say there are 70 million Catholics in the U.S. (though that number almost certainly does not show the exodus because the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick discoveries and the pandemic). For the past 25 years, that large share of the population has found out to be suspicious of discussion, and in turn Catholics’ polarization has actually driven broader polarization in the abortion debate, however likewise in the Obamacare debate, in the vaccination debate and in other methods.
After 25 years of dividing versus each other, American Catholics appear unable to see the different way Francis has actually tried to show us: the method of discussion. Acrimony and department have become our tools, our vocabulary and our routine, and we seem not able to find a different method.
Individuals like to state that Bernardin was an apostle of reconciliation or discussion or peacemaking. That’s real. But as director of the Bernardin Center and as Bernardin’s biographer, I prefer to say he was a witness to the hope that such things are possible.
Hope has to come. From hope, we can begin and pursue the courses of peace that seem difficult. Hope is our license to think in the difficult.
After he introduced the effort, Bernardin was asked why he had selected to try to install such an effort when he had so little time left to live. He reminded us that “a passing away individual does not have time for the peripheral, the unintentional,” and said, “It is wrong to squander the precious gift of time given to us, as God’s chosen servants, on acrimony and department.”
Bernardin desired his passing away to attest strongly to the senselessness of our angry departments. He provided his death as an encouragement to seek dialogue and peace. He likewise priced quote from the Second Vatican Council: “Let there be unity in what is essential, freedom in what is doubtful, and charity in whatever.”
Bernardin understood those would be among his last public words. Now, several years later on, it is for everyone now to keep alive the hope they represent. The way of dialogue can recover divisions amongst Catholics, but dialogue likewise is an effective message Catholics can bear to the rest of our mad, wounded world.
Francis comprehends. In his latest encyclical about social friendship, he wrote, “I invite everyone to restored hope.” Even now, that exact same hope that we can be agents of the reconciliation and peace Bernardin invited us to still is possible.