Sunday, 26 January 2014

Dialogue in the Church (or: What should bishops do about ACTA)

According to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.161:
The Church has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope, and one and the same charity.
This description of the visible dimensions of the unity of the Church provides an inalienable basis for any dialogue that takes place within the Catholic Church, among her own members. It describes succinctly what is held in common by all who describe themselves as being in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The nature of such dialogue "within" the Church is fundamentally different than the dialogue which the Church might have "without" the Church precisely because of this basic foundation of what is held in common.

Within his diocese, a bishop has a particular responsibility for promoting this unity among those entrusted to his care. (As an aside, reflecting on what I feel will be the particular demand placed on the new bishop of my own diocese, when one is eventually appointed, I have for some time now thought that promoting unity among the clergy of the diocese will be that demand.) This enjoins upon him a duty to enter into dialogue only in a manner that reflects his mission in favour of the authentic unity of the particular Church entrusted to his care.

Taking the components of that unity described in the Compendium, I would suggest that any dialogue on the part of the bishops should be based upon:
acceptance, whole, entire and without equivocation, of the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf, for example, the role that the Catechism has as the "rule of faith" for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham)
the celebration of the Liturgy of the Church in faithfulness to its rubrics and using the juridically approved texts (which do themselves contain a generous pluralism)
a fundamental attitude of communion with the ordained hierarchy, be that local bishop or the Holy See (whilst this does not need an acceptance that every decision of the hierarchy is a good decision, it excludes the adoption of a permanent attitude of contestation directed against bishop or the Holy See - what Hans Urs von Balthasar characterised as an "anti-Roman attitude")
a recognition that the hope shared is that of communion with the life of the Trinity, through the life of the Church here on earth, and, in future, in heaven (thereby excluding a characterisation of hope for the future in terms of structures seen essentially in terms of power)
a charity manifested in a care for all in the diocese, and which does not see an exercise of juridical authority as a sufficient in itself (though there might be points where it can be appropriately exercised)
So how should bishops react to the group A Call to Action?

So far as I can tell, the present reaction is either one that is non-committal or one that ignores A Call to Action entirely. Whilst this avoids the hazard represented by lack of charity, it creates the hazard that views being expressed by A Call to Action might gain over time and by way of the means of social communication a traction that is undeserved. (Is their stance against the new English translation of the Roman Missal, for example, one that is really representative of ordinary parish life up and down the land? If my own experience is anything to go by, it is highly un-representative.)

I do think that the bishops should take the request for dialogue contained in the published mission statement of A Call to Action at face value. However, in the same way that A Call to Action is publishing its positions in letters and on its website, the bishops should equally publish the basis on which they are able to undertake dialogue "within the Church" - see my points above. This, indeed, would represent the first step in such a dialogue.

In engaging in this dialogue, the bishops will need to be willing to challenge, and not simply accept, everything said to them by A Call to Action. This would represent an exercise of openness on their part, mirroring that desired by A Call to Action. (The assertion, for example, that the new English translation of the Missal was imposed without consultation - still being made on the A Call to Action website - is simply untrue.) That, of course, is of the nature of dialogue, and can be done in a way that is genuinely open. A particular issue the bishops will need to face is that of determining how representative, or otherwise, positions being expressed to them are.

A Call to Action appear to wish to engage in dialogue at the level of individual dioceses, with individual bishops. This does mean that the individual bishops need to ensure that they understand the nature of what is taking place - they will need to do their homework (and have their own media strategy in place, too!).

1 comment:

Joe said...

A commenter observes (with very slight editing from me):

This seems like a measured and well-balanced response to the emergence of this group. An expressed willingness to accept the Catechism of the Catholic Church as normative seems like a sound means of filtering out those with a (possibly) "mature contribution to discussion" from those who simply "dissent".