Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Splendour of Charity - Cardinal Cordes to the Bishops of England and Wales

I have just read (one month late!) the address that Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum gave to the meeting of the Bishops of England and Wales in Leeds in April. The full text can be found on the website of the Bishops Conference. The Pontifical Council Cor Unum is the Vatican office "entrusted by the Holy Father with giving concrete signs of love and charity". Cardinal Cordes showed himself to be very familiar with the situation in England and Wales, referring to legislative pressures on Catholic institutions in the areas of adoption and education, and making an indirect reference to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's action with regard to the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth and to the challenge

At one point in his address, Cardinal Cordes gives the following account of how the encyclical Deus Caritas Est came into being:

"Since Cor Unum is directly concerned with the praxis of the Church’s love for our fellow human beings, Pope John Paul II had asked that I prepare for him a preliminary draft of a papal writing on charity. My intention was to begin with an inductive presentation: reflections on the general willingness of people to provide help today, followed by a description of Christian initiatives that exist, moving in the end to the rooting of love of neighbour in God. The former Cardinal Ratzinger was aware of my writings. When he was elected Pope, he decided to publish an Encyclical on charity, but he totally reversed my intended order. His starting point is Revelation’s central message: “God is love.” He initiates the Encyclical with a drumbeat, proclaiming the absolute precedence of Him “Who has first loved us” (1Jn 4:10), both in the order of time and in the scale of values."

With hindsight, this God-centredness of the encyclical appears very obvious; but Cardinal Cordes account of the background to the encyclical brings it into a new relief. Cardinal Cordes also draws attention to an idea that was completely new to me. This is the idea that Deus Caritas Est is an encyclical that needs to be implemented, that there is a course of action to be followed in response to the encyclical. Whilst this is something in which all members of the Church have a part to play, Cardinal Cordes believes a primary responsibility rests with the Bishops of the church:

"There is no doubt that Deus caritas est directs itself to various groups in the Church. Nevertheless, the main burden of responsibility for its implementation in dioceses and parishes is placed squarely on the shoulders of the Bishops. It is not only the pastoral realism of the Pope, but also theological reasons that make the ordained Pastors the principle target group for the Encyclical."

The theological reasons referred to are the threefold mission of the Church, particularly entrusted to a Bishop at the time of his episcopal consecration: of teaching the word (martyria, or witness), of celebrating the mystery of redemption (leitourgia) and of active charity (diakonia). The Bishop has an obligation of oversight in all three of these areas.

"Some Catholic aid agencies actively avoid acknowledging this fact and sometimes Bishops themselves fail to exercise their legitimate and necessary oversight, leading to approaches that are predominantly political or economic to the neglect of revealing through love of neighbour the love of the God of Jesus Christ."

In a section headed Christ: the Model of Charity, Cardinal Cordes says:

"The attentive reader of Sacred Scripture clearly sees that the charitable gestures of Jesus and the compassion of the first Christians were always intended to point to the loving-kindness of the heavenly Father."

And the implication of this is drawn in the next section, headed Protecting the Heritage:

"For this reason, it falls still today to Christians, and, in a special way the Church’s Pastors, to be attentive. In other words: Catholic charitable organisations should be careful not to forget the meaning of their activity, influenced perhaps by the present climate or excessive reliance on public funds. The question is one of fostering the Christian roots of the Church’s activity and so preserving the “splendour” of our identity as Catholic charitable institutions."

To express this in a language more familiar to those of us involved in Catholic education, this is to see charitable activity as a first step of evangelisation, that is, the stage of presence in charity to our neighbours. It certainly should not be explicitly prosletysing, but it nevertheless has a Christian identity.

Cardinal Cordes also highlights a Change of Paradigm that he sees in Deus Caritas Est:

"Until now, the Church’steaching on the struggle against misery – like the social encyclicals – dealt with public defects, goals and programs; they addressed factual problems and they insisted on concrete changes outside of oneself. Besides all this, Deus caritas est turns now decisively to committed persons: the Pope wishes to shape the life of the actors through a “formation of the heart” (n. 31a). So, for the first time, he formulates basic guidelines for a “spirituality” of those working in help-agencies.

"Clearly the first preoccupation of Caritas cannot intend to change society and
unjust structures. It is the human heart that makes the structures. Therefore, the essential requirement for action – as the Pope says – is to “be persons moved by Christ’s love, persons whose hearts Christ has conquered with his love, awakening them with a love ofneighbour” (n. 33)."

So, what are the issues for the implementation of Deus Caritas Est here in England and Wales? I suggest the following two, one at the level of an organisation the other at the level of individuals:

1. CAFOD's annual review for 2006-7 records £7.6m of income as coming from "Government and other grants"; £13.4m came through the Disasters Emergency Committee; £26.0m directly from CAFOD supporters; £3.7m from the Caritas Network; £1.4m from trading and interest earned. The questions for implementation here are about if there are any conditions attached to the income from Government and other grants. But there does seem to be a strong voluntary support base to reflect a Christian identity and so withstand any loss of Government income should that become necessary.

2. The Catholic Herald of 6th May reports that the Nottingham diocesan adoption agency will cut its ties with the diocese because it cannot follow Catholic teaching and comply with gay rights legislation: "From October it will merge with Family Care, the adoption agency of the Anglican Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, to form a new agency, but one which will not be formally linked to the Churches and will be able to place children in the care of gay couples." This does leave unanswered the question of how the staff of the agency will live up to the God-ward orientation of Christian charity, as presumably any Catholic staff will face the possibility of being expected to act against Catholic teaching.

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