The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Who is really Catholic?

It turns out the U.S. bishops may soon be deciding the answer to that question.

From David Gibson at Politics Daily:

In remarks at the opening of the hierarchy’s annual meeting in Baltimore, Chicago Cardinal Francis George made it clear that after years of repeated questions about the bishops’ credibility, it was time for the bishops to clarify just who can and cannot speak for the church. He also confirmed that he had set up three committees of bishops to develop guidelines for determining what will be considered legitimate Catholic entities.

“Since everything and everyone in Catholic communion is truly inter-related, and the visible nexus of these relations is the bishop, an insistence on complete independence from the bishop renders a person or institution sectarian, less than fully Catholic,” George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told some 300 of his fellow bishops. “The purpose of our reflections, therefore, is to clarify questions of truth of faith and of accountability or community among all those who claim to be part of the Catholic communion.”


George’s address followed a tumultuous year that saw both lay Catholics and many bishops sharply and publicly divide over almost every newsworthy development: the election of Barack Obama, the role of Catholics in public life, hot-button issues such as gay marriage and health care reform, the independence of universities such as Notre Dame, the freedom of theologians to speak and publish, and even the question of whether Ted Kennedy deserved a Catholic funeral.

Church insiders said the divisions and open dissents, and the criticisms that often bombarded the bishops from right and left, increasingly frustrated George and others in the church leadership, and led George to quietly form several committees that will try to find a way to certify which universities, media, and other organizations can claim to be Catholic.


Setting the tone for his argument for episcopal control, Cardinal George prefaced his remarks by twice citing the 2nd century bishop, Ignatius of Antioch, who famously wrote to his flock “that you do nothing without your bishop.”

“Your submission to your bishop, who is in the place of Jesus Christ, shows me that you are not living as men usually do but in the manner of Jesus himself,” Antioch wrote in a citation noted by Cardinal George.

That elevated view of the bishop’s authority guided George’s remarks. For example, he made it clear that even the recent years of crisis would not cow the bishops in their effort to reassert their authority and relevance.

“There are some who would like to trap the church in historical events of ages long past, and there are others who would keep the bishops permanently imprisoned in the clerical sexual abuse scandal of recent years,” George said. “The proper response to a crisis of governance, however, is not no governance but effective governance.”

Check out more right here.

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posted November 17, 2009 at 8:44 am

As long as the bishops who where involved in the scandels, how can anybody accept the authority of bishops. Stop trying to protect the higher archy and protect the flock. If you claim to be the true representive of the Father and are corrupt, then that would make the Father corrupt, I dont think so. Until you make the House of the Lord
True again, again by what authority do you preach? Because those who knew and did nothing to stop the evil are they not just as Guilty?
God Bless and Peace Always in Yeshua. Matthew

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posted November 17, 2009 at 9:31 am

I think the bishops hardly have the power to decide who is Catholic, that is my decision. Naturally, Cardinal George has decided to vet who can bear the Catholic label in secret, why not be a man and open these committees to the public?
As far as I’m concerned, Cardinal George is still on the hook regarding is active role in protecting pedophiles, it is a stain that can not be brushed off. Perhaps we should ask whether people who do these things can really call themselves Catholics.

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Joe Murray - Executive Director Rainbow Sash Movement

posted November 17, 2009 at 9:53 am

I think Cardinal George has a right to his opinion. Bishops are however not outside the authority of the “Sense of the Faithful”. While he promotes the “Teaching Magisterium” solely his misses the point like most of his fellow Bishops do such as Archbishop Chaput of Denever. Authority is given not dictated in this Church.
Clearly the Bishops are out of step with what Catholic people think on many of the hot button social issues. Just saying I am the boss does not make it so. Until we have balance between the “Sense of the Faithful” and the “Teaching Magisterium” we will not have unity.
Concerning Cardinal George his leadership in the US Council of Catholic Bishops has been called into question by his own personal involvement in the clergy sexual abuse cover up. Until he holds himself responsible for his own actions, I don’t think he or any other bishop has the moral authority to claim who is and who is not a Catholic.

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Irish Spectre

posted November 17, 2009 at 10:58 am

Dear Mr. Murray,
It remains a great mystery why homosexual and abortion rights advocates don’t migrate to the Episcopal church, a reliable home for evolving social trends.
82% of the sexual abuse cases encompassed by the exhaustive John Jay College study were homosexual in nature, and you want the Church to further embrace homosexuality?!!

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posted November 17, 2009 at 11:22 am

Joe your post is quite sad, knowing that you are behind Rainbow and therefore must be a Catholic and also an active homosexual. What is most sad Joe is that more than anyone out there, the Catholic Church is on your side and you simply can’t see it. I often say that when the dust settles, and all who are being used are “all used up”, it will be the lone CC who will be still be standing strong in truly loving the homosexuals.
It’s obvious that you and the CC have a different definition of “love.” Your group appears to feel “unloved” by the CC if or until “unity” exists in modernity, sinful or otherwise. Don’t you know that real love cannot exist outside of truth? I have to wonder how well you know Jesus, who just so happens to BE the Catholic Church. That’s why even if the Church wanted to, it can’t change the core teachings of Jesus Christ. Do you actually think men in Rome sit around in big hats and make up rules? Are you clueless to the fact that the CC is merely the DEFENDER of the teachings of Christ? It’s been that way for 2000 years, in season and out of season. It’s also the reason that there are now almost 4000 Protestant denominations, all a “protest” in one form or another of the teachings of Christ, and almost always when it “didn’t fit lifestyle.”
The other reason I suspect you don’t know Jesus very well is that he made it quite clear that he came with a sword, to DIVIDE! The “sword” that Jesus is referring to is none other than objective truth, knowing, that even families and friends will be divided in matters of Truth.
I ask in kindness Joe, but did it ever occur to you that maybe YOU (and your group) are “out of step?”
You want “unity”, yet the unity you want, in Communion, is an affirmation of the truth of the teachings of Christ. Do you even understand that the two (gay lifestyle) are incompatible? I don’t discount for a minute the heavy cross you carry, as do many. The reality is, we are ALL, outside of sacramental marriage, called to celibacy. When people say celibacy isn’t “natural”, I am the first to agree that without grace, it’s “naturally impossible.” The irony is, it’s only in the Eucharist, and the sacraments, that we get the sanctifying grace to live “beyond what’s natural.” We can only obtain grace outside of sin, living in God’s Truth.
Regardless of what “you think” about the moral authority of Catholic Bishops, every Catholic Bishop can be directly traced back to one of the original apostles (apostolic succession), which is one reasons why o the Eucharist is only truly the body and blood of Christ via the Catholic Mass. Again, in “knowing Jesus”, you show you ignorance owing to the fact that Jesus had more “losers” than any diocese in America will ever have. For goodness sakes, even Peter, the first Pope, betrayed him. Did it ever occur to you that in “picking losers”, Jesus was trying to teach us that despite our humanness, our short comings, he brought us his Church, with sacraments and forgiveness as often as we need them. You and the loons (sorry but I call a spade spade) on this blog who keep trying to paint the CC some holier than thou museum only show your ignorance. The CC is the sanctuary for sinners, no sin too big, ever. If it were run by “perfect” men, who would dare to think it was for them, certainly not me. That said, the CC will ALWAYS be holy, as its head, Jesus Christ, is sinless. Please don’t confuse the CC with its members who are human.
As for the abuse scandal, please, get over it. I say that in no disrespect for the victims or how serious it was, perhaps the worst scandal ever of the CC. I say it more that again, it shows your ignorance, of not only the “homosexual” problem that it really was (the objective research is out there, read it), but how stuck you and all who wed to it are stuck in 2nd grade catechism. Before the scandal Joe, were you really in love with the church, or were you resorting to “nun bashing” (the great escape before the priest scandal).
Bottom line, we Catholics are on your side Joe, you just don’t know it. We pray for you, we love you, but only with the kind of love that is about real unity, unity in the eternal, in the reach of all of us, if only we truly know what Jesus really taught. As for the rest of society, they are using use, and mark my words, there will come a day when it will no longer be cool to be gay. Just know that we Catholics will never stop loving you, even if it doesn’t feel or look the way “you think” it should.
God Bless.

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posted November 17, 2009 at 11:59 am

The bishops have an enormous responsibility to teach. This appears very much to be the frustrated short cut temper tantrum: simply declare that people believe this or that without making any real attempt to convince them.

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ron chandonia

posted November 17, 2009 at 2:43 pm

A few years ago in Atlanta, a Hispanic group set up chapels with the name “Catholic” on them–and many of the trappings of Catholicism inside. But these chapels had no relationship with the archdiocese and were apparently established to confuse and entice newly-arrived immigrants looking for a church home. The archdiocese sued, claiming that it had the right to decide which entities could use the “Catholic” label in this area, and (to my surprise)the deceptive groups were required to stop advertising themselves as Catholic. I don’t know how this would fly on a national level, but I think that it was a good way to address the issue at hand here.

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posted November 17, 2009 at 3:43 pm

What a wonderful invitation to important work.
The Bishop raises a valid point, his opponents raise equally valid points.
Time to gather around the table and re-negotiate the relationship. Air grievances, heal wounds, find the divine in each other…truly allow the Holy Spirit to work its magic.
While seemingly a negative event, the Bishop’s pronouncement portends incredible opportunity — as long as a process of conflict resolution and reconciliation follows.
Out of such moments we can rise to the true calling of our sacred heritage; a rebirth, a joy-filled testament to the workings of the Spirit in today’s world awaits.
Wow. Such a rich opportunity.

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Irish Spectre

posted November 17, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Greg, while I appreciate your happy talk, really, what you’re suggesting sounds dangerously akin to, say, one group of physicists who take umbrage over the law of gravity sitting down with another group which doesn’t, in order to arrive at a happy resolution.
Klaire’s post above is well worth the read; truth is nonnegotiable.

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posted November 17, 2009 at 4:38 pm

It’s one thing to clarify when something is or is not in line with official doctrine, but there’s a cynical double standard in play here. People are considered “real Catholics” when it suits the heirarchy’s purposes. For the purpose of weilding secular power and influence, everybody’s Catholic. 1.1 billion or more, we’re told.
This number of course is absurd because it counts many millions of us who do nothing to practice the faith in any meaningful way or who have even flat-out rejected it. I haven’t considered myself Catholic since at least the mid-1980s and formally defected, but I’m Catholic enough for the job when bishops are leaning on lawmakers for favors and influence(and in Europe, direct tax subsidies).
When it comes to saying who can have a voice as Catholics, then only the 20 percent or so who toe the line with the bishops are counted.
The fact that they feel the need to “reassert” their authority is a classic symptom of a lack of any real legitimacy among their people. Leaders who have earned and maintained legitimacy don’t need to blast their message through a bull horn or crack heads with rifle butts, metaphorically or otherwise. Their authority speaks for itself through their actions.
People will not “just get over” the abuse scandal because it’s not some ancient history. Many of these current bishops played an active role in concealing and abetting child sexual abuse. Some of them should not even have their freedom, let alone “teaching authority.” The bishops have made it abundantly clear that they think the problem is a figment of the media and the legal profession.
The cardinal’s instincts in his own diocese have always been to circle the wagons and take an attorney’s eye to the bare minimum of the letter of whatever policy was in place at the time. The welfare of children was simply one of many competing considerations, never the overriding one.
It’s interesting to have men like this claim to be the inheritor’s of Christ’s personal authority given that he considered those who harmed children to be the lowest forms of life, worse than corrupt officials or the payday loan sharks outside the temple or even the thugs executed alongside of him.
By all means, Cardinal, reassert your authority. Cleanse the ranks down to your hard core of unquestioning supporters. I hope that 20 percent puts enough across the collection plates each week to support you in the style to which you’ve become accustomed.

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Your Name

posted November 17, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Cardinal George is referring to something many of us Catholics have discussed for years: whether groups that go against what the Church teaches should be able to call themselves Catholic. It has nothing to do with individual Catholics, but with groups such as “Catholics For Free Choice”. It has to do with Catholic identity – or lack thereof – which is a huge issue these past few decades.

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posted November 17, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Irish, truth may not be negotiable, but man’s view of and relationship to the truth are issues that can be taken up in dialogue, which leads to greater understanding of the positions from which they view existence.
While I speak “happy talk” I also am fully aware of the very difficult work that is involved in any dialogue of this nature. Nonetheless, that is precisely what is needed. If we cannot sit down with each other as Brothers and Sisters and see the Divine in each, no matter the stances that we have assumed, then we fail at the most basic level.
We have gone a long, long way past the day when it is okay to shut each other out and divide the Body.
The tough work of meeting each other in the presence of the Holy Spirit may be daunting, but its rewards are truly those of the Kingdom.
Sorry for the happy talk but I guess it arises as part of the “good news.”

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