Daily Archives: October 7, 2009

More interesting developments on the US Catholic-Jewish dialogue from the USCCB

As I reported earlier, the USCCB has made some changes to its Catechism and clarified its stance on Catholic dialogue with Jews in recent months. Now there is another development. According to the National Catholic Reporter,

“U.S. Jewish leaders had found [a] passage [in the Note on Ambiguities contained in REFLECTIONS ON COVENANT AND MISSION] offensive and said faithful Jews could not enter into dialogue with Catholics if those Catholics were always at least implicitly seeking their conversion.”

In response,

Five key officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops have excised [the] controversial passage from a public note on Catholic-Jewish dialogue issued in June two USCCB committees… The church officials, who included Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, USCCB president, also issued a six-point “Statement of Principles for Catholic-Jewish Dialogue” that clearly affirms that God’s covenant with the Jews has never been revoked.

The controversial paragraph (still complete on the online version) read:

7. Reflections on Covenant and Mission maintains that a definition of evangelization as the “invitation to a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ and to entry through baptism into the community of believers which is the Church” is a “very narrow construal” of her mission. In its effort to present a broader and fuller conception of evangelization, however, the document develops a vision of it in which the core elements of proclamation and invitation to life in Christ seem virtually to disappear. For example, Reflections on Covenant and Mission proposes interreligious dialogue as a form of evangelization that is “a mutually enriching sharing of gifts devoid of any intention whatsoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism.” Though Christian participation in interreligious dialogue would not normally include an explicit invitation to baptism and entrance into the Church, the Christian dialogue partner is always giving witness to the following of Christ, to which all are implicitly invited.

The letter of the five bishops to the five Jewish leaders indicates that not only the final sentence (the sentence in bold in the quotation above), but also the sentence before it (the whole section in italics) will be removed from the Note on Ambiguities contained in REFLECTIONS ON COVENANT AND MISSION.

What is one to make of this? Well, a couple of things, and both are made clear in the accompanying Statement of Principles for Catholic-Jewish Dialogue.

The first is that by entering into dialogue with Jews, Catholics do not retreat from their belief that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Covenant of God with Israel. The bishops assert that it is their duty to bear witness to the fullness of the Catholic faith, that this truth must be stated honestly and accurately in the dialogue, and that only Catholics who are faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church are truly qualified to engage in dialogue with the Jews.

On the other hand, the bishops affirm that God has not revoked his promises to the Jewish people (note that the six principles carefully avoid stating that the Mosaic Covenant is still a valid alternative path of salvation for Jews alongside the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus), that they wish to proceed with the dialogue in a spirit of deep friendship and respect, and that Jews have no reason to suspect that we are using our dialogue with them as a covert means of proselytism.

Both these principles indicate that the US Bishops have in no way abandoned what I have called the “both/and” approach. The removal of the reference to an implicit call to baptism does not mean that they have retreated from their affirmation that all dialogue involves an explicit witness to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. It does mean that the bishops wish to remove anything that might impede the dialogue – ie. the opportunity to make such a witness – with the Jewish people. If fear of proselytism is such a stumbling block, then it is best to remove it. I don’t think we should criticise this decision – however unfortunate it may be that the sentences needed to be removed to allay the fears of our partners in this dialogue.

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By What Shall You Know Them?


“By their trousers you shall know them”. So wrote Australian author Thomas Kenneally of priests-in-mufti in his novel, Three Cheers for the Paraclete . The above picture is from the banner of the website of the Leadership Conference of Religious Women in the United States. As you can see, despite there not being a habit in sight, there is still a certain “uniform” involved (“By their calf length floral skirts you shall know them”, perhaps?).

These ladies are, as many of you will know, currently under “visitation” from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It just so happened that, via a certain blog commentator who will remain anonymous (pass the port bottle to the man in the corner behind the newspaper please), I have been directed to a document entitled “An Invitation to Systems Thinking”, a document described by the LCWR website as “developed by the LCWR Global Concerns Committee as a tool for using a systems approach to decision-making about issues both internal and external to the congregation, e.g., governance, mergers, formation, retirement, as well as justice issues.” Just the kind of thing that the CDF visitation would be interested in, I expect.

Part of this document is a section entitled “Case Study: Congregational Issue”. The case study opens with a description of a conflict within a particular (unnamed) congregation of women religious:

Description of the Situation

Recently our leadership team has received individual and group letters expressing concern over a Saturday afternoon prayer service to be held at our annual congregational gathering seven months away. The prayer is the highlight of a weekend of celebration honouring our founder. The planners of the event, a congregational committee of three elected delegates and a few volunteers, have designed a Rite of Celebration for Saturday afternoon that is not a Eucharistic celebration. Sunday morning everyone is invited to participate in the two regularly scheduled Eucharists at our Motherhouse complex.

Concerns expressed by the sisters include:

1) a belief that the most fitting way to honour our founder is with a Mass because “That’s what she would want;”
2) an assumption that our unity can best be celebrated if all of us are present at one event, and that event should be a Eucharist since it is the sign of our unity;
3) a fear that a small group (the Planning Committee) is thursting something on the whole group; and a deeper fear that a small number of those who object to priest-led liturgies is determining how we worship;
4) and a hope that such a decision could be voted on by the whole community.

The issue appears to be how we as a congregation can worship together in a satisfying way at a major congregational celebration.

Actually, the issue appears to be around some of the sisters (those on the planning committee) objecting to the Eucharist because it is a “priest-led liturgy”, and other sisters (the letter writers) not standing for this kind of nonsense.

Anyway, the case study goes on to analyse the source of the conflict. What is identified (using “Systems Thinking Resources”) is that some of the sisters (those who want the Eucharistic celebration) are thinking with the “Western Mind mental model”, while others (the planning committee) are thinking with an “Organic mental model”. Apparently the former “values ordiless, predictablity, continuity, productivity and a clear chain of authority” while the latter “values chaos, connectedness, process, inclusivity, relationship, and a non-linear expression of authority.” Apparently:

With regard to theology and spirituality, many sisters move back and forth between the “Western Mind” and “Organic” mental models. They value beliefs and practices flowing from a stable world of fixed relationships characteristic of an earlier time, as well as the insights of process, liberatioist and feminist theologies grounded in a more organic model. For them, cherished beliefs about Eucharist co-exist with a haunting awareness of patterns of ecclesial exclusion.


The next couple of pages are spent analysing the “systems” in which the sisters live and work, the place of entry into these systems, and how they might want to “disturb” these systems. Finally, we are told what the leaders of the congregation did to handle the concerns raised by the “Western Mind” sisters about the “Organic” planning committee sisters:

In responding we intentionally created our own ‘disturbance.’ We wrote and spoke with many of those who expressed concerns. In our response we

1) resisted the temptation to ‘fix’ the situation;
2) provided information by sharing our understanding of what the planners had in mind;
3) attempted to clarify both our own and the congregation’s identity at this time, by stating our belief that our current situation of differing understandings about the Eucharist and differing ways of celebrating Eucharist not only create uncertainty and frustration, but also offer new opportunities for the Spirit to lead us in life giving patterns of prayer;
4) attempted to strengthen relationships by thanking the writers and at the same time voicing our support for allowing the planning committee to do its work as it saw fit;
5) tried to honor all the voices by receiving without judgment each one’s uncertainty and frustration around the Eucharist question facing the Congregation; and by affirming the desire in each of us to have the best possible celebration of our founder.
6) invited a broader discussion of the Planning Committee’s proposal at our open representative Governing Board meeting a month later where the tensions around the issue were aired, and the authority of the Planning Committee was respected.

So. Without wanting to be too judgmental, I would say this amounts to a psychologising away of the objective truth of the Catholic Faith. In this “system”, the Eucharist has become an optional extra for the good sisters, and in fact they are no longer identifiably Catholic.

Now, it is one thing to get rid of their habits, but if the LCWR is encouraging its member congregations to feel free to dispense with the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of their religious vocation and life, it is hard to know exactly by what one is to “know them” as Catholic religious sisters at all.


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