The Catholic Common Ground Initiative--Still Relevant?

In his comment on Michael Peppard's post "Transcending Polarization" below, Peter Steinfels writes; "The Catholic Common Ground Initiative was the first major effort to address the issue of polarization in the U.S. Catholic church.  I think that its charter statement bears rereading." Joe Komonchak made the same point in the thread. I would like to echo their emphasis--and add my own concern about the Notre Dame event.

What I find find to be a shame about this event at Notre Dame is that it appears to be completely ignoring the Catholic Common Ground Iniitiave, which attempted to do the same thing--and in a theologically repsonbile and sophisticated way, as the charter statement shows. And which is still ongoing, although in a smaller fashion. There doesn't even seem to be one person in the Notre Dame event who was invovled in the Common Ground Initiative, and not one person from the Iniative (now housed in Chicago) was apparently invited to this event. 

Why is that? I  have to say I think this attempt to reinvent the wheel without learning form the recent past is unfortunate. One lesson from the past might be relevant:  The Common Ground Iniative had trouble attracting conservatives (who saw no need, since they were on the political and ecclesiastical upswing at this point in time); in contrast, this event seems to be full of political onservatives. This time, will it be the progressives, who see themselves on the ascendency, who won't  come?

Consider, for example, this passage from Called to Be Catholic

  • What will it take for the Catholic Church in the United States to escape from this partisanship and the paralysis it threatens to engender?
  • Jesus Christ, present in Scripture and sacrament, is central to all that we do; he must always be the measure and not what is measured.
  • Around this central conviction, the church's leadership, both clerical and lay, must reaffirm and promote the full range and demands of authentic unity, acceptable diversity, and respectful dialogue, not just as a way to dampen conflict but as a way to make our conflicts constructive, and ultimately as a way to understand for ourselves and articulate for our world the meaning of discipleship of Jesus Christ. This invitation to a revitalized Catholic common ground should not be limited to those who agree in every respect on an orientation for the church, but encompass all--whether centrists, moderates, liberals, radicals, conservatives, or neoconservatives--who are willing to reaffirm basic truths and to pursue their disagreements in a renewed spirit of dialogue.
  • Chief among those truths is that our discussion must be accountable to the Catholic tradition and to the Spirit-filled, living church that brings to us the revelation of God in Jesus. To say this does not resolve a host of familiar questions about the way that the church has preserved, interpreted, and communicated that revelation. Accountability to the Catholic tradition does not mean reversion to a chain-of-command, highly institutional understanding of the church, a model resembling a modern corporation, with headquarters and branch offices, rather than Vatican II's vision of a communion and a people.

So let the Notre Dame organizers do their own thing. But there still is a question for all those who were or are involved in the Catholic Common Ground Iniative: what went wrong?  Should we try to revivify it? It's no secret that it was the dying Cardinal Bernardin's project--and that Cardinal George didn't have much use for Catholic Common Ground. But it's a new day in the Windy City.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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