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"Simply Catholicism."

That's a term that appears in the Cardinal George interview mentioned by Cathy Kaveny. It also came up during a 1999 symposium sponsored by Commonweal and held at Loyola University Chicago, "The Crisis of Liberal Catholicism." Speakers included Cardinal George, Peter Steinfels, E. J. Dionne Jr., John McGreevy, and John T. Noonan. We published their remarks in our seventy-fifth anniversary issue--and just made them available to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike.Here's how then-editor Peggy Steinfels introduced the package of essays.

As part of our anniversary celebration, Commonweal has been reexamining some of the magazines founding ideas, liberal Catholicism being a central one. We were prodded along in our resolve by a sermon that soon-to-be Cardinal Francis George gave on January 17, 1998, at Chicagos Old Saint Patricks Church. As it happened I was at the liturgy. Whats more, I was actually listening to his sermon. There came that now semi-famous moment when he said, "liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project."

There was a little buzz among the congregation, and then a little hum. It was like being back in second grade: You could hear people thinking, "Uh-oh, what does he mean by that?" Following a brief conversation after Mass, Cardinal George agreed to explain what he meant. And so he did at a Commonweal Forum held on Wednesday, October 6, 1999, at Loyola University (Chicago).

The forum was a sell-out event with more than three hundred people thoughtfully attending to the words of the cardinal, the second speaker, Peter Steinfels, and the three respondents, John Noonan, John T. McGreevy, and E. J. Dionne, Jr. Three hours later, everyone came out alive! Even a few liberals. The speeches and comments make up this special section.

For more than a decade as editor of Commonweal, I have struggled along with my colleagues to examine and, when necessary, reframe the kind of questions we ask in linking the Catholic tradition with the American political and cultural scene in which liberal values continue to play the dominant role. The clarifications and criticisms of this forum have contributed greatly to that effort. We look forward to the responses of our readers in continuing this important conversation.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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If Cardinal George really supposes that St. Robert Bellarmine was alive during the 15th century he either does not know Bellarmine's dates or does not count centuries as the rest of us anglophones do.

"You have that power over the sacramental body [he calls it "the power to transubstantiate"] because you have authority over the mystical body" --Isn't there something awfully wrong here?

I've heard that Cardinal George is regarded as the brains of the American episcopate. I have to say that I'm disappointed when reading this interview.His theory that the style of episcopal governance changes to fit the times is false - and coming from George, someone who's regarded as an intellectual, I have to conclude that this is either a fabrication or a willful neglect of history.Once ensconced in their feudal role, the bishops have done everything to remain princes. They have always, always, supported and granted legitimacy to the most authoritarian and inhumane regimes up to the point that a country becomes ungovernable and collapses. Afterwards, they are always championing the forces of reaction that would return them to their feudal privilege. Consider France, Russia, and the rest of Europe in turn as well as South America, especially Chile.Or in other words, the world of episcopal ecclesiology.

Brian --It seems to me we can go back a lot farther in history to find a group with the same sort of mindset as the Catholic hierarchy.Consider this set of qualities: extremely tightly knit group, claims knowledge not possessed be any other group, none of this knowledge may be challenged, the knowledge is necessary for salvation, the hierarchy makes and implements the plans for the group, and it prizes secrecy as its m.o.Yes, the hierarchy are latter-day Gnostics, though, of coirse, their teachings are very different from the ancient Gnpstics. But their mindsets are remarkably similar. The political historian Eric Voegelin thought that the Gnostics felt essentially alienated from the rest of their society. I strongly suspect this is true of the bishops -- when things get tough they circle their wagons and practice omerta, having, as they do, no real hope of dialogue with those who disagree with them.

I thought the putting forward of those papers sheds some light on the Cardinal's thinking, but I continue to see it as disingenuous - trying to prop up hierarchical authority, as the division within the Church sees that as a critical issue.It struck me that in the 10 years that have passed, two things have happened that impinged here:, the sex abuse crisis, which has deeply marked the the American hierarchy's (and other hierarchy"s) credibility and stains the Cardinal himself; and, the widening gulf between the "Orthodox" and "progressive" wings of the Church where dialogue seems to get harder if not impossible. The lateter is synbolized to me by the changing guards at the NPLC and its common ground initiatve -perhaps the death of Msgr. Murnion marked a passing of real efforts to bering folk togerther around neuralgic issues that need to be faced.The role of women(as noted by Prof. McGreevey) is just one major one with the vistitation of our sisters touching that today.I found Peter Steinfels distinction of Catholoic liberalism and Catholic left too sharp and agree with the view that their and essentially persons and ideas which probably need to be viewed in a continuum on the left.The responses were all excellent but I wonder how they'd differ today then 10 years out.Particularly, I wonder if hope has given way to further drift and the decline of unification - a unification that, despite his good intentions, I don't think the Cardinal will promote.

" --- and coming from George, someone whos regarded as an intellectual,"Could this mean that, when it comes to intellectuals in the US hierarchy, the "one-eyed man is king?"

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