Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin

Just as there is but one faith, one Lord, one baptism, so there can be but one loyalty -- to the Word of God . . . proclaimed in the church entrusted to the episcopal college with you, our Holy Father, as its visible head and perpetual source of unity . . . . In the name of my brother bishops, I assure you that the church in the United States has always been and will always be one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

Our realization of the mystery of the church . . . is situated in the context of our American culture. We live in an open society . . . . Many tend to question things, especially those matters which are important to them, as religion is. They want to know . . . why certain decisions are made, and they feel free to criticize if they do not agree or are not satisfied with the explanations. They see this as an integral part of the call to live their lives as responsible, educated adults.

It is also important to know that many Americans, given the freedom they have enjoyed for more than two centuries, almost instinctively react negatively when they are told that they must do something, even though in their hearts they may know they should do it. As a result, the impression is sometimes given that there is a certain rebelliousness in many American Catholics, that they want to "go it alone."

. . . These cultural phenomena, which are not unique to our country, can have problematic ecclesial implications. We must address this reality. However, the majority of the Catholics in the United States have a deep faith and accept the church as described in the conciliar documents. They contribute to the life of their parish and diocese, as well as the broader church. In a special way, they support you and want to be united with you . . . .

As with any living organism which values both its unity and diversity, there are bound to be misunderstandings and tensions at times. Tension . . . need not be debilitating or destructive. Often it is a sign of growth. We know that in the apostolic church reflected in the New Testament . . . there were disagreements and conflicting points of view.

. . . The practical question that must be addressed today, as before . . . is how to maintain our unity while affirming the diversity in the local realizations of the church; how to discern a proper balance between freedom and order . . . .

In this context, we can appreciate two unfortunate tendencies which affect the relationship between the universal Church and the particular churches of our country. When the Holy See reaffirms a teaching . . . or applies it to today's new realities, it is sometimes accused of retrogression or making new and unreasonable impositions on people. In like manner, when someone questions how a truth might be better articulated or lived today, he or she is sometimes accused of rejecting the truth itself or portrayed as being in conflict with the Church's teaching authority . . . . Genuine dialogue becomes almost impossible.

I know that this is a great concern of yours . . . . We know that it is your duty to confirm and support the brethren in their understanding and acceptance of the legacy given to us by the Lord Himself. And this you do in an extraordinarily generous and effective way. But at times you are misunderstood; some allege that you do not understand the actual situation in which the Church finds herself in the different parts of the world today.

It is also painful for us . . . when we are cast in an adversarial position with the Holy See, or with certain groups within our own dioceses . . . . Perhaps some brief reflections might help us.First, there has to be in the whole body of the church a much greater trust in the promise of the risen Christ to be present with his church and in the living action of the Holy Spirit. We are part of a mystery, a unique convergence of the divine and human. For this reason, we cannot rely only on secular models -- although we can surely learn from them. Second, we must be able to speak with one another in complete candor, without fear. This applies to our exchanges with the Holy See as well as among ourselves as bishops. Even if our exchange is characterized by some as confrontational, we must . . . not become the captives of those who would use us to accomplish their own ends. Third, in such a mutual exchange -- conducted with objectivity, honesty and openness -- we can discern what will truly enhance the church's unity and what will weaken or destroy it. . . . Fourth, we must affirm and continue to grow in our appreciation of the conciliar vision of collegiality as both a principle and a style of leadership in the church. Here in the United States our national conference has been a visible expression of that collegiality . . . Finally, we must constantly reaffirm, as we do today, that we are "the Roman Catholic Church. The papacy belongs to the binding content of our faith itself, in its proper place within the hierarchy of truths and in our own Christian life . . . . "Archbishop Rembert Weakland

. . . Who are the Catholic laity in the U.S.A. today? They form 28 percent of the total population . . . up 8 percent from 1947, and are moving rapidly into the upper echelons of society, business and politics. Products of the fine Catholic educational tradition of the church in the U.S.A., they . . . represent a higher percentage of students in the nation's colleges than their percentage in the general population . . . . This picture stands in striking contrast to their position before the Second World War when they were mostly working-class immigrants, considering themselves second-class citizens at best. Now the church in the U.S.A. can boast of having the largest number of educated faithful in the world.

Most sociologists analyzing the rise of Catholics in U.S. society note that they remain very much attached to their church . . . . In 1958, 74 percent said they had attended Mass in the past seven days, while in 1985, 53 percent answered the question positively, 71 percent saying they went to Mass at least once a month. This figure has been stable for the last 10 years. The defection rate today is not much different than in the 1950s. More admit to increased reading of the Bible, more attendance at other church functions, and surveys show a remarkable increase in confession in the last 10 years . . . . There exists a high rate of contentment with the changes of Vatican Council II, especially among the intellectuals . . . .

Yet, these trends pose new challenges to episcopal leadership. Five areas will be mentioned:The faithful are more inclined to look at the intrinsic worth of an argument proposed by the teachers in the church than to accept it on the basis of the authority itself. Since so often that teaching touches areas where many of the faithful have professional competency . . . they wish to be able to contribute through their own professional skills to solving the issues . . . .

. . . In the area of political issues, Catholics in the U.S.A. are jealous of their tradition of freedom and deeply resent being told how to vote on a issue or for which candidate to vote . . . . This poses the delicate balance to the bishops of teaching correct doctrine but of avoiding what could look like taking sides in partisan disputes or using their religious authority in a way that might seem to interfere in the political process . . . .

The faithful are demanding more help from the teaching authority of the church on how to bring the Gospel to their professional or work world, their societal and political involvement. They . . . . are not looking for facile solutions but only to be prodded, encouraged and sustained in their search. More than anything, they are looking for a spirituality that integrates their life, that does not condemn the technological world in which they live and work, that helps them sift the good from the bad, that permits them to reinforce the

good . . . .

The faithful want to contribute their skills and knowledge to the life and growth of the church . . . .

Women, in particular, seek to be equal partners in sharing the mission of the church. The church in the U.S.A. owes a tremendous debt to the religious women who built the educational and health systems that have been among the strengths of our church. There are no words to explain so much pain on the part of so many competent women today who feel they are second-class citizens in a church they love . . . . Women . . . want to be seen as necessary to the full life of a church that teaches and shows by example the co-discipleship of the sexes as instruments of God's Kingdom. They seek a church where the gifts of women are equally accepted and appreciated . . . .

Catholic women repudiate those forms of feminism that undermine the importance of family or that go contrary to their nature, but many do not see the church as yet striving for a structure where women are considered as equal partners, where the feminine is no longer subordinate but seen in a holistic mutuality with the masculine as forming the full image of the Divine . . . .

For a complete picture of the pastoral tasks facing the bishops of the U.S.A., one would have to say something of the charismatic renewal and its impact, on the discovery of the Bible in the personal life of the faithfu,; on the fundamentalist trends in the U.S.A., on the many social-concerns movements . . . and spiritual renewal movements in general . . . . One would also have to say something of the large number of divorces and the breakup of so many families. The influence of affluence on societal values and the possible evils of consumerism and waste would also have to be mentioned as pastoral concerns.

But no picture would be complete without speaking of other groups which add so much to the vitality and spiritual richness of the Church in the U.S.A.: the Hispanic, black and Asian communities. All of these in recent decades have provided a new dimension to church life . . . . {and} are facing the challenges of U.S. culture realistically under good leadership and are a young and rejuvenating element in the church in the U.S.A.

The Catholic Church has a clear duty to fight racism as it opens its doors to these newer cultural expressions of the faith; it is evident that good will does not seem to be enough here. The church must also fight for the rights of so many of these populations who live in poverty and are without work; the Church must also continue its educational thrust among them . . . . .Pope John Paul II

. . . It is sometimes reported that a large number of Catholics today do not adhere to the teaching of the Church on . . . sexual and conjugal morality, divorce and remarriage. Some are reported as not accepting the church's clear position on abortion. It has also been noted that there is a tendency . . . to be selective in their adherence to the church's moral teachings.

It is sometimes claimed that dissent from the Magisterium {the church's divinely inspired authority} is totally compatible with being a "good Catholic" and poses no obstacle to the reception of the sacraments. This is a grave error that challenges the teaching office of the bishops . . . . I wish to encourage you in the love of Christ to address this situation courageously . . . relying on the power of God's truth to attract assent and on the grace of the Holy Spirit which is given both to those who proclaim the message and to those to whom it is addressed.

We must also constantly recall that the teaching of Christ's church -- like Christ himself -- is a "sign of contradiction." It has never been easy to accept the Gospel teaching in its entirety, and it never will be . . . . To accept faith is to give assent to the word of God as transmitted by the church's authentic Magisterium. Such assent constitutes the basic attitude of the believer, and is an act of the will {and} the mind. It would be altogether out of place to try to model this act of religion on attitudes drawn from secular culture.

Within the ecclesiastical community, theological discussion takes place within the framework of faith. Dissent from church doctrine remains . . . dissent. As such, it may not be proposed or received on an equal footing with the church's authentic teaching.

Moreover, as bishops, we must be especially responsive . . . as authentic teachers of the faith when opinions at variance with the church's teaching are proposed as a basis for pastoral practice. I . . . support you as you continue to engage in fruitful dialogue with theologians regarding the legitimate freedom of inquiry which is their right.

You rightly give them sincere encouragement in their difficult task and assure them how much the church needs and deeply appreciates their dedicated and constructive work. They . . . will recognize that the title Catholic theologian expresses a vocation and a responsibility at the service of the community of faith and subject to the authority of . . . the church . . . . Your dialogue will seek to show the inacceptability of dissent and confrontation as a policy and method in the area of church teaching.

. . . It has been stated that "the Church in the United States of America can boast of having the largest number of educated faithful in the wor1d" . . . . {This} is cause for humble rejoicing and gratitude because it represents a major achievement: the sustained educational effort by the church in this country for many, many decades. At the same time, the education of the faithful offers great promise and potential . . . .

Primarily through her laity, the church is in a position to exercise great influence upon American culture. This culture is a human creation . . . . through shared insight and communication. It is built by an exchange among the people of a particular society. And culture, while having a certain dynamic endurance, is always changing and developing as a way of life . . . .

But how is the American culture evolving today? Is this evolution being influenced by the Gospel? Does it clearly reflect Christian inspiration? . . . . Are all those things which reflect the soul of a nation being influenced by the spirit of Christ for the perfection of humanity?

. . . These are difficult questions to answer, given the complexity and diversity of your culture. But they are relevant to any consideration of the role of the Catholic laity . . . who bring the Gospel's uplifting and purifying influence to . . . the whole realm of thought and artistic creativity, to the various professions and places of work, to family life and to society in general.

With reference to this question, and in such areas as politics, economics, mass media and international life . . . we are charged to lead our people to holiness . . . . The service of our pastoral leadership . . . far from bearing an authoritarian style in any way, must listen and encourage, challenge and, at times, correct. There is no question of condemning the technological world but rather of urging the laity to transform it from

within . . . .