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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action

 

The mission of ARCC is to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and conditio n.
Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates. 
                                          -   Patrick Sullivan, ARCC President
 
 
 
Rev. John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Ph.D
Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics
Catholic Theological Union
Chicago 
 
 
In his Angelus address on January 10th, Pope Francis challenged American Catholics to "protect the democratic values rooted in American society." We need to respond to this papal challenge with our full strength and commitment. 
 
If we ask why we should take up this responsibility for protecting democracy, we can look to two foundational documents that provide the basis for our obligation in this moment in American history. Many writers are saying that the American democratic tradition now stands on a precipice at this time in our national life. To pull us back from this precipice as a nation, we need to integrate these two realities into our Catholic consciousness.
 
In the first instance, we need to recognize that Vatican II, in its Declaration on Religious Liberty known by its Latin title Dignitatis Humanae (Human Dignity), affirmed the democratic model of society for the first time after centuries of support for the kingly/princely model in which a central authoritarian figure held power under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Vatican II did not "sanctify" the democratic model, but it did express a preference for that model. This endorsement of the democratic model was due in large part to the lived experience of the American Church and the persistent efforts of the American Jesuit scholar Fr. John Courtney Murray, who served as an expert at the Council. 
 
Dignitatis Humanae was one of the most significant contributions made to Vatican II by American Catholicism. The Declaration would likely never have won conciliar approval without the strong support of the American bishops. Vatican II affirmed democracy as a central legacy of American Catholicism. It was our gift to the global church.
 
The second foundational document is Pope Francis’ much praised encyclical Laudato Si’ on the care of creation. In this encyclical, Pope Francis has affirmed planet earth as the common home of all people. For centuries, some in the Church have looked down on planet earth as a place of darkness and as a place of exile from our true heavenly home. Pope Francis certainly does not deny that we have a permanent home beyond the confines of this earth. But in the interim, while we continue to wait personally and communally for eternal life, we need to focus on the earth's goodness and on the creation of social structures that can sustain the beauty and dignity of earthly life through the democratic system.
 
If we are to fulfill the mandate for the protection of all creation that Laudato Si’ and other recent Catholic documents envision, Catholics need to accept their call to serve as God's co-creators as Pope John Paul II laid out in his encyclical on human work. Co-creatorship is a solemn responsibility granted to the human community. It must be carried out in concrete ways. These include some of the following.
 
The first of these responsibilities is involvement in the processes and political offices of our democratic system. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, in remarks at the annual Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Memorial Lecture, quoted from Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, former President of the University of Notre Dame and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Fr. Hesburgh once termed voting a "civic sacrament.”
 
Catholics also need seriously to consider entering public service. A democratic society cannot survive without a firm bedrock of the social values that are part and parcel of the fabric of Catholicism’s ethical tradition.
 
Other values of America's democratic tradition that Catholic participation in public life can assist in integrating into the template of the American social vision are a strong sense of the centrality of truth telling, basic respect for the dignity of all people across racial, religious and gender boundaries, and the orderly transfer of political power. All of these are requisite for maintaining a healthy democracy.
 
Pope Francis has presented the American Catholic community with a major challenge. We cannot fall into the mindset that "I am only one person; what can I do." If Rosa Parks had felt that way, African Americans might still be confined to the back of the bus.   Through commitment and organization, an effective response to Pope Francis' challenge is indeed possible.
 
 
 
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