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'Catholic unity… not politics'

N.J. Knights of Columbus State Convention
Wildwood, New Jersey
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Keynote speech by Raymond L. Flynn

“Catholic unity… not politics”

This past week, I was interviewed on NBC national news regarding a Saturday New York Times front page story entitled, “Vatican is said to force Jesuit off Magazine. Officials cite concerns over critical articles about church in the media”. While the action taken by the Vatican drew a lot of the criticism by many toward the church hierarchy the controversy is certainly not new. Open criticism and dissent by Catholic clergy in the media against the church and its teachings has been going on for a long time. While dissent is quite normal in politics and a healthy thing in a democratic society, I don’t believe it helps provide the unity that is critical which our Catholic Church needs today. Declining church enrollment was raised in the media as an example of a dysfunctional Catholic church.

They used this recent crackdown by the Vatican against some in the Catholic press as a reason why Catholics have been staying home for years. Certainly church attendance figures bear this out, but a careful review of attendance figures demonstrated that church attendance was higher when Catholic unity was present. Church attendance began to drop off when Catholic doctrinal values were ignored by clergy and kicked around in the media. Even certain secular journalists now think that they have every right to try and change Catholic teaching though intimidation and ridicule. Maybe if the media started reporting the news once again, instead of trying to make it, people would start reading newspapers once again.

Unfortunately, too many Catholic’s have been afraid to stand up to these constant outrageous attacks. If you can’t defend the message, attack and diminish the messenger; that’s what the strategy has been by the critics and enemies of the Catholic Church. Catholic politicians especially have been afraid to stand up and be counted. They are afraid of the money and media interests and who will certainly come after them politically.

We must understand that it was division, dissent and confusion that drove many Catholics out of the church – not faithful priests and nuns. Now there is not much we can do to change the aggressive, sometimes anti-Catholic secular media culture, but there is something that Benedict XVI can do to reign in runaway theologians who appear regularly in the Catholic press. Make it clear that they don’t speak for the Church; they are expressing their own opinion. They are entitled to their own opinion, but not their own truth.

Pope Benedict XVI is attempting to do something that is essential – bring unity within the ranks of Catholics. I’ll bet you the more successful Benedict XVI is in achieving this unity; the more traditional young men will want to join the priesthood. “The more you present Christ faithfully, they’re going to come”, as Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis said. Young people want to be part of something meaningful and true. For the good of the church, we must support the new pope’s effort to restore Catholic unity.

His appointment of Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco to head up the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith sends a clear and important message to Catholics throughout the world. Unity will be a top priority. Archbishop Levada is a priest of enormous courage, compassion and ability. He will be clear in protecting and promoting the church’s teachings on faith and morals. I have worked with him over the years in encouraging lay Catholics to get more involved in the civic life of their community. He prayed with us and he marched with us.

Upon my return from the Vatican recently, I participated on a panel sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C., entitled, Pope Benedict XVI and World Affairs. This distinguished group was asked to discuss Pope John Paul II’s dramatic global influence and how Benedict XVI will carry forward this legacy of leadership. Specifically, the key question was, “How will the new pope position the Catholic Church as an actor on the world stage, particularly with respect to global issues such as the rise of militant Islam and Europe’s dramatic secularism, as well as U.S. foreign policy priorities such as combating terrorism and promoting democracy?” These and other topics provided the audience insight into what other likely challenges the new pope may face.

I had been in Rome before Pope John Paul II died and was there for his funeral, the mourning period, the conclave, and finally the inaugural Mass of Benedict XVI. Most of the media gave Pope John Paul II’s death, funeral, and legacy extensive positive and respectful coverage. Those who claim that the legacy of Pope John Paul ...

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