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It's The Laity Who Are Divided, Not The Leaders

By Ambassador Raymond L. Flynn
President of Your Catholic Voice

August 8, 2003

During the ongoing Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal, it was frequently reported by the press that Church leaders were out of touch and responsible for the growing division within the Church. This admittedly may sound petty, but if my opinion had been requested, I would have left my jobs on radio and in running a national Catholic lay organization, Your Catholic Voice, to volunteer all my time to advise and help the Church that I love. But my advice was not sought and I was not part of any group of advisors; but that's an issue for another day.

The matter that I would like to discuss is one that I've witnessed first hand over these many years in local, state and national politics. It's also something I believe that faithful Catholics should understand. I don't think that Church leaders alone can solve this important issue. It's not about what Church leaders should do to empower the laity, which many people think is the solution to their belief that the Church is out of touch and divided. That also is an issue for another day.

My hope in this piece is to share with you my thoughts as to why I believe that some Catholics feel the Church is divided. Let me give you a recent example and explain to you where I think this notion of division comes from. The Boston Globe recently ran a front-page story entitled "Bishops seek out opinions; in private conference focus is church future." The conference was held at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. and convened by a former trustee of Boston College. The meeting was not open to the public or the press. In fact some called it a secret meeting of prominent Catholics, both lay and religious. Some of the prominent people who attended the conference have often been openly critical of traditional Church teachings. Traditional Catholic scholars and prominent conservative Catholics apparently were not invited to the conference. In fairness, though, when conservative Catholics hold conferences they don't usually invite liberal Catholics either. As I hope you can begin to understand, this is where I think the division really lies.

My contention is that many Catholics are decent people who attend Mass on Sunday, support the Church financially, play by the rules and don't want to run the Church. They simply want good and faithful men and women in the religious life. They certainly don't want people on the left or the right speaking for them or the Church. But, unfortunately, this is what is happening today. There is too much left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal, and progressive vs. traditionalist. There is simply too much of a growing political power struggle within the Catholic laity and this division has contributed to the Church crisis as well. Some on both sides are more political than Catholic. Others think they are more Catholic than the Pope. They are using this division in the Church to promote their own political objectives and agenda. Unfortunately, much of the media is only too happy to see this division played out publicly. We need to remember that a strong and united Catholic Church is the last thing that some people want to see. A weak and vulnerable Church gives dissidents, and certainly anti-Catholics, the opportunity and opening they need to bring about what they seek politically - an American Catholic Church that reflects the popular secular culture of today, one not rooted in truth but in being politically correct.

To others, this is an institutional power struggle. The Catholic Church remains the only challenge to their philosophy and image of how society should be. A free wheeling, anything goes philosophy is in play. The Catholic Church has often been the only moral barrier to their secular objectives. If they can divide the Church within the ranks of faithful Catholics, the road ahead is unimpeded. They want to intimidate Church leaders from speaking out in moral issues they don't agree with.

But it's the right or conservatives as well as liberals or the left who are engaged in this power struggle for the soul of the Catholic Church in America, to speak out. They have their notions of Church teaching and are ideologically determined. Now, my next comment may not make many of my friends from either the left or the right happy. I don't believe that the Church should be neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal nor conservative. The Church must only be about the truth. Admittedly, the interpretation of what is the truth and what is consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ is where sometimes good people on both sides can be divided and where the battle lines get drawn.

A conference sponsored by Catholic liberal reformers can sometimes be as counter-productive as a conference of conservative and traditional Catholics. Let's forget the left and right conferences, they are too divisive at this time. The Church needs unity that requires sacrifice, and it must begin at its grass roots. This is a challenge in which everyone needs to be involved.

Here's my blue print on how to achieve this objective of what I call, "Unity with Sacrifice." A panel of 15 U.S. Catholics should be chosen by three people whose sole objective is that they are committed to the values, principles and teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church. The naming of these three individuals will certainly not be without controversy. Every group wants a seat at the table. I would propose the following three committed and faithful Catholics to appoint this panel of fifteen: Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan, serving as chairperson, along with Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon, and New York Attorney Dennis Lynch. All three of these people I'm convinced have the best interest of the Church in their hearts. They are honest, intelligent and faithful Catholics. Several other names come to mind, but from my experiences as a political leader, diplomat, and someone who understands the influence and role of the media, I think these three people would give the Church the best opportunity to move forward.

I would urge that the selected panel meet in private sessions and at first, limiting the amount of information that becomes public. The members of the panel will certainly be criticized in the media, but this is where the sacrifice comes in. The panel will reflect only the sentiments of faithful Catholics, and again, not necessarily liberal or conservative. No special interest group will have an exclusive seat at the table either. I would suggest only one key staff person to assist in the scheduling of meetings and in the drafting of a report. To that end I would recommend Philip Moran, Esq. of Salem, Massachusetts. Recommendations of the panel would obviously not be mandatory on the Church. But constructive well-formed opinions coming from faithful Catholic scholars and lay people would be invaluable to Church leaders, both in the United States and in Rome.

"Catholics must be instruments of peace. Where there is discord...unity." - St. Francis


Raymond L Flynn is President of Your Catholic Voice

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and Mayor of Boston (617) 269-0909


Your Catholic Voice CA, US
Raymond L. Flynn - President, 661 869-1000



Laity, Catholic, Ray Flynn

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