Journalist John Allen, Jr. participated in a symposium sponsored by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in San Atonio, Texas this past month, the subject of which was “evangelizing secularity” — that is to say, the new pagans found “in the shopping malls and soccer fields of the First World.” At the conclusion of the conference, Mr. Allen spoke on three themes — secularity, dialogue, and communion. He posts a summary of his address to this week’s Word From Rome, good thoughts worth reading. Here’s a snippet:
Are we prepared, for example, to step outside our prejudices to sympathetically consider the other? I noted that I heard during the weekend negative references to the Catholic TV network EWTN, and descriptions of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, as if he were Genghis Kahn. In Schreiter’s session, he happened to mention that a new bishop in Austria comes from Opus Dei, and the gasps were audible, as if he had said the bishop was a member of the Nazi party or the Klu Klux Klan. Of course, this was a conversation among friends, and some of these comments were just blowing off steam. Still, what does this suggest about our capacity for dialogue? (The same question could be put to some conservative Catholics who scorn, for example, Voice of the Faithful, the staff of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and any number of bishops they regard as “soft” on dissent).
Can we desist from patterns of speech and thought that are destructive of dialogue? For example, can we stop pretending there’s an animal out there called “the bishops” that has only one way of thinking and acting? In the United States, the Catholic bishops run from Tom Gumbleton to Fabian Bruskewitz and every point of the compass in between. There’s little sense in sweeping jeremiads about “the bishops.” Similarly, it’s a myth that there’s such a thing as “the Vatican” in the sense in which we normally invoke the term, as in, “the Vatican thinks …” or “the Vatican is afraid that …” For every official of the Holy See who fits the stereotype, there are others who don’t. Can we set aside generalizations and treat people as individuals?
Also in his column, Mr. Allen includes an exchange from a public dialogue between Cardinal Ratzinger and a lay Italian intellectual named Ernesto Galli della Loggia at Rome’s Palazzo Colonna (in which the Cardinal recognized the need for common cause between religious believers and secularists against “cultural homogenization” brought about by globalization and technological change), and more news on the recently-published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.