Greenbelt Interfaith News
    U.S. News

    December 1997

    Catholic Bishops Condemn "Rhetoric of Violence"
    By Heather Elizabeth Peterson
    Greenbelt Interfaith News

    At a time when members of the Catholic Church remain deeply divided over several important issues, the president of the U.S. bishops' conference has called upon all Catholics to be reconciled through "truth . . . spoken in love."

    Bishop Anthony M. Pilla made his remarks at the November 10 opening of the general meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference. The conference's semi-annual meeting took place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington, D.C.

    Bishop Pilla, while stating that unity is a necessary characteristic of the Catholic Church, went on to condemn those who use "a rhetoric of violence toward whoever disagrees with them." In particular, he urged an end to the "epithets by which Catholics mark themselves off or are marked off from one another," and he quoted the advice of Pope Benedict XV, who said that Catholics should say, "Christian is my name, Catholic is my surname."

    Bishop Pilla did emphasize the "right and duty" of bishops to teach Catholic doctrine. "Reconciliation not based on the truth, however difficult the truth may be to accept at the moment, will not be full and lasting reconciliation," he said.

    "At the same time, the truth must be spoken in love," he added. "In this sense, even with issues of doctrine, we must try to talk not across a chasm but side by side. At a minimum, wherever there is a sincere desire to respect the Gospel, there is no room for the angry voices and the violent language about which I have already spoken. Some would claim that Jesus himself said that he came to bring not peace but the sword and that Christianity has a long tradition of polemics, going back to the New Testament authors. However, until we are as perfect as Jesus or as inspired as the authors of the New Testament, the better guide for us is the painful history of the divisions among Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. This history has taught us the damage done by allowing authentic theological disputes to mushroom into personal and communal hatreds. . . . Similar hatreds . . . have no place, on the threshold of the new Millennium, among us who wish to enter it proudly proclaiming ourselves Catholic."

    Bishop Pilla's speech received a standing ovation from the bishops who had gathered in the hotel ballroom, appropriately located next to a hallway entitled the Hall of Battles. Although the battles that took place inside the hotel were mild, more serious disagreements could be witnessed outside the hotel in the form of two demonstrations.

    Members of Dignity, an organization of gay Catholics, had come to show their support for a recent document issued by the bishops' conference: "Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers." Although the members believe that the letter should not have supported traditional Catholic condemnations of homosexual behavior, they agree with the letter's emphasis on the importance of showing love toward homosexuals.

    Members of the Roman Catholic Faithful also came to give their views on the letter. "The timing was terrible," said Pat Hagans of Colonial Beach, Virginia. "Of course parents of homosexual children are going to love their children. That doesn't need to be said. What the church needs to emphasize is the sinfulness of the homosexual behavior that has increasingly become accepted in our culture.

    "It's because of love that we're here," Col. Hagans added. Then, unwittingly echoing Bishop Pilla, he said, "True charity means that you must speak the truth."

    The much-publicized letter is not on the agenda for the meeting, and a panel of bishops at a November 10 press conference initially declined to comment on the demonstrations. Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, later changed his mind and spoke approvingly of the letter. "I think the intent of the document is very clear," he said. "I think that the content of the document is appropriate. I think that the wording could have been a little bit more accurate in order to avoid the possibility of misunderstanding."

    Of much greater concern to Cardinal Law was the atmosphere in which such debates take place. He expressed his concern over the angry mood of people in his state who recently debated whether capital punishment should be allowed in Massachusetts. "We have to try to reach out and love even those who disagree with us about the fundamentals of the faith," he said.

    Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark agreed. "That's really the secret of it all: to speak the truth in love," he said. "But you have to speak the truth."

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