This morning, on the NCR homepage, we have posted a new editorial calling for an end to the death penalty in the United States. This morning, too, that same editorial is running on the homepages at Our Sunday Visitor, the National Catholic Register, and America.
What, you say? These four publications probably could not agree on an editorial in favor of the divinity of Christ! (The Register would insist on a “high Christology” and NCR would want a “low Christology”! LOL) But, in this case, the arguments against the death penalty, and specifically in favor of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a challenge to the current practice of lethal injection after several botched executions, are so clear, and so clearly rooted in the magisterium of the Church, the four leading journals of Catholic opinion all agreed to speak with one voice. It is remarkable – Rocco calls it “astonishing” this morning – and we need more of it as a Church.
This editorial is not the only instance of Catholics trying to find ways to bridge the divides within the Church. Tonight, the Institute where I am visiting fellow at Catholic University was set to present its Kaine Medallion for service to the Church, the nation and the academy to Professor Mary Ann Glendon. The event has been postponed due to the snow until April 17th. Professor Glendon hails from the more conservative wing of the Church and the Institute’s director, Professor Steve Schneck, was one of the leaders of Catholics for Obama. But, the two respect each others’ academic work and their shared love for the Church, even if they sometimes, even often, put a different emphasis on the ways the Church engages the public square.
Last fall, our CEO at NCR, Caitlin Hendel, was part of a panel of Catholic media leaders that included some of the same people who signed this morning’s editorial and similarly spanned the ideological spectrum. They discussed Pope Francis. There were certainly differences of emphasis and opinion in that discussion, but there was also a shared fascination with this pope and a recognition of his significance. At a yet deeper level, there was an obviously shared love for the Church in Gaston Hall that night.
I say we need more of such efforts, even though some of the readers might object that I rarely pass up an opportunity to disagree with the likes of George Weigel or Robbie George. I am not suggesting that we all sit in a circle and sing “Kumbaya.” The differences of opinion between someone like myself and Mr. Weigel are real and important. And, frankly, I think as columnists, sometimes it is our job to sharpen the divisions rather than seek to ameliorate them, especially when there is convenient confusion or contrived obfuscation on either side of the debate. The life of the mind matters.
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The life and unity of the Church, however, has a prior claim on all the baptized, and especially on the clergy. If we are not called to sing “Kumbaya,” we are called to always be in search of the chance to deepen a given debate in search of common ground that may have been forgotten in the hurly-burly of theological and political debate. I think also that any Catholic commentator is only as good as his willingness to call out his own ideological side of a given debate when that side is at odds with the Church’s teaching. And, all of us should look for moments such as this to discern points of agreement and to shine a light on that agreement.
This does not portend the eschaton. I also continue to think that we must return to the happy mindset of the High Middle Ages when a diversity of opinion in theological matters was assumed, and be a little less quick to think that there is only one way to be a Catholic. Practicing what I preach in the immediately preceding paragraph, I think the Catholic left also has a special burden to show that it grasps the idea that there are boundaries, that there are some opinions which cannot be reconciled with the Church’s tradition and with the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ, that we are called to go to the margins and to the marginalized, not to the avant-garde and the faddish.
If not the eschaton, this morning’s joint editorial is, nonetheless, an important recognition that the divisions with the Church in the United States are not the whole story, that there are good people on all sides of the ideological spectrum who are willing, even eager, to make common cause on behalf of the Church. I could not be prouder of NCR than I am today.