Local News Archive
Print Issue: September 2, 1965
Archbishop's Notebook: Petitions, Etc--Wrong Way
The people of God are in the world. But our Lord warned us not to be of the world. I think a strong case can be made that democracy is a noble and moral form of government. I also think that some of the trappings of the democratic process are wrong and inane; only their ineffectiveness keeps them from destroying the process itself.
Some of these trappings are being taken up by the militant rightists and leftists in the present aggiornamento of the Catholic Church. Catholics of both camps are tooling up these techniques with a vengeance.
We have seen the press conference perverted from is informational and background purpose to build a podium for priests who want to explain why they no longer consider building their pledge of obedience to the bishop. Humility, obedience, the will to serve God in the channels of authority, prayer and examination of conscience are forgotten. So are sincere efforts to present his own case by formal request, by letter, by conversation, by making his own preferred way a part of the general policy of the Church. It takes more courage to accept authority as De Lubac and de Chardin did than it does to call a press conference. But of course it is not nearly as exciting.
Peace, The Pill and The Poll
We are seeing also the poll and the rating. The magazines are best at this. Do you want peace in Vietnam? Could it not be reworded, Do you think there would be peace in Vietnam if American forces were withdrawn and Communist forces given a free hand? The contraceptive practices of married Catholics are polled regularly: Do you favor birth control? -- Do you practice birth control? -- Do you think the Church should change her stand? Thousands of answers to this following question would produce a far more interesting conclusion: Do you understand why contraception is wrong--why those who place the fulfillment of marriage as the only objective are just as much in error as those who place the children of marriage as the sole purpose? Television ratings have brought programs down to a drab, sloppy level of boredom. We may reasonably suspect that marriage ratings of the poll-type will reduce family life to a wasteland of wooden loyalties and undisciplined indulgence.
Catholics Signing Petitions
Phyllis McGinley wrote a little quatrain in her 1961 book, Times Three:
We might as well give up the fiction
That we can argue any view.
For what to me is pure Conviction
is simple Prejudice to you.
Thats our trouble. Like minds with like convictions (or for that matter, like prejudices) find that they disagree with a Supreme Court justice or civil rights leader, a particular cardinal or an archbishop. Their reasons range from the victims way of life or a speech or a policy all the way across the spectrum to the old catch-all reason that they just dont like Supreme Courters, Civil Righters or the American Catholic hierarchy.
It was discouraging to read this week the petition circulated across the country by a Catholic group, asking the bishops to do something about a particular diocese and its bishop. The theology was weak, their canon law weaker, their sense of Christian charity weakest of all. But at least they might have brushed up on their worldly device, the petition, since they apparently want to be of the world as well as in it.
To be effective, a good petition has to be cooked up by people who are themselves little pressure-cookers. They must be circulated by willing disciples. And they must be signed by thousands of people who couldnt care less about the question, and if they had the courage, would answer instead, undecided.
Good Causes, Wrong Means
It is disappointing to find good causes perverted by stupid tactics. The Church in the United States needs, and is getting, intelligent resistance to some of the extremities of the liturgical movement, What we dont need is Nielson Rating polls that start: Why dont you like the changes in Sunday Mass? The Church needs an openness between laity and clergy, between bishops and priest. This inner dialogue is urgent. It will be achieved by quiet and humble approaches between those who are responsible and those who are participating. It will not be achieved by platitudes or press conferences which exaggerate non-essentials, and easily obscure what is really Christian.
The Church is carving out channels of communication within as well as outside her members. This is an urgent task for all. Our coming Archdiocesan Synod (1966) will receive the recommendations of our laity. Through lay bodies, lay personnel on archdiocesan boards, through pastors and through the Georgia Bulletin, facts, recommendations and criticisms can flow.
I suppose most bishops are more aware of lay initiatives than laymen think. We are constantly talking to laymen of all walks of life. Our mail is steady and often heavy.
My own ground rules for opening the mail are:
(a) Unsigned letters -- wastebasket.
(b) Rephrased copies of what was obviously a master letter, e.g., the current one on Communism. Often accompanied by anti-Negro, anti-Jewish, anti-Federal government trash, -- also, wastebasket.
(c) Honest and heart-felt letters expressing a personal grief over the Church today -- read, reply, pray for the writer.
(d) Well-considered, well-expressed letters in simple and direct language -- think about them, perhaps adopt the idea, often reply, often include in Archbishops Notebook.
(e) Signed petitions -- unless the subject is specific and pertinent to the good of the Church, I glance at the names (to see who have moved in lately) and place it reverently in the wastebasket. I figure, if these multiple persons were really interested, they would send a letter of the (d) type.
(f) Letters promising prayer for the needs of the Church, the archdiocese and health of all of us, gratefully received.
(g) Letters from new families asking how to contribute to the expansion campaign. Answered immediately.
Petitions have their proper function. So do press-conferences, but Im not so sure about polls. But they may serve well in politics, social surveys and business trends. If they are to become part of the new look of Catholicism, all three need tuning up, cleaning up and new directional lights added.
Unless we do that, we may miss the Kingdom of God altogether and end up in Alices Wonderland, where nothing seems to be what it really is.
Paul J. Hallinan
Archbishop of Atlanta