Tearing Down the Ghettoes
This year, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales decided to start an annual lecture for the church's World Communications Day -- which most of us missed on Sunday, 28 May. And, starting off by quoting the Beatles (for the second time this year), NCR's John Allen delivered the first Communications Day talk.
A transcript and audio are posted.
In his prepared text, referring to John Paul II as "the Prime Minister of the Human Conscience," Allen evoked laughter from the assembled with a story of the late Pope's media savvy:
When Lech Walensa, the founder of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, visited the pope for the first time in the Vatican, John Paul received him in the Sala Clementina. When he entered the room, Walensa departed from the script and fell impulsively at the pope’s feet to kiss his ring. As it happened, the legendary Vatican photographer Arturo Mari was changing a roll of film at that instant and uncharacteristically missed the shot. John Paul caught what had happened out of the corner of his eye, and promptly told Walensa to get up and do it again.But, of course, it had a point:
[John Paul] wanted that picture to finish on the front page of every newspaper in the world, implicitly making the point that this was not a radical firebrand but a loyal son of the Church whom the pope embraced.In post-speech questions, Allen spoke candidly on the "tribalism" which marks the current state of the church, which he called "terribly depressing, and dysfunctional, to say nothing of the fact that it has nothing to do with the ecclesiology of communion to which a whole succession of popes have called us to."
In the States, Allen said that a commentary on "how bad things are" is that "the old situation used to be that Catholics talked about the same things but had different opinions on them. The new situation in the States is that Catholics are having completely separate conversations. They've gone so far down the road of living in self-enclosed, hermenetically-sealed universes, they can't even agree on what's happening, let alone what to think about it.
"The great tragedy of American Catholic history in the 20th century is that the American Catholic church spent the first half of the 20th century digging its way out of a ghetto that was imposed upon it by a hostile Protestant majority, and we have spent the second half of the 20th century reconstructing ideological ghettoes of our own choosing.
"So we're still as divided as we ever were -- only we're not divided from the Protestants anymore, we're divided among ourselves," Allen said.
Citing the reality in the US, where there are "publications for neoconservative Catholics, there are publications for Charismatic Catholics, there are publications for church reform Catholics, there are publications for peace and justice Catholics, there are publications for liturgical traditionalist Catholics," he emphasized that "what there really isn't is a publication of record that, in principle, is open to all of those experiences."
Ten years after the attempt at a Catholic Common Ground initiative quickly went bust, such a meeting place is a dream seems farther from reality now than it was in the summer of 1996.