Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Love Calls Us Higher": In First Message, Card. Wuerl Tackles Talk

In his first released text since being elevated to the Pope's "Senate," Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington pointedly took for his topic the responsibility of "both truth and love" in the ecclesial conversation.

The piece will be published in Thursday's edition of DC's Catholic Standard... here, meanwhile, the gist:
No community of human or divine origin, political or religious, can exist without trust. At the very core of all human relations is the confidence that members speak the truth to each other. The covenant between God and his people also obliges us to a relationship of truth. It is for this reason that God explicitly protected the bonds of community by prohibiting falsehood as a grave attack on the human spirit. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). To tamper with the truth or, worse yet, to pervert it is to undermine the foundations of human community and to begin to cut the threads that weave us into a coherent human family.

Christians must not only speak the truth but must also do so in love (Ephesians 4:15). It is not enough that we know or believe something to be true. We must express that truth in charity, with respect for others so that the bonds between us can be strengthened in building up the Church of Christ.

Even while there may be disagreements within the ecclesial community on policies and procedures, there is a presupposition that we are all one in our faith. One of the reasons why we should find it easy as a Church to arrive at consensus is because it is Christ who calls us together in the first place. We are already one in what we believe, in our loyalty to the Church and in our commitment to live by God's commandments.

The call to truthfulness is far from being a denial of freedom of speech. Rather it is a God-given obligation to respect the very function of human speech. We are not free to say whatever we want about another but only what is true. To the extent that freedom is improperly used to sever the bonds of trust that bind us together as a people, it is irresponsible. The eighth commandment obliges us not only to avoid false witness but also to tell the truth. We have an obligation to ascertain that what we say is really the truth.

To speak the truth requires personal self-discipline and conscious effort. We must search out the facts and avail ourselves of the information necessary to make a judgment based on truth. It is a disservice when one's opinions, positions or proposals are based on unverified gossip, unsupported rumor or partial information when all the facts are readily available to us. Serious research and study are demanded in serious matters.

Because we live in a society that sometimes treats lightly the importance of truth, those who engage in Christian discourse need to be keenly aware that simply because something is said in the public media, on the radio or television or printed in a newspaper or magazine, does not necessarily make it true and reliable. To base one's judgment on such sources alone is to enter into the realm of rash judgment and its ruinous effects not only to individuals but also to society itself. If we choose to speak, we ourselves must accept the responsibility to discover the truth.

We are called to a higher level of respect for the truth and for each other than is often witnessed on some radio and television talk shows. The intensity of one's opinion is not the same as the truth. Speaking out of anger does not justify falsehood. Frustration or disappointment does not condone a lack of charity. The Catechism reminds us, "respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury" and calls "rash judgment," "detraction" and "calumny" offenses against truth (2477).

At the heart of who we are as Church is Christ's call to love one another. Whatever diminishes love diminishes the Church. A measure of our love for God and for each other is how well we deal with frustration and disappointment. Both are a normal and frequent part of life. They need not lead to anger, rash judgment or their public expression but rather to tolerance, trust and patience after the example of Christ. Love calls us to a higher standard as a part of God's family.
* * *
While we're at it, it's worth recalling that the red hat is but the crowning personal milestone among several the capital's fifth cardinal has been marking of late.

A week before the 20 November Consistory, Wuerl celebrated his 70th birthday... and even more notably, Friday sees 25 years since his appointment as a bishop.

On 3 December 1985, the then-45 year-old rector of Pittsburgh's St Paul Seminary was given what most observers consider the Stateside bench's most delicate and controversial assignment of the 1980s, for which he was ordained a month later by the now-Venerable Pope John Paul II.

After a Vatican-chartered commission of US bishops relayed concerns to Rome over Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen's handling of matters of doctrine, worship and morals at the helm of the church in Seattle, the beloved prelate whose outspokenly progressive ways saw him win a sizable following as the "peace bishop" was given Wuerl as his auxiliary, with the Holy See -- in an exceedingly rare move -- giving the latter full, ordinary jurisdiction over several aspects of the archdiocese's life, among them oversight of liturgy, seminary formation, the tribunal and relations with priests who had left active ministry.

Against the backdrop of an already-roiled ecclesial scene, the intervention sparked outrage among much of the liberal-minded Seattle fold, not to mention a sizable chunk of the nation's bishops. As a result, no shortage of its reactions were inevitably borne by the young prelate, who became widely cast -- in some quarters, demonized -- as the "Vatican enforcer" tasked with dismantling Seattle Catholicism as the home-crowd had built it.

Within a year, the arrangement fell apart, and Wuerl returned to Pittsburgh, becoming a "bishop without portfolio" for a year, when he was tapped to head his hometown diocese. The archbishop was given a coadjutor and restored to full powers of governance, handing off to the late Tom Murphy on his 70th birthday in 1991. (Today, Hunthausen remains alive and well at 89, resides in his native Montana.)

On practically every side, though, what've become known as the "Hunthausen Wars" are remembered as a particularly painful moment. In some instances, they created wounds that took years to even begin to heal -- so much so that, in Wuerl's circles, "Seattle" was long considered an unspeakable word... even if, so it's said, the person he left the West on the warmest terms with was Hunthausen, himself.

Then again, time and its changes have their way of healing all things... and sure enough, two days shy of a quarter-century since Wuerl received the appointment that became his "baptism by fire," the circle completes itself: for his first Stateside function presiding in scarlet, the new cardinal will be present "in choir" at St James' Cathedral for tomorrow's installation of Seattle's fifth archbishop.

More on Peter Sartain to come... for now, though, this angle of the story proved too poignant to pass up.

PHOTOS: Reuters(1); AP(2); Getty(3)