Vol 37 No 4
CONSCIENCE OUR GUIDE
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE FORMATION OF CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE
Philip Malone MSC
THE COMPLETE IDIOTíS GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING MORAL THEOLOGY
Liz Hepburn IBVM
THE CULTIVATION OF CONSCIENCE
Tom Ryan SM
IN GODíS IMAGE: TOWARDS A THEOLOGY OF OUR EMOTIONS
JUNG AND THE MORAL SELF
Bruce Duncan CSsR
A SCHIZOPHRENIC PROCESS IN THE CHURCH? THE CONSERVATIVE RETREAT FROM THE
SOCIAL DIMENSION OF THE GOSPEL
PRAYER - ANSWERED?
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
schizophrenic process in the Church?
The conservative retreat from the social dimension of
BRUCE DUNCAN CSsR
ONE OF THE increasing problems facing the Catholic Church in Australia
is the difficulty of integrating the social aspects of the Gospel as an
integral part of Catholic thought and practice. The problem has been accentuated
by the promotion of more traditionalist trends in the Church, with a higher
stress on inner-Church discipline, devotionalism and conservative interpretations
of doctrine. What has been notably missing in places is a wider sense
of evangelisation, as calling for a deeper engagement with societies and
cultures, and as vigorously encouraging the vocation proper to lay people
of transforming the world to approximate more closely the Reign of God
which Christ will usher in at his final Coming.
I do not wish to caricature such a conservative agenda, for it is genuinely
trying to address serious problems. Many people are still abandoning regular
Sunday Mass, even among stalwarts. The almost wholesale departure of the
young from Church involvement is deeply alarming, and one cannot help
fearing that we will see a further collapse of Mass attendance in the
next decade. Recruitment to the clergy and religious life is perilously
low, threatening the continued existence of many religious orders in Australia
and even the regular celebration of the Eucharist in many communities.
It is not surprising then, that some Catholics and clergy wish to return
to an earlier pattern of Catholicism, emphasising the authority of the
Church to decide moral issues, trying to revive earlier forms of devotionalism
and promoting more conservative interpretations of Church doctrine.
This agenda may indeed be helpful to some people, but as a general pastoral
strategy I believe it is doomed to fail. The Church is now deeply committed
to ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, and the cohesive sociological
forces generated among Catholics by sectarianism are no longer operative.
The strong ghetto strategy which served us so well in the
past is now not appropriate. In my view at least, those who try to re-invent
it in Australia may well gather a small coterie around them, but they
will be seen as a small sect-like group isolated from the wider culture,
polarising the Church, and basically irrelevant to major issues of the
It may well be true in Australia, as Peter Steinfels fears for the United
States, that the Church is on the verge of either an irreversible
decline or a thoroughgoing transformation.1 Much will depend on
the calibre of clerical and lay leadership to improve the quality of discussion
in the Church.
There are competing agendas in the Church about how to respond, though
these are overlapping and complex. John L Allen in the National Catholic
Reporter of 7 November suggested that the cardinals themselves could be
grouped under four headings:
The Border Patrol group of doctrinal conservatives worried
about secularisation, relativism and the loss of Catholic identity;
The Reform Party of doctrinal moderates seeking to advance
the agenda of Vatican II on decentralisation, the role of the laity, etc.
The Social Justice Party, concerned with the great issues
outside the Church, including hunger, poverty, war and injustice.
And the Integralists: Cultural conservatives who want
Church teaching written into civil law.
Peter Steinfels commented that most observers would identify Pope John
Paul II predominantly as combining doctrinal conservative and social justice
positions.2 But all four broad positions have their advocates in the Roman
curia and among the cardinals, and compete against one another to make
their voices heard, sometimes to the confusion or embarrassment of Catholics
The last category of Integralists would be rare in Australia, where in
recent decades most bishops were pastoral men predominantly supportive
of social justice and the progressive agenda of Vatican II. More recently,
however, there has been a swing to some who champion the doctrinal conservative
agenda. These are the favourites of such traditionalist groups as the
promoters of the magazine AD 2000.
My concern in this article is to argue that this traditionalist agenda
tends to downplay or ignore the social justice concerns of the Church,
despite the many social justice interventions by recent popes.
In the view of many, the traditionalist agenda fails to respond adequately
to the call of the Second Vatican Council to listen to the signs of our
times and engage more forcefully with our culture and history. It directs
its energy to shoring up internal Church cohesion but resiles from much
of the ad extra agenda of the Council. Some conservative strategies
rightly place a high priority on developing youth groups, but excessively
stress compliance with certain practices and devotions. Where is the formation
for social activism that, for example, the Young Christian Workers
model once provided, in engaging with the real issues of the workplace,
wrestling with the implications of the Gospel for their situation, and
training people to act on their own initiative?
The failure in this traditionalist view to integrate the social dimensions
of the Gospel is leading, in my view, to a schizophrenic or dualistic
view that elevates the inner-church world to such a dominant place that
the ad extra dimensions of social engagement and transformation
are left hanging in limbo, or implicitly relegated to a secondary, even
optional, place. It does not explicitly reject the social imperatives
of the Council, but in practice tends to ignore them, or does not know
what to do with them.
The resurgence of this traditionalism is relatively new in Australia,
but is connected with conservative theological movements in the Vatican
itself. Church documents can be analysed to see how they reflect the views
of competing groups in Rome and elsewhere. Many documents attempt to reconcile
such differences, but I will illustrate how the social justice agenda
has been downgraded even in the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church
with its deeply flawed synthesis of Catholic social teaching.
Social Flaws in the Catechism
One of the leading US social commentators, John Pawlikowski, in 1999 evaluated
the Catechisms treatment of Catholic social thought, noting the
difficult task it faced of synthesising such a vast content. He gave it
a mixed report, commending the Catechisms treatment of the social
nature of the person, and the importance of solidarity, particularly to
champion greater equality among nations. One of its strongest statements
was to condemn the perverse mechanism blocking the development
of poorer nations; it urged the richer nations to assist them, and to
remedy usurious financial systems, iniquitous commercial relations
among nations, and the arms race (par. 2438). Its sections relating
to social and economic justice are comparatively brief (pars. 1877-1948;
2401-2442), as are the sections on war and peace (pars. 2259-2269; 2302-2317).3
However, Pawlikowski found that one of the most glaring omissions
was the most striking failure of the Catechism to present the quest
for justice as absolutely central to the authentic proclamation of the
this teaching can appear to be no more than one of the many
dimensions of the Catholic faith. This stands in sharp contrast to the
emphasis on human liberation through social commitment as part of the
very core of the genuine gospel preaching and evangelization in such documents
as the 1971 Synod of Bishops statement on Justice in the World
and Pope Paul VIs apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi. Not
a trace of this bold linkage between proclamation and human liberation
can be found in the section dealing with Mission (849-870).4
Indeed Justice in the World is never cited. Both Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo
Anno are virtually ignored, while Mater et Magistra and Development of
Peoples are cited infrequently. Pacem in Terris is used mostly in
relation to the issue of authority in society rather than its central
themes of human rights and world peace.5
Pawlikowski also wrote that the Catechism has failed to capture
fully the dynamic relationship posited originally by John XXIII and repeated
by Paul VI and John Paul II on the importance of the role of government
in securing the common good.6
In addition, there is very little attention to structural sin, despite
its importance in recent statements by the popes and bishops. And
does one find a clear presentation of the far-ranging dimensions of the
ecological crisis and the pastoral and moral challenge it presents in
so many countries in the world.7
Moreover, as Pawlikowski points out, the Catechism omits the challenging
charter of human rights found in Pacem in Terris, and gives no indication
that at Vatican II there was a decisive change in the teaching on religious
liberty and in Church-State relations, particularly accepting democracy
as the norm. The presentation of the Catechism attempts to demonstrate
the logical cohesion of Catholic belief, but is quite ahistorical and
unable to show the shifts in Catholic thinking over time in changing contexts.
Because we have seen some significantly distorted interpretations
of Centesimus Annus about Capitalism, something that John Paul himself
has critiqued in several addresses subsequent to the encyclical, the Catechism
should have included an explicit statement on the Churchs perennial
difficulties with Capitalism. If the response is that such a topic is
too specific, my response is that the Catechism is quite specific on sexual
sins. So why not in the area of economic justice.8
Pawlikowski continued that the Catechism is weak, and I would even
be prone to say misleading in its treatment of migration, which
Pacem in Terris declared a basic human right. And the emphasis is
almost as much on the right of political authorities to circumscribe immigration
and the gratitude immigrants are to show to host countries than it is
on the natural right of emigration/immigration as set down by John XXIII.
The Catechisms treatment of this subject has fallen far short of
presenting the full t[h]rust of Catholic social teaching.9
Pawlikowski was also critical of the use of non-inclusive or sexist language,
and especially the forced retranslation of the Catechism which
he regarded as a violation of human equality.10 One can only
agree with Pawlikowski about the need to use inclusive translations, which
are now commonly regarded as the courtesies of language in the English-speaking
world. To deliberately return to non-inclusive language, given the strength
of feeling about this issue even among many men, is simply incomprehensible.
One must be even more concerned about whether non-inclusive language will
be imposed on the translations of the new missal. At a time when the Australian
bishops have been trying to engage women in a constructive dialogue about
their role in the Church, to impose non-inclusive language, even against
the wishes of many if not most of the bishops, is to my mind pastorally
gravely irresponsible. If one wanted to offend and antagonise many women
and to drive them out of the Church, this is certainly the way to do it.
The Catechisms Deficiencies About
War and Peace
A further grave inadequacy in the Catechism in its views on war and peace
became evident during the debate over the 2003 Iraq war. Pars. 2307-2309
are too condensed to reflect adequately the conditions for fighting in
war, and there is no discussion at all of a principled pacifist option,
or of international frameworks of peace or the role of organisations like
the United Nations in conflict mediation.
Even the usual criteria for a just war are not all clearly listed. The
Catechism does mention the criteria of: just defence [against an unjust
aggressor], with the damage lasting, grave and certain; last
resort; the need for serious prospects of success; defence must not produce
greater harm; (2309) and non-combatant immunity (par. 2313).
But it does not discuss the criterion of legitimate authority, simply
asserting that when there is no international authority with the
necessary competence and power, governments have a right to self-defence,
once all peace efforts have failed (2308). There is no explicit
discussion of just cause, and certainly no mention of a right of
pre-emptive strike. Nor is there any mention of the traditional
criterion of right intention, or the goal of restoring a peace
with justice. It recognises that those who possess modern scientific
weaponsespecially atomic, biological, or chemical weaponsmay
commit indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas,
but it does not condemn such weapons in principle (par. 2314). It does
reject the arms race and excessive military spending (2315-2316).
The most astonishing failure in the treatment of just war is its statement
in par. 2309: The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy
belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for
the common good.
In other words, political authorities are to decide the morality of a
war. How convenient for them! As we saw during the recent war on Iraq,
apologists for the Bush Administration quoted this passage to deny the
churches a right to decide on the morality of the war. In short, this
passage naively surrendered to political expediency any role for the Church
in determining the morality of war. Despite the strong opposition of the
Pope and bishops conferences around the world, it allowed the partisans
of the war to pit the Catechism against those denying the moral legitimacy
of the invasion of Iraq, and helped confuse Catholics and others about
what was the Churchs stand.
Not only that, but par. 2310 declared: Public authorities, in this
case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary
for national defense [italics in original], seeming to imply that
citizens were obliged to accept the case for war. Fortunately par. 2311
added: Public authorities should make equitable provision for those
who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms, but did not consider
what might be done when the leading Church authorities refuse to accept
a war as just, even though a government so declare it. Nor did par. 2311
distinguish between conscientious objection in principle, or objection
to a particular war.
The presentation in the Catechism of Catholic teaching and thinking on
just war and international relations is evidently seriously deficient,
even ignoring aspects of the thinking of Pacem in Terris and Pope Paul
VI, not to mention many of the interventions by John Paul II himself,
especially given his strong opposition to the 1990-91 war against Iraq.
It is difficult to explain how such a treatment was accepted into such
an important document.
Admittedly, such a document not only has to synthesise complex issues
compiled by numerous experts, but represents the results of compromises
among different views in Rome, particularly of the final editors. In the
case of the war and peace issues, par. 2309 in particular seems to reflect
the influence of some the neoconservative authors, Michael Novak and George
Weigel. Certainly these sections of the Catechism gel closely with their
later partisan interventions in 2002-03 in support of the Bush Administration.
What Happened to Human Liberation
as a Key Category?
What is missing overall from the Catechism is the passionate engagement
with the major problems of the contemporary world, not just against war,
but against the economic domination that is trying to reshape world culture
and civilisations. There is occasional mention of the great drama of hunger
and poverty in the world, but it is not given the prominence that John
Paul gives it in his speeches.
I could not locate a single reference in the Catechism to liberation theology
and its continuing importance for developing nations especially, yet the
struggle for human and social liberation in all its dimensions is one
of the greatest yearnings of contemporary cultures, and is intimately
linked with the Gospel. The 1971 Synod of Bishops in Rome famously declared:
Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation
of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching
of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Churchs mission for the
redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive
situation (Justice in the World, Introduction).
This passage is entirely and inexplicably missing from the Catechism,
yet it is regarded as one of the most critical in the whole of modern
Catholic social teaching. Nor did the Catechism quote Pope Paul VI in
Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975):
Hence, when preaching liberation and associating herself with those
who are working and suffering for it, the Church is certainly not willing
to restrict her mission only to the religious field and dissociate herself
from mans temporal problems (#34).
Paul VI continued:
[The Church] is trying more and more to encourage large numbers of
Christians to devote themselves to the liberation of humanity. She is
providing these Christian liberators with the inspiration
of faith, the motivation of fraternal love, a social teaching
translate it concretely into forms of action, participation and commitment
And what of Pope John Pauls own many speeches on human liberation,
even from when he became Pope? In Rome on 21 February 1979, he declared:
Christ! It is necessary to speak of our liberation in Christ; it
is necessary to proclaim this liberation. It must be integrated in the
whole contemporary reality of human life.
After the disputes over liberation theology in the mid-1980s, John Paul
wrote to the bishops of Brazil on 9 April 1986 that as long as the work
of social transformation was located properly within the evangelising
mission of the Church, the theology of liberation is not only timely
but useful and necessary, especially for inspiring pastoral
praxis in favour of social justice, equity, the observance of human rights,
the construction of a human society based on brotherhood, harmony, truth
As I have written elsewhere, John Pauls program for the Great Jubilee
drew from the concept of the Exodus as a foundational metaphor for Jesus
as he states his mission in Luke 4. The Pope wanted to emphasise and integrate
the social dimensions of the Gospel.11 The program for the new millennium
can be seen as his attempt to articulate a liberation theology for the
entire world, which he speaks of as our commitment to history.
Intense prayer, yes, but it does not distract us from our commitment
to history: by opening our heart to the love of God it also opens it to
the love of our brothers and sisters, and makes us capable of shaping
history according to Gods plan (At the Beginning of the New
John Paul reiterated this message in 2001 in his Apostolic Exhortation
following the 1998 Synod of Bishops for Oceania, Ecclesia in Oceania:
The Church regards the social apostolate as an integral part of her
evangelising mission to speak a word of hope to the world; and her commitment
in this regard is seen in her contribution to human development, her promotion
of human rights, the defence of human life and dignity, social justice
and protection of the environment (#26).
Again, It is certain that commitment to justice and peace is an
integral part of the Churchs mission to the world (#26).
In short, the Catechism fails adequately to reflects the urgency of the
social justice agenda at this stage of history, or its poignant relevance
for evangelisation, especially when by 2020, eighty percent of the worlds
Catholics will live in developing countries wrestling with the dramatic
issues of social injustice, widespread hunger and endemic poverty. It
seems inconceivable that the Vatican will not have to give these issues
much greater attention, as the increasing numbers of bishops from crisis-ridden
developing countries will undoubtedly become more demanding that the social
justice agenda be given a much higher profile.
Leadership and the Social Agenda
Neglect of the social implications of the Gospel by conservative sections
of the Church is reflected in debates between different groups in the
Vatican itself. Writing of how these factional struggles affect episcopal
appointments, the distinguished US Jesuit social commentator, John Langan,
wrote recently that certain elements in the Roman curia have generally,
though not always, shown a strongly conservative trend.
Many of the proponents of this restorationist agenda have
been political and economic conservatives, as well; but this is clearly
not true of the Pope himself, who has been a vigorous advocate of human
rights and democracy and a stern critic of the neglect of the needs of
Langan argues against the polarising tendency of this new conservatism.
Instead he calls for leadership with a genuine ability to meet the
needs of people who are religious seekers and who are often living on
the fringes of the Church. Dismissing such people because their faith
is weak or confused or because their lives are not conformed to Catholic
teaching in key respects, and even exulting in the prospect of a smaller
but purer Church when these have departed, should be seen as incompatible
with the example of Jesus
Langan regrets that criteria for the appointment of bishops are giving
first place to organisational reliability and a partisan version
of theological orthodoxy, above pastoral service and cultural
I would add to Langans account that the conservative agenda will
in the public mind not only lock the Church too exclusively into often
private matters of sexuality and bioethics, but obscure the rich tradition
of Church social engagement, with its larger sense of evangelisation.
The paradox is, as Langan noted, that few have done more to advance this
social agenda than John Paul II, through his numerous encyclicals, speeches
and symbolic gestures around the world.
Yet some of those who extol their doctrinal orthodoxy most vigorously
seem unable to grasp the implications for the Churchs social agenda.
Instead of opening a fresh conversation with Catholics, and indeed other
believers, about how we might respond to the great challenges of our time,
there is sometimes a retreat to an unconvincing piety, an almost triumphalist
declaration of Church authority, and insistence on uncritical compliance.
Most offensive is the implication by some conservatives that they alone
The two great models of clerical leadership in recent times have to my
mind been the English Cardinal Hume and the US Cardinal Bernardin who
were able to engage their cultures in an intelligent and joint search
for wisdom, with great integrity and respect for others. The social agenda
of the Vatican Council was also close to their hearts, not an afterthought.
It is undoubtedly difficult at many levels of leadership in the Church
to manage the tensions between competing views among Catholics. And it
would be unreasonable to expect bishops in particular to be always ready
to speak out on a whole range of social issues, unless they have the required
expertise in specific areas. The more fundamental question is how do we
develop and speak more collaboratively as a Church, encouraging better
structures of participation and drawing on the skills in our community,
while supporting lay people inspired by Catholic social principles to
engage wider social matters on their own initiative.
Social activism has been a strong tradition in the Australian Church during
the last century, and has been reinvigorated especially by the leadership
of various bishops, with support for the justice and peace commissions
and other social agencies in many dioceses, Caritas of course, the enthusiasm
of many religious orders, and myriad groups in parishes or regions, often
working ecumenically or on an inter-religious basis. Pressing crises like
that of East Timor, the asylum seekers and the Iraq war continually stimulate
the formation of new networks.
I am deeply convinced that the social agenda of our timeequity and
justice in our own society, global poverty and hunger, social inequality,
violence and war, ecological sustainability and respect for other cultures,
religions and racesare privileged vehicles for modern peoples to
explore the meaning of God in their lives and the traces of grace drawing
us into the future. What clearer signs of the times could we possibly
want? Is this not precisely Vatican IIs agenda in The Church in
the Modern World, which Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have repeatedly
urged us energetically to embrace? The traditionalist agenda blindly ignores
all this and risks undermining these urgent dimensions of evangelisation.
Bruce Duncan CSsR lectures at Yarra Theological
Union. His publications include The Churchs social Teaching From
Rerum Nov-arum to 1931, and Crusade or Conspiracy: Catholics And The Anti-Communist
Struggle in Australia..
1 Peter Steinfels, The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 1.
2 Peter Steinfels, The pigeonholing of religious combatants,
New York Times, 22 November 2003.
3 John Pawlikowski, Catholic Social Teaching in the Catechism,
in Ethics and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (ed. Michael E Allsopp.
Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 1990, 145-46). Pawlikowski is
currently president of the International Council of Christians and Jews.
4 Ibid., 148-49.
5 Ibid., 145.
6 Ibid., 147.
7 Ibid., 149.
8 Ibid., 150.
9 Ibid., 151.
11 Launch out into the deep: why the Pope stresses social concern
so strongly, Summit, 28, 3 (September 2001), 16-17.
12 John Langan, Cleaning up the mess, Tablet, 25 October 2003.