A Watchman for the House of Israel


This week I am energetically wrapping-up my book about Archbishop Jean Jadot, Apostolic Delegate to the United States from 1973 to 1980. He was a great man and a very good and supportive friend. Many people are surprised that my book (which the Archbishop asked me to write) did not come out years ago. Frankly the Archbishop had me promise that the book would not appear until after his death and that of some other bishops. In any event, it goes to Paulist Press in September and the tentative title is: Pope Paul’s Man in Washington.

Today I am reprinting excerpts from Archbishop Jadot’s bicentennial address to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 1976. Not for a bit of nostalgia, but by way of a reminder: Sometimes the authorities are deaf and blind to what the prophets are saying. When that happens, the People of God have to get their act togerher and start moving………As Jadot’s old friend Cardinal Cardijn said: we observe, we judge, and then we must act.

With the Detroit, October 1976, Call to Action, still buzzing in their heads, the US bishops gathered for their autumn meeting in Washington DC from November 8 to 11. At this meeting, on November 9, Archbishop Jadot gave his bicentennial address to the US bishops, “A Watchman for the House of Israel,” which Jadot saw very much in the spirit of the Detroit Call to Action:

On the third of September we commemorated Pope Saint Gregory the Great. The Office of Readings in the new and inspiring Liturgy of the Hours offered us a meditation taken from a homily by this Doctor of the Church, who is rightly considered as an outstanding example and teacher for all pastors.

Saint Gregory took as his text the words of Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.” He tells us: “Note that the man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight….”

If Saint Gregory were speaking in our days, he would perhaps refer to radar, satellites, and computers. Our knowledge of history – the “magistra vitae” as Pope John called it – the insights coming from the modern sciences of psychology, ethnology, and sociology; our means of communications, all give us the possibility to see further and wider into the future than ever before….

Now is the time to look ahead. Just as we can look at the sky at night and tell what the morning will bring, so we must be able to read the signs of the times to prepare for the future. (Cf. Mt. 16:2-3)

This morning my brother bishops, I would like to share with you some of the signs that I read in our times so that we can see from afar and be prepared for what is coming.

One problem that we will have to face very soon — at most within ten years – is the shortage of priests. I ask your permission to be frank and candid. I am worried that so many of us — laity, clergy, and bishops – do not seem to be concerned that, if not today, then in a very few years, we will not be able to staff our parishes and institutions with priests as we did in the past….In some regions priests are dying in their 50s from overwork. Others are chronically tired and frustrated because they cannot accomplish by themselves what several priests together accomplished in the past. I am deeply convinced that we must seriously study the problem. When I say “we” I mean bishops and priests, religious and laity, all together. There are solutions open to us if we set priorities….

Another problem ahead of us which will grow in the coming years is the size of our Christian communities. The Synod of Bishops in 1974 showed that there is a general move within the whole Church to seek smaller communities….Last year Bishop Ottenweller spoke to us about the problem of parishes that are not responding to the expectations of many Catholics. People today, and especially young people, are searching for a group in which they can find a true communion of faith, of worship, and of commitment. Many are suffering from a certain feeling of loneliness. They experience a need to identify with others who share their yearning for a more communal life. They are looking for a truly spiritual community which will have Christ as its center and the Church as its framework. Again, I do not have a simple answer to the problem. Church leaders will have to work with the laity to develop new patterns of parochial life and, perhaps, new forms of parochial organization so that the parish can become “a community of small communities.”

I should like to mention a third problem that is with us today and will undoubtedly increase in time. It is the problem of minorities. I refer to pastoral care for ethnic and racial minorities, both Catholic and non-Catholic. Some, such as Blacks and many Hispanics, have been in this country for years, if not for centuries. Others, such as the Vietnamese and the growing number of families from Portugal and its former territories, are more recent arrivals….How are we to give pastoral care to those who do not feel at home in our white, Western-European ways of public worship and community living, to those who have not adapted and do not want to adapt to what we call our American way of doing things?…I am deeply aware of the complexity of these problems….but at times I wonder if the majority of our priests and people realize our shortcomings in these areas and even our arrogance towards our brothers and sisters in the faith who are in some ways different from ourselves….

There are other problems either near or far on the horizon. I could mention the question of the role of women in society and in the Church or the problems that will come from the rejection of the traditional standards of morality in social, political, and business life….

My brother bishops, let us be confident, courageous, and open to the Spirit. Let us build the Church of God by our foresight. All is possible “because I love Him.”[1]

Some bishops applauded enthusiastically. Others sat there silent and dumbfounded. Others sat there angrily staring at the Apostolic Delegate.

[1] Jean Jadot: “A Watchman for the House of Israel,” Origins, vol. 6, no. 22 (November 18, 1976) 355-6. 

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Doing What Comes Naturally?


In October 2014, there will be an “Extraordinary Synod on the Family,” a big Roman Catholic gathering of bishops to consider important issues of Catholic belief and practice.

In preparation for that October gathering, the Vatican sent out questionnaires; and now the results have been processed and a Vatican “working document,” called an instrumentum laboris has been written.

The questionnaire results show that large numbers of Catholics around the globe neither accept nor follow official Roman Catholic teaching on: birth control, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, homosexuality and homosexual unions, cohabitation before or without marriage, and recognizing the legitimacy of marriages for the divorced and remarried.

Some open-minded Catholics, encouraged by the apparently open-minded and friendly behavior of Pope Francis, are expecting big changes in October. That may occur; but the instrumentum laboris seems to reiterate the same old teaching, in a rather judgmental manner. It stresses that many Catholics do not accept church teaching because they have been distorted by the individualistic, relativistic, and secularistic cultures in which people live today. To summarize: Catholic people do disagree with official church teaching: but the people are misguided and wrong. Food for though.

In a recent article in The Tablet (July 12, 2014), Charles Curran, formerly of the Catholic University of America and currently Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, sees two current problems in official Roman Catholic ethical statements: (1) natural law as an outdated approach to ethical decision-making and (2) the papalization of moral truth.

Natural law: As I mentioned here a couple weeks ago, the official church understanding of what is “natural” has changed greatly over the centuries. Our understanding of what is appropriate human behavior and appropriate Christian human behavior is open to growth and development. We rely on human reason and we rely on Christian scripture and tradition, always realizing that our human and Christian understanding is always more contextual than something static and unchanging. We travel in time in and with the Spirit of Christ. We are the People of God in process. We are moving toward the truth.

Papalization of moral truth: Only in the last two centuries — and greatly emphasized more recently in the papacies of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI — have we seen an exaggerated understanding of Catholic ethics that would identify Catholic moral teaching with papal teaching.

It seems very clear to me, as I reflect about what Catholics around the world have been saying in their Synod on the Family questionnaire responses, that there is indeed a strong sense of the active and engaged belief of the faithful, what Catholic tradition has called, for centuries, the sensus fidelium. The official understanding of natural law and a strong sense of the papalization of moral truth appear to be out of sync with the contemporary beliefs of the People of God.

It will be interesting to see what happens in October.

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The Great and Holy War


On July 28th we will commemorate the centennial of the launch of World War I. In Leuven/Louvain, Belgium, in August, we will commemorate “the flames of Louvain” when homes and businesses were torched. When men, women, and children were pulled from their homes and quickly executed, to teach “Louvain citizens” respect for German soldiers.  Those soldiers also burned our university library, destroying a couple hundred thousand books, 750 irreplaceable medieval manuscripts, and more than 1,000 incunabula (books printed before 1501).

I have been reading a lot of books about the Great War. (My son has helped write one of them.) Today I would like to recommend one in particular: The Great and Holy War by Philip Jenkins. This book, to my knowledge, offers the first comprehensive look at how religion created and prolonged the First World War and made a lasting impact on Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

The world’s leading nations in 1914 presented the The Great War’s conflict as a holy war. Patriotic and military rhetoric spoke of a holy crusade, of the apocalypse, and Armageddon. Throughout the war there was a widespread belief in angels on the battlefields and heavenly apparitions supporting both sides in the conflict.

The English poet, Rupert Brooke, welcomed the war: “Now God be thanked who has matched us with His hour….Nobleness walks in our ways again.”

The Anglican Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, wrote in a newspaper article in 1915 that it was the Anglican Church’s explicit duty “to mobilize the nation for a holy war.” Later in a sermon, much quoted by historians of twentieth century religion, he urged British soldiers: “Kill the Germans — do kill them. Not for the sake of killing, but to save the world, to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill the young as well as the old, to kill those who have shown kindness to our wounded as well as those fiends….As I have said a thousand times, I look upon it as a war for purity, I look upon everyone who died in it as a martyr.”

In France at the same time, French Catholics (who felt France had become strongly anti-Catholic) were now whole-heartedly supporting their president Raymond Poincaré, who would lead the people of France into a “sacred union” to defeat their German nemesis and restore the glories of Catholic France.

Meanwhile aggressor Germany’s leading theologians issued a manifesto supporting the war and asking the world’s people of learning and culture to appreciate Germany’s position. Karl Barth, then a young pastor in neutral Switzerland, reacted with shock and alarm: “I discovered (among those supporting the manifesto, JD) almost all of my theological teachers whom I had greatly venerated….I suddenly realized that I could not any longer follow either their ethics and dogmatics or their understanding of the Bible and of history. For me at least, nineteenth century theology no longer held any future.”

The First World War raised serious questions about a Christian religion that denigrated or simply ignored the Christian Faith. One hundred years later the questions continue. This time of course the loyalties to Christian religion have become the terrain of Christian fundamentalists; and “mainstream” churchgoers continue their exodus from organized religion.

The Christian Faith is neither gone nor dead. It needs however more courageous believers anchored in a contemporary Christian faith experience, alert to the signs of the times, and willing to speak out and stand on church limbs.

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A Catholic Fourth of July Reflection


This (for me) rainy Fourth of July weekend, I started reflecting about American Catholicism at the birth of the New Republic.

John Carroll, born in Upper Marlboro, Maryland in 1735, was our first American Roman Catholic bishop, serving as the ordinary of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He was elected by his fellow priests. He was also the founder of Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic university in the United States.

John was genuinely Catholic and authentically American in the true spirit of the Declaration of Independence, which his cousin Charles Carroll signed. (The only Catholic to sign the Declaration.) John – American, Catholic, and a bishop – has long been a symbol of what it truly means to be an American Catholic in every good sense of the word.

He understood and appreciated the separation of church and state.

He was keenly alert to shared decision-making; and he had the courage to act on behalf of Catholics in America without first begging for approval from the Vatican.

John Carroll had respect for the Vatican but strongly felt the Vatican should acknowledge and respect the church in America as well and not meddle in American church affairs. In 1783 when he learned that the Vatican, independent of the American clergy, was in the process of appointing a superior for the American church he was angry. “This you may be assured,” he wrote to his friend Charles Plowden in England, “no authority derived from the Propaganda will ever be admitted here; that the Catholic clergy and laity here know that the only connection they ought to have with Rome is to acknowledge the pope as the spiritual head of the church; that no congregations existing in his (i.e. the pope’s) states shall be allowed to exercise any share of his spiritual authority here.”

Carroll was selected Bishop of Baltimore by the clergy of the new nation in April 1789 by a vote of 24 out of 26 and on November 6, 1789 Pope Pius VI in Rome approved the election, naming Carroll the first Roman Catholic bishop in the newly independent United States.

Bishop Carroll took the lead in restoring the Society of Jesus in Maryland in 1805, without informing Rome, by working through Russian Jesuits, who had been protected from suppression by Catherine the Great.

He insisted that the readings of the liturgy be read in the vernacular, and was a strong advocate of “The Carey Bible,” an edition of the English-language Douay-Rheims translation.

He promoted the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy, two hundred years before Vatican II. In some areas of the New Republic, for a while, priests began their own impromptu English-language liturgies. “Can there be anything more preposterous than an unknown tongue,” Carroll wrote, and went on “to continue the practice of the Latin liturgy in the present state of things must be owing either to chimerical fears of innovation or to indolence and inattention in the first pastors of the national churches in not joining to solicit or indeed ordain this necessary alteration.” Now that is chutzpah!

In later years, Archbishop Carroll, under pressure from the Vatican, under pressure from a growing number of pro-Vatican foreign priests, and personally alarmed by the chaotic aftermath of the French Revolution, became a more conservative old man.

Carroll’s shift to neo-conservatism, perhaps, is a warning for us in the contemporary church. Some hierarchical old men can regress, and then they need a strong push and a courageously critical word from younger-minded people, like the young dynamic John Carroll.

As the Scriptures remind us: old people dream their dreams but young people see visions.

I would like to see a lot more vision in our contemporary church.

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