This morning on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace interviewed Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and also my Archbishop, and, lest we forget, the sponsor of this blog! The full video of the interview is at the bottom of this post and I encourage you to see it all. However, here, I would like to focus on a few issues and and add, if I be so bold, my own commentary as well to the remarks of Cardinal Wuerl. As always in such formats, I will present the original questions and answers in bold, black, italic font. My own remarks in normal text red.
WALLACE: As you look across America, let’s talk about the spiritual state of our union as we approach 2011. I know one of the things that concerns you are all the shouting, talking heads on TV, and all the divisive blogs, and you say they come out of the same mentality as road rage. Explain.
WUERL: I think what happens is when people don’t feel they are accountable for what they’re saying — and that often happens when there is no one there to challenge what you are saying — people can — some people tend to say things that really need to be modified. They need to be contextualized. I think what we have to say to ourselves, as we look at this great country and all of the wonderful things that are a part of our history and our life together, we need to be respectful of each other. We need to be talking to each other out of the same tone that we would if we were directly across the table from someone. And that — that is a little bit of a challenge today because with blogs and with all the ease of communications, we sometimes forget directly across the table from us— I personally experience a rather bifurcated life in this matter. I think the Cardinal is quite right in noting that certain settings feature a rather terse and harsh tone, e.g. on certain blogs, on the Internet, talk radio and to some extent on TV “talking head” panels. But in person I often experience the opposite issue in that people don’t often speak as directly as I would like. I can sit in specific meetings and many people do not come right out and say what they mean. They hedge, “beat around the bush” and equivocate rather than speak directly to the issue and express their opinion clearly. This happnes interpersonally at times also.
One thing I admire about Cardinal Wuerl is that in his meetings, and I sit on many Archdiocesan panels and boards, the Cardinal encourages frank discussion and the airing of differing views. It helps us craft a realistic policies and responses to situations when all the views are on the table and there are no “pink elephants” in the room that every one ignores. Certainly there is an insistence on civil discourse in these sorts of meetings. But in the end, frank, honest, candid discussion is helpful. In many cases however I think that such discussions are rarer in our wider culture than I would wish.
Perhaps this is why some are so strident in settings where their true identity may not be known and where they don’t personally interact with their “interlocutors.” In effect they celebrate a kind of freedom, to the extreme, that they do not feel comfortable doing face to face. There is thus some value to the “protected” and “incognito” or faceless quality of Internet discussion. However, the Cardinal is right in pointing out that accountability is often less in such settings. This is true in terms of both tone and content. In relationships that involve real, physical presence we can be held accountable for being unkind and, because we cannot so easily “sign-off” from discussions or relationships of this sort, we will tend to be more careful how we treat others.
It is also true, that Internet discussions are really back and forth monologues more than real conversations. Right now I am typing and you will later (now) read and perhaps type back. Right now I have a monologue going and you cannot interrupt me, or challenge me, either on my tone or content. I might, as the Cardinal points out, need to modify what I am saying or how I am saying it based on your feedback. Further, as the Cardinal notes, one-sided conversations that occur especially in opinion based blogs often lack context. Talking about an issue is fine but context is important and recounting the “rest of the story” is not often respected.
An additional factor of opinion based blogs, radio shows, and news channels, is that they tend to attract people of like mind so that the conversation lacks depth and many of these subsets become increasingly isolated and opaque. What therefore touts itself to be a wide open discussion increasingly appears as a closed circle of like-minded people in the corner of the room at a cocktail party saying things to each other and going unchallenged in any substantial way.
In terms of this blog, we are discussing ways of widening the conversation and bringing more people to the table. Fr. Robert Barron is very good at doing this. He is able to engage people in a conversation who would never THINK of going to a Catholic blog. He does this by going out into the culture and commenting on things that most Catholic bloggers don’t (e.g. Bob Dylan as theologian, movie commentaries, etc.) At any rate we’re thinking of bring a lively conversation of the culture to bear more and more here and yours truly (age 49.5) is challenged to keep up with all the latest cultural stuff, especially among the young. More on these ideas later.
WALLACE:…Cardinal, the church does have some problems. And I want to pull up some polls. According to surveys, 75 percent of Catholics attended church weekly, back in the 1950s. That’s now down to 45 percent. And while 31 percent of Americans say they were raised in a Catholic family, only 24 percent now describe themselves as Catholic. Question, how do you account for that?
WUERL: I think what we’re facing is the erosion because of the heavy, heavy influence of secularism. We live in a world, and particularly, our country, that is awash in the continuous repetition of the secular view. And all these statistics say to me is, I’m not doing as good a job as I should in preaching the Gospels. I am not doing as good a job as I need to do in getting the rest of the story out there. And the rest of the story is it’s wonderful to live in a technologically advanced, highly scientific world, but with that is also the gift of faith, and what faith brings to that whole world. Those statistics simply say to me I need to be, the church needs to be much more effective in telling the story of Jesus. I like this answer. We DO have to be sober about the secularization of our society as the chief cause of the erosion of our numbers. But, as the Cardinal points out, this is an explanation, it is not excuse. It simply means that we will have to redouble our efforts and do a better, more effective job of preaching the gospel. We have talked about that a lot on this blog and will talk of it more!
WALLACE: Cardinal, even during the Christmas season, this is still a Sunday morning talk show, so I’m going to ask you about a political issue which has a strong moral component. How do you feel about the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell,” the ban on gays serving openly in the military?
WUERL: You have to put that in context of what the church would be concerned about. When we’re dealing with the question of military readiness or morale, those are issues that we have to really hear from others on. What the church is concerned about and what it brings to this debate, this discussion, are two realities. One, the understanding the long, long teaching of the church that every human being is worthy of respect. Every person must be embraced and respected and treated with fairness. Then you also have to take the rest of the Gospel message, the rest of Jesus’s message that human sexuality has a purpose. And this is not for simply personal satisfaction. Human sexually has to be seen in the context of the great gift of love, marriage, family. And so when the church addresses any of these issues that touch on sexuality, that is our starting point. And that’s why we often times are viewed, I think, as an opposition voice, because this is a highly, highly focused society on the pleasures of life. And the church is saying that’s true, but there is also responsible sexuality. – An excellent response and distinction: respect for the person, but clarity on moral issues. We live in a culture where many people insist that the Church do what she cannot. We simply cannot set aside Biblical and Dogmatic teaching on moral issues. We can surely respect that people struggle with them. But many people insist that, until we approve of what they do, we do not really respect them, that somehow, in our disapproval of something they do we intend to offend or disrespect them. But this not so. That someone takes offense at something you or I say does not mean we actually gave offense and even less that we intended to give offense.
The Catholic Church is careful to distinguish between a person’s orientation and their behavior. We also distinguish between temptation and sin. For example, that someone struggles with and is often tempted to anger does not make them a bad person. However, we cannot give approval to the unrighteous venting of anger. The temptation or orientation to anger is, of itself, morally neutral, the giving way to that anger in a harmful way is not morally neutral. It is the same with sexuality. Most people suffer some degree of sexual temptation. This is not, of itself, sinful. What is sinful is to give way to it, whether through fornication, adultery, pornography, masturbation, etc. Thus, the homosexual person is not bad because of an orientation and the manner in which they are tempted sexually. Rather, what is bad is, not the person, but the acts that flow from the temptation by yielding to it.
I understand that even with this distinction (respect for the sinner, clarity about sin) many Gay people are not satisfied. What they want is approval of the acts. But the Church cannot give this. Yet, as the Cardinal says, and that is every human being is worthy of respect even if we cannot approval all of what every human being does, starting with the man or woman in the mirror. We do not intend therefore any disrespect, we do not intend to offend. That some do take offense and feel disrespected is regrettable and we in the Church invite them to consider that our concerns are rooted in sincerely held Christian principles, rooted in biblical revelation, and the teaching of the ancient Church, and that we cannot simply cast aside what we sincerely believe to be reveled by God in this matter.
WALLACE: So are you in favor or against the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”?
WUERL: That is a question that has to be worked out politically. And there isn’t a specific Catholic Church position, but whatever happens, it has to be seen in terms of the church’s teaching position. And that is, human sexuality is something that is supposed to be exercised responsibly and within the context of marriage. It is good for the Cardinal to avoid getting into a policy discussion of exactly how the US military should handle this. In this blog many have remarked with anger how they consider the US Bishops often transgress their role by getting involved in matters of policy. It is clear that the Bishops must advocate moral principles and set forth a Biblical and Christian vision regarding matters of justice and the moral life. But that does not mean that they should comment on every specific issue regarding policy.
The Cardinal has articulated clearly enough that the Church insists upon sexual responsibility for all people. How the military chooses to regulate itself or its members around possible threats to military discipline related to sexual matters involves prudential judgments, judgments that they are best fit to make.
It is also possible in this answer that Cardinal Wuerl is deferring to Archbishop Timothy Broglio who is the Archbishop for Military Services and may have more of a reason to comment directly on policy matters in this regard since his priests who serve in the military are directly impacted by the decision. You can read his statment here: http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=36796
WALLACE: And we have — and I apologize. We have about 45 seconds. In this special season, what message do you have for Christians and non-Christians alike?
WUERL: Christmas is a time when we all can look with hope to the future. That’s part of the message of Christmas. There is the best in each one of us. And we’re all capable of bringing out the best. And to do that together with one another, in a very pluralistic society, says that we can look to the future with hope, because if we respect and love one another, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. Yes, hope is the best note on which to end. The Pope also does this very well in his book Light of the World. In that Book Peter Seewald is often alarmist, but the Pope always goes back to the hope that is rooted in the promise of Jesus Christ that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church. Cardinal Wuerl has the same principled balance: sober about the challenges we face, but rooted in hope for we serve a Lord who said: “In this world you shall have tribulation, but have confidence. I have overcome the world (John 16:33).