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Weakland's conciliation may pose a challenge to church conservatives.

The first draft of a pastoral letter by Milwaukee's Archbishop Rembert Weakland is in circulation. It is titled, "Catholic Identity: Claiming the Tradition in Our Day." It will appear in final form later in the year to mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the diocese of Milwaukee in 1843.

Weakland is employing the open, consultative teaching style recently adopted by the U.S. Catholic bishops in the drafting of their own national pastoral letters. He is inviting suggestions and requests for clarification as well as criticisms, with the assurance that such comments will be taken into serious account in the final drafting stage.

Although there is much excellent material to be found throughout the document, I was particularly struck by its closing appeal for mutual respect between Catholics of differing points of view.

Citing Pope John XXIII's call for an updating of the church at Vatican II, Weakland acknowledges that such a process is "often very painful, especially if one is full of few that the substance might change."

"The more conservative voices in the church remind us that not all updating is truly such but can be also a distortion of the tradition," he writes. "Only when we understand the church's tradition and its history deeply are we able to make such judgments. More liberal voices become impatient that the church does not respond quickly enough to the needs of the times. They are eager to move ahead."

It is at this point that the archbishop shows himself to be at once balanced and fair-minded, unlike his strident critics.

"Although it is painful in the church at times because of the lack of dialogue between these groups, they are both necessary for growth. The conservative voices force the more liberal to examine deeply the roots of a practice before changing it, The more liberal voices keep the church from becoming stagnant and force it to be constantly re-examining its positions and the grounds for them.

Such a dialogue must always be held in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust, guided by a will to respond to the Holy Spirit if it is to be fruitful. I hope that during this year we will be able to sustain just such a dialogue on the nature of Catholic identity and not alienate those on either side of the spectrum."

Weakland's appeal finds an echo in a lecture Jesuit Father Avery Dulles has been giving at home and abroad for the past three years (first delivered at Fordham University in December 1989 and published in the Jan. 27, 1990, issue of American under the title, "Catholicism and American Culture: The Uneasy Dialogue").

One of its most recent versions was presented last October as the inaugural lecture for Dulles' first-semester course on Catholicism in American Society at the American College in Louvain, where he has been visiting professor in the American College Chair for the Study of Religion and Values in American Society.

His concluding remarks were similar to Weakland's, but more pointed: "It is healthy and proper for there to be tensions and arguments in the church, but it is scandalous for Catholics to impugn one another's motives and integrity, as many are now doing.

"Unless we have clear evidence to the contrary, we should assume that other Catholics are sincere believers, seeking to serve God and the church. It may be that the liberal or traditionalists, the neoconservative or the radical to whose views I am most vigorously opposed may have the very word that God intends for me here and now. We must all keep our ears open, therefore, and be slow to judge."

Avery Dulles has more credibility with Catholic conservatives inside and outside the hierarchy than does Archbishop Weakland. One hopes they will take his words to heart.

Weakland's pastoral letter, however, may pose an even greater challenge to his counterparts on the right. If it is possible for him to make a conciliatory gesture to the other side, why is it not possible for bishops more conservative than he to make the same kind of gesture to liberal and progressive Catholics? Why can't each side say it needs the other, if only to keep itself honest and alert?

If passages similar to those in Weakland's first draft or in Dulles' lecture also have appeared recently in pastoral letters coming out of archdioceses like Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore., or Mobile, Ala., I should welcome evidence thereof

One can always hope.
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Title Annotation:Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland
Author:McBrien, Richard P.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 5, 1993
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