Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dialoguing with the Archbishop: Unity With or Without Diversity

By Paula Ruddy

Archbishop John Nienstedt met with a delegation from CCCR and Council of the Baptized on January 20 in a conference room at the Chancery Office in St. Paul. The delegates were Bob Beutel, co-chair of the CCCR Board, Mary Beth Stein, co-chair of Council of the Baptized, and I, a member of the CCCR Board. The Archbishop had invited Bishop Andrew Cozzens and Father Erich Rutten to join us.

Archbishop Nienstedt was cordial, gave us an hour of his time, and accepted the agenda we proposed. He led us in prayer to start the meeting. The agenda was 1) to explain the mission of CCCR and Council of the Baptized, 2) to explore how we could work together to comply with Pope Francis’s request for lay input for the Synod on the Family to take place in Rome in October 2015, and 3) we also wanted to know generally how we could work together to make our archdiocese a growth supportive community for all.

The Archbishop listened carefully while Bob explained the mission and activities of our joint organizations. When Bob had finished, the Archbishop asked this question: How do you think of yourselves as a Catholic organization when some of the member organizations of the coalition have opted out of the Roman Catholic Church?

Good question. We all talked about it in the spontaneous way that semi-formal conversation happens. I don’t have a transcript, but I had the perception that we reached some understanding with the Archbishop. He said he understood us more clearly and we went on to the next item on the agenda.

The question is an important one for CCCR and Council of the Baptized. How do we think of ourselves as Catholic when people are all over the board on Catholic teaching? Our policy, we explained to the Archbishop, has been to accept anyone who self-identifies as Catholic, and, at the same time, keep all the questions open for discussion, on the assumption that discussion is the way for people to grow toward truth in their thinking.

Is CCCR/Council of the Baptized justified in its policy of inclusion?

The question gets muddled up with the ideas of subjectivity and objectivity. Is being Catholic about being under the canonical jurisdiction of a bishop? That would be objective. Is it about identifying yourself as a Catholic? That would be subjective. Is it about having had water poured over your head with the right words as a baby and having been registered in a Catholic parish? Is it about giving internal assent (subjective) to statements in a catechism (objective)? Is it about getting yourself physically to Mass every Sunday and obeying the laws of the church (objective)? Can it be completely subjective with no external observance? Can it be completely objective with no internal assent?

Let’s say it is about both/and. Some objective observance and some internal assent. To draw lines we have to identify the essential objective observances and the essential subjection requirements. Has that been done? How are they tested? By whom? Is the person making the objective judgment using any subjectivity? Is determining who is in and who is out part of the mission of the church?

Is CCCR/Council of the Baptized justified in trusting the Holy Spirit to work within a whole community of self-identifying Catholics who are all across the board in their thinking and in their observance and yet somehow drawn to grow within this community? Does Jesus’s point about letting the weeds grow with the wheat have relevance? Or his caution not to snuff out the smoldering wick?

Or is it better to draw lines for being either in or out and to provide programming in standard thinking and practice to support the people who are in? In a fragmented world with so many influences working against the Christian faith, is it necessary to get clear on some formulations of truth and zero in on a faith formation?

Choosing between these two modes of operating—inclusion or exclusion—is necessary to run a coherent program. So it is a fundamental question. What do you think?


  1. This is the start of a healthy dialogue

  2. A group devoted to Catholic dialogue and discernment could make a very good case for the inclusion of liminal and non-Catholics, specifically on the grounds that dialogue with marginal members and non-members of a group is important to the group's ability to see itself clearly. This turned up in some of the research I did for my master's thesis in ecclesiology; I can dig up sources if they would be helpful.

    I very much appreciated all your examples of objective/subjective. And it was encouraging to hear about the dialogue with the archbishop. Blessings on your work.

    1. Thanks, Victoria. We would appreciate anything you can send us and your continuing participation in the conversation. Great point: including the other in dialogue clarifies self-understanding. Have you seen any research supporting the opposing point of view? Maybe at certain stages of development, people need a contained faith formation that justifies exclusion of the other? We have been talking about stages of development at the Council of the Baptized "evolving our thinking" sessions. Different programs for different stages?

    2. Victoria, our email is Thanks.

  3. The recent meeting of the CCCR Bosrd/Council of the Baptized with Archbishop Nienstedt is a significant step forward in our quest for a more meaningful and sustained collective Lay Voice into what our local Church/ Archdiocese is thinking, saying, and doing!

    1. Why? Because he let you in His office? Please don't be deluded by tokens of acceptance.

    2. I was in the meeting with the Archbishop. This was not a mere token. I sensed that he was deeply listening to us as we described the great hurt among so many Catholics who feel excluded. Yet we love the Church. This seemed to sink in. I don't know that this means he will now welcome us into parishes (although we did ask for that), but he did hear us, I think with both his mind and heart. Doesn't all change begin there? Mary Beth Stein

  4. No easy question here - perhaps this is somehow a repeat of Paul and Peter's disagreement. Unity with sameness of rules or unity with accepting diversity of practice; some of us have lived this question stumbling from one to another.

    Most of us realize the need to teach our children the rules - do not play in the street, hurt your siblings even when they bug you etc. As adults we may realize the need for a structure to continuously go out from on our life journey and come back to.


    As we become adults and if we have an active prayer life we are faced with the the question of whose rules to follow. Do we strictly follow the Commandments, Beatitudes and Jesus' teaching expecting condemnation for our failures or do we let Jesus' teaching speak to our consciences as they develop in prayer and experience acceptance and life.

    Maybe Jesus' life example, parables gave us a jumping off point and a homing beacon combined! Our culture is expanding. We are all still figuring this out! Prayer leads us to God's will - helps us - do we know what God wants us to do, to grow into....? God always calls us to something more ....

    My first reaction to your question about rules was that you have enlightened my knowledge and have explained why so many folks have left. They do not want set in cement rules imposed by a judgemental clerical authority that sins on the side - like all of us. We can follow Christian/Judaic Rules or we can compassionately accept others' differences (like Someone else). Perhaps a perfection, a synergy or combination of both is one we can work with.

    I believe John 1:17 wholeheartedly "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus Christ" The word "through" implies both a relationship and a process.
    Seems like it would be much easier to follow a set of man made rules rather than accept: that we are human, not omnipotent; that we struggle both in prayer and being open to the Holy Spirit: and we realize that this same Spirit changes us and who works within us.

    I have called myself a Christian in the Catholic tradition because that is the way I have been raised, nurtured and educated. The precepts and rules are secondary to my conscience. I am drawn like a magnet to the whole - the organic Church (all of us sinners) - the Body of the Christ that is eternal and that is beyond naming or being owned by a clerical minority or denomination.

    Jesus consoled his followers before he left with the promise that he would ask the Father to give another Counselor. One "that the world cannot accept".

    So here we are not being accepted, just as Jesus promised at the Last Supper.

    And, the imposition of requirements of belief (a set of rules to follow) seems to negates the need for the action of this Counselor that we call the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Holy Spirit can act in us. Even us. Even me.



  5. WE are Church, not some hierarchical institution.

  6. Hi, John. Great to hear from you again. I have been following your writing here and there. I hear you saying that the Christian Church is much larger than the Roman Catholic institution. No argument there. But our Catholic Coalition for Church Reform/Council of the Baptized is firmly embedded in this Archdiocese of the RCC, so this brief communication with the Archbishop takes us a small step forward in making our Archdiocese the sacrament of the reign of God we envision. I’m with Mary Beth in celebrating the small steps. Lift a glass with us, will you?

  7. You're at the leading edge. I salute and support your efforts. God loves ya!

  8. No one in the country is doing more.


  9. Message from Don Conroy, Minneapolis
    I am a member of a community that describes itself as Catholic and inspired by Vatican II. Its self proclaimed Catholics include divorced and remarried, cohabiting non married, LGBT, some traumatized and rejected by priests, active and non active religious; in a word those who can not find a personal place in the institution at present. And yet these are believing people of faith who require a community of worship. We meet with one another to worship within our Catholic tradition. I think of us as similar to the dilemma of John Henry Newman, whose religious identity was not Protestant and yet had internal conflicts with the Roman Catholic institution. My prayer is that the symbol of unity can become more socially diverse, one, catholic, holy, and Apostolic.