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December 2, 2012

Atlanta archbishop speaks on civility's value in society -
Why the church should serve as a model of civility -
Civility's challenge for a church in a pluralistic society

In this edition:
1. Archbishop on civility's necessity.
2. Cardinal Bernardin's leadership style.
3. Civility and pluralism.
4. Rules of civility.
5. Past quotes on civility:
a) Church polarization.
b) Civility when issues are big.
6. Civility's challenge today.
7. Religion and civility.

1. Civility's Necessary Role

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin "believed that religious communities should stand as models of civility when they entered the public arena," Atlanta's Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a Nov. 5 speech at the University of South Carolina.

"I am convinced that if Joe Bernardin were alive today he would challenge all of us to believe we must multiply our successes of civility for the good of our own society," Archbishop Gregory said. He was ordained a bishop in 1983 by Cardinal Bernardin and served as one of his auxiliary bishops.

On the eve of the U.S. presidential election, Archbishop Gregory delivered the annual Cardinal Bernardin Lecture instituted in 1999 at the university, located in Columbia, N.C., where the cardinal was born. Cardinal Bernardin died in 1996.

In his lecture, the Atlanta archbishop examined civility's necessary role in society at large. But he suggested, too, that civility is demanded of the church when it enters the public square.

Reflecting on his relationship with Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop Gregory chose a theme he considers characteristic of the cardinal's "life and his ministry as a priest and a bishop," namely civility in the nation's public life. Moreover, the archbishop said:

"Civility marked the cardinal's ministry in the church and in the way he represented the life and teaching of Catholicism in American society."

Cardinal Bernardin "believed difficult issues -- empirically and morally difficult issues -- had to be addressed openly, using all the freedoms our [U.S.] Constitution afforded us, but he did not think our public life had to fall beneath the floor of public civility," Archbishop Gregory stated.

. . . 2. Cardinal Bernardin's Leadership Style

Cardinal Bernardin's approach to leadership was highlighted in Archbishop Gregory's presentation. "I discovered that his manner and his civil approach with people was a way of life for him and always on display whether he was under pressure or not," the archbishop said.

The cardinal "understood people," Archbishop Gregory noted, viewing that as "a vitally important component of effective leadership."

Also, the cardinal knew "how to listen" to people, and "how and when to speak" to them "in ways that advanced dialogue and invited understanding," Archbishop Gregory said.

"Joseph Bernardin never lost the common touch," according to Archbishop Gregory. This, he said, "was a gift that endeared him to many people and allowed his priestly and episcopal ministry to thrive."

He said Cardinal Bernardin's stature among the U.S. bishops "was acclaimed because he repeatedly was able to bring discordant voices into harmony and to achieve consensus out of seemingly irreconcilable positions."

In addition, the cardinal "always understood that leadership did not exempt one from also undergoing suffering," Archbishop Gregory explained. He said the cardinal knew that leadership "always brought with it the painful experience of being misunderstood, of being wrongfully criticized, of being ridiculed and unfairly judged."

The archbishop said that the cardinal "wanted his young auxiliary to understand that leadership was inextricably bound up with enduring unmerited challenging moments."

Archbishop Gregory depicted the cardinal as "a man of strong and staunchly held beliefs -- one of which was always the dignity of the human person, even a person with whom he might have substantive and fundamental disagreements."

. . . 3. Civility and Pluralism

Civility was approached by Cardinal Bernardin as "the secular form of Christian charity," Archbishop Gregory told his University of South Carolina audience. Civility, he continued, is "the quality needed" within society "if we are to find common ground in our religiously diverse society."

Civility, Archbishop Gregory suggested, was not viewed as "an answer to the complicated problems; civility is a style of addressing those problems."

However, he observed, "without a habit of civility in the citizenry, the very depth of the problems we face can easily create a climate which quickly trumps reasonable discourse, deliberate dialogue and a sense of common purpose."

In discussing the meaning of "civility," the archbishop probed and presented the thinking on the topic both of Cardinal Bernardin and the American Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray, known for his expertise and contributions to Vatican Council II in the area of religious liberty.

For Murray, Archbishop Gregory said, "the distinguishing characteristic of a society's political life was civil dialogue." He explained that for Murray, "the search for public consensus is the first obligation for society."

"Murray and Bernardin recognized the challenge American society posed for our public debates," the archbishop said. "We are a very diverse pluralistic society; we are especially diverse in our religious composition."

Archbishop Gregory said the challenge Father Murray pointed out is that of being "a single civil society made up of diverse religious communities" who differ on ultimate questions of life but "must live together and decide together" the "most pressing problems of law, economics, politics and foreign policy."

"Civility, like charity, is a virtue, a stable habit which shapes the way we encounter others, address others, listen to others," the archbishop noted in this context. He said: "Civility, like charity, does not come to any of us automatically. Like any virtue we have to work at it."

However, in a pluralistic society public consensus will not be "agreement on every policy or program, or even every law. Rather the consensus should be "about the basic values we hold as a people."

Technical discussions "must be measured and directed by moral principles." Deciding what these principles are "and how to apply them intelligently is the continuing challenge a democracy faces when we shape together a public consensus."

. . . 4. Rules of Civility

It is possible, Archbishop Gregory suggested, to think of "rules of civility" that could foster "the development of the habit of public civility."

Concluding the section of his speech analyzing the sources of Cardinal Bernardin's thinking on civility, the archbishop said that, "without being exhaustive," there are rules such as the following:

-- "Respect for the other person whose views you deeply disagree with; the person deserves respect even as you seek to persuade him or her of another perspective."

-- "Recognition that a good argument is composed of two things -- some agreement and then some differences; we can address our differences more effectively if we find that some common ground exists among us."

-- "Being disciplined by as much factual data as we can identify -- let the facts speak for themselves wherever possible."

-- "Understand that disagreements about values are the hardest hurdles -- the facts can take us only so far. Do not duck the values arguments, but enter them with a sense of civility."

-- "Keep before ourselves a sense of and commitment to the common good, as well as our personal interests."

The archbishop said that rules such as these will "not guarantee agreement on all public policies." For, "democracy and freedom guarantee differences of convictions and conclusions."

Civility, however, involves "'how' we agree and disagree."

5. Past Quotes to Ponder: Civility

Church Polarization: "My concern is the fear that the intense polarization and bitter battles of partisan politics may be seeping into the broader ecclesial life of our Catholic people and maybe even of our [bishops'] conference. We are called to teach the truth, to correct errors and to call one another to greater faithfulness. However, there should be no place in the body of Christ for the brutality of partisan politics, the impugning of motives or turning differences in pastoral judgment into fundamental disagreements on principle. Civility and mutual respect . . . are not signs of weakness or lack of commitment. . . . We are not chaplains to factions but rather builders of genuine unity. . . . People can divide up the work, but they shouldn't divide the church." ((From remarks by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then archbishop of Washington, to the June 2006 meeting of the U.S. bishops after he delivered a report on the work of the bishops' Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians)

Maintaining Civility in the Face of Big Problems: "Sometimes economic troubles bring out the worst in us. Uncertainty and fear compel us to fight for our own interests and to preserve our own advantages. . . . We have seen efforts to limit or abolish elements of collective bargaining and restrict the roles of workers and their unions. Some demonize the market or government as the source of all our economic problems. Immigrants have been unfairly blamed. . . . The loudest voices often get the most attention, and a predictable and unproductive cycle of blame and evasion takes place. . . . There is another way to respond to the difficult situation in which we find ourselves. We can understand and act like we are part of one economy, one nation and one human family. We can acknowledge our responsibility for the ways -- large or small -- we contributed to this crisis. We can all accept our responsibility for working together. . . . We can clearly respect the legitimacy and roles of others in economic life: business and labor, private enterprise and public institutions, for-profit and nonprofit, religious and academic, community and government. We can avoid challenging the motives of others. We can advocate our principles and priorities with conviction, integrity, civility and respect for others. We can look for common ground and seek the common good." (From the 2011 Labor Day Statement by Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development)

. . . 6. Civility's Challenge Today

In the 16 years since Cardinal Bernardin's death, our world "has become much more accustomed to vile rancor and hostile diatribe than he would have ever imagined," Archbishop Gregory noted in his University of South Carolina speech.

Today, he said, "the moderating voice of civility in public discourse is often shouted down and reduced to mere impotence of opinion."

Today there are "structural factors" that "make civility a difficult challenge" for society, Archbishop Gregory suggested. He pointed, as examples, to the 24-hour media news cycle and the immense amounts of money poured into elections and political discourse.

Filling up the time on cable TV channels, the Internet or Facebook creates a new "frontier for public and political debate," he observed. True enough, much of this media discussion "enhances our understanding and knowledge," but "some of it definitely contributes to a loss of civility" in the interchanges of individuals and groups.

And what of the large sums of money that now support public discussions and debate? Archbishop Gregory's view was that while money never was lacking in the public arena, it has become "the driving force in the kinds of debates which shape our country."

Yet another factor making civility a difficult challenge is the actual "scope, size and seriousness of the issues we face as a country," Archbishop Gregory said. He acknowledged that issues need to be addressed fully and "without constraints." Yet, he said, "the very depth of the problems we face can intensify the debate and decision making about them in a way which pushes civility aside."

He invited his audience to consider three broad areas of concern in public life: the economy, foreign policy and bioethics. Much has been heard about each of these over the past year, he noted.

In each of these areas, key moral values are at stake, and a complex analysis of factual matter is demanded related to jobs, taxes, the poor, the nation's international role, the global economy's impact, weapons control, genocide, medical technology and "its impact on human life at its beginning and its end."

These issues are difficult not only from an intellectual perspective, but a moral perspective. The issues are "intensely personal and yet global in scope."

The problem is that maintaining civility is difficult when debating and deciding such issues. Yet, Archbishop Gregory suggested, civility is essential. He said that these issues "will require civility" if, as a nation, "we are to address them successfully."

. . . 7. Religion and Civility

"Today in our nation and around the world religion is a public reality, a public fact. The ancient question of what religion will bring to the public life of a society is with us with new intensity," Archbishop Gregory stated in his University of South Carolina speech.

The religious diversity in the U.S. indicates -- along with the fact that "news and images" flow instantly from the nation to the entire world -- that "our successes in civility can be contagious, and our failures can cause great trouble for people around the globe," he commented.

Archbishop Gregory recalled Cardinal Bernardin as someone who "entered many public debates," always doing so "as a loyal and faithful churchman."

He said the cardinal "often stressed that religious values and moral principles by themselves did not solve complex public problems. They needed to be complemented by intelligent and insightful professional factual analysis."

Taken together, "facts and values, principles and policy analysis lead to policies which can support and sustain human dignity and human rights."

The cardinal thought religious communities ought to serve as "models of civility when they entered the public arena," the archbishop recalled. But he said, "It is a fact of history that at times religious voices in public debate have intensified conflict not diminished it."

In the context of public life and political debate, the archbishop said religion "can expand our moral imagination, help us to see the world through the eyes of others, deepen our sense of responsibility to the needy and the vulnerable, and give us a sense of our common humanity in a world of different states and cultures."

But, he continued, there have been times religion "has not made these contributions, but has hardened political lines, made compromise more difficult and intensified civil and even military conflict."

Cardinal Bernardin "was convinced that the voice of religion, the advocacy of public values and call for religious dialogue were contributions" religious communities ought to bring to the nation's public life, the archbishop said.