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Posted November 1, 2010

A Commentary by Gene Hemrick on church fallout

In the October edition of Commonweal, Peter Steinfels, commenting on Catholics leaving the Church lists a number of issues causing this. They include:

Liturgical language, decorum and participation

Quality of homilies

Shortage of priests


The role of women and their ordination

Transparency and consultation in church governance at every level, from the parish to the Vatican

Anti-Catholicism in the media

Religious identity and the role of the hierarchy in Catholic higher education and health care

Monitoring of Catholic theology

Abortion and same-sex relations

The demand that Catholic citizens and civic leaders be answerable to episcopal judgments about laws regarding these matters

One look at these issues tells us a new endeavor to strengthen the virtue of prudence is needed more than ever.

Prudence has three qualities according to philosopher Josef Pieper: clearsightedness, docility and true to being memory. Prudence requires we observe, judge and act. St. Thomas states we need to act quickly after exhausting our observing and judging.

Could the biggest reason for Catholics leaving be a church that isn’t employing prudence to its fullest?

Clearsightedness means looking issues straight in the face and not flinching from them. Simply stated, it means bitting the bullet in face of opposition, fatigue, and fear. This leads to the question: when last have we seen an all out effort to address the issues above; to shake them out and get down to their underlying differences and solutions?

In his encyclical Ecclesium Suam, Pope Paul VI points us to dialogue as one of our best means for renewing the church. One of the qualities of dialogue is clarity. Where are dialogues taking place today to clarify our issues; to clear the air; to sort out errors in thinking from truth?

Docility means not being a know-it-all; to be an ongoing student; to embrace research and raise more questions than give answers.

Where is the research today on the issues above? All of them are complex and filled with various variables. Where is the concerted effort to sort out the variables; to unpile the evidence and to seek the essence of truth?

True to being memory simply teaches us: tell it as it is, don’t play dodges, color an issue, lessen or make it bigger than it is. Give as much of the true picture as is possible with no additives.

If we were to practice the virtue of prudence at its best, I believe we would have people flocking to our churches. In a beautiful lunette in the Library of Congress we have the proverb, “Wisdom is the principal thing, get wisdom and with all thy getting get understanding.” Understanding and the principles of prudence are not only our best means for creating a strong, unified Catholic communities, but they are the very gifts of the Holy Spirit we have received and need to employ more earnestly.

Does this sound too idealistic, too unrealistic, to academic? Not so! When we get caught up in issues, it is common to become caught up in self interests, to be circumscribed by our immediate needs and desires. We imprison ourselves within ourselves. The ideals of prudence help us transcend ourselves and in doing so to get above the issues in order to better see them more fully in their entirety.