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Posted May 15, 2006

Book: Practices of Dialogue in the Roman Catholic Church: Aims and Obstacles, Lessons and Laments
Author: Bradford Hinze
Continuum, New York, 2006. Pp. 326

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

One of the principle buzzwords of the Second Vatican Council (1963-65), along with collegiality, co-responsibility, full participation, and aggiornamento, was dialogue.

This is a history of how the practices of dialogue have actually worked or failed to work at every level of the church over the past forty years. Beginning at the most basic level, that of the parish, the book moves up the ecclesiastical ladder from parish councils to diocesan synods to the international synod of bishops. The book moves laterally as well to include ecumenical and inter-religious dialogues. A chapter devoted to the fractious Call to Action Conference, initiated by the U.S. bishops in 1976; another to the new inclusive style of drafting pastoral letters by the U.S. bishops - "The Challenge of Peace" (1983). "Economic Justice for All" (1986), and the never approved pastoral on women, "Partners in the Mystery of Redemption." A further chapter is devoted to Cardinal Bernardin's Catholic Common Ground Initiative, which is still going on, though it was initially publicly attacked by four U.S. cardinals. Finally, there is a chapter on what was perhaps the most radical and far-reaching exercise of dialogue of all, namely, the dialogical and democratic processes by which women religious revised their constitutions.

This is a cautionary tale, filled with thick description of advances and retreats. In a curious way, the book is a sequel to the multi-volume History of the Second Vatican Council, edited by Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph Komoncak. If those volumes tell us what transpired at the council, Hinze's volume tells us what happened when the council fathers went home and all the good ideas of the council were either put into effect or left to gather dust in the dead-letter bin. Vatican Council II is an ongoing experiment, and Practices of Dialogue is a series of reports from the labs.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The bishops made an effort from the beginning to maximize the voices of women in the process. In the previous economic pastoral, direct attention in the text to the voices of the poor had been absent, as was noted by commentators. The bishops did not want to repeat that pattern here by speaking about women and not letting them speak for themselves. As Bishop Joseph Imesch, the chair of the committee on the women's pastoral when the first draft was made public, stated: "This letter is written in a different style than the other pastoral letters. It is written in response to the consultations held in 100 dioceses, 60 college campuses and 45 military bases. The text contains a number of quotations from women who participated in these consultations." This "style," when offered a further development of the dialogical approach being pioneered by the bishops, was subsequently criticized by some, including members of the Roman curia, and was significantly curtailed in subsequent drafts.

. . . The official declarations by the Roman curia in 1994 and 1995 reflect the first option. During the 1992 meeting at which the women's pastoral was rejected, Bishop Joseph Imesch, chair of the ad hoc committee that had prepared the document, addressed the assembly of bishops: "As a bishop I challenge you - and challenge myself - to reexamine the role of women in our diocese, to hear more than we allow ourselves to hear, and to cross a bridge from word to action."

After the failure of the women's pastoral, the U.S. bishops abandoned the practice of using the more open dialogical process that they had experimented with during 1980s in the creation of the pastoral letters on peace, the economy, and women. This process was distinguished by an expanded consultation process, the public release of draft documents, and the use of a feedback loop in which bishops invited oral and written responses to draft documents and then revised these documents based on their deliberations on the responses. Instead of dedicating themselves to continuing this particular kind of practice, and even expanding its usuage to other social issues (racism, for example) or to extend it to internal church matters (religious education, for instance), the bishops returned to their older standard procedure. The disuse of this method could be viewed as one more example of the tragic failure of dialogue in the postconciliar church.

Table of Contents:

1. The matrix of dialogue in the church
The life of the parish and the pastoral council

2. Discerning the mission of the local church
The bishop and diocesan synod

3. An overwhelming response to a U.S. bishops' invitation The Call to Action
The Call to Action

4. A new way of teaching with authority
The pastoral letters of the U.S. bishops' conference

5. Placating polarizations or making them productive?
The Catholic Common Ground Initiative

6. The church women want
What women religious learned in chapters

7. Collegiality and constraint
The synod of bishops

8. Differentiated consensus, imperfect communion
Ecumenical dialogues

9. Rethinking the oldest divisions in the interests of larger truths and lasting peace

10. Lessons and laments and the unfinished agenda of a diological church