25: A Church Situated Within U.S. Culture


Cardinal Bernardin has often reflected on the relationship between the Church and the social reality within the United States. The United States is a nation with a great diversity of races, religions, and customs. Issues such as AIDS and contraception have caused a number of social tensions. In the past years Americans grew to believe that the Pope was displeased with the American Catholic Church. There are many disagreements and tensions in the American Church and the last papal visit could not put an end to every conflict.

Joseph Bernardin points out that the American Church boasts millions of Catholics, and that Catholics support a vast network of church-related institutions and socially helpful programs such as schools and hospitals. Pope John Paul II's attention to the United States is a sign of the importance of the Church in the United States. The American church must maintain positive relations and dialogue with the Holy Father. Bishops must believe that the Pope is the pastor of the universal Church and that he does have the right and the duty to oversee the Church's ministry everywhere.

In the United States, people feel free to criticize everything, and many people react negatively when they are told what to do. Today the main question remains of how to maintain the unity while affirming the diversity in the local realizations of the Church, namely how to discern a proper balance between freedom and order. At times, genuine dialogue between the Holy See and some members of the U.S. Church is indeed difficult. For Joseph Bernardin, it is extremely important that the whole Church must trust in the promise of a risen Christ to be present with His Church. It is necessary to speak in complete candor and without fear. In a mutual exchange, it is possible to discern what will truly enhance the Church's unity and what will weaken or destroy it. In conclusion, we must continue to grow in appreciation of the conciliar vision of collegiality, both as a principle and a style of leadership in the Church.