Cardinal discusses bishops’ meeting, committee chairmanship

BOSTON -- During their annual fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 13-15, the U.S. bishops dealt with a variety of issues, ranging from the war in Iraq to the reception of holy Communion.

Speaking to The Pilot Nov. 17, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley offered his reflections on some of those topics. He also discussed his election as chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on World Missions.

The Committee on World Missions is charged with the oversight of the U.S. Church’s overseas missions “ad gentes” (“to the peoples”) -- the missionary outreach to the non-baptized. The committee works in conjunction with missionary societies and promotes mission programs across the United States.

The cardinal previously chaired that committee from 1996 to 1998.

The cardinal said he was happy to serve the committee again and cited the strong tradition of Boston Catholics working in the foreign missions.

“In Boston we have a very important commitment of the missions with the St. James Society and the wonderful works of the Propagation of the Faith,” he said.

Turning to the conflict in Iraq, the cardinal said that the United States has an obligation to bring stability into the region by involving “if at all possible” Muslim nations in the effort.

More attention should be given to explaining the moral requirements of just-war theory, he said. Particularly the morality of the so-called preemptive strikes should be challenged.

He also referred to the current controversy about the moral limits of prisoners’ interrogation techniques saying that torture is “against human dignity.”

“As the United States is the preeminent world power, we have great responsibilities for the rest of the world, and at the same time if we are not ethical and moral in the way that we form our decisions, rather than being a force for the good then we can undermine our own good intentions,” he said.

The cardinal praised the newly released document offering guidelines for the pastoral care of persons with a homosexual inclination.

“When you read the document, it should be clear that the Church’s stand is not anti-gay. The Church’s stand is that sexuality, the transmission of life and marriage all go together,” he said.

“We want people to achieve salvation and happiness, and the way to do that is by embracing a life according to God’s plan,” he added.

The bishops also approved a document reiterating the Church’s teachings on the preparation needed to receive Communion. The document stressed that Catholics in mortal sin should refrain from receiving the Eucharist.

The cardinal said that in the last decades the Church has moved from a mentality that discouraged the reception of holy Communion to the current situation that has made it necessary for the bishops to reiterate Church’s teachings on the matter.

“In the history of the Church we see a pendulum that swung back and forth,” he said. “There was a time not too long ago when Jansenism was such a force in the Church that many very devout Catholics received Communion only at Easter to fulfill the Easter duty.”

“The pendulum has now swung in the other direction to such case that some people are offended if the bulletin or the Missalette reminds people that you are supposed to be a Catholic to receive Communion, or that you are supposed to be in a state of grace.”

The cardinal said that the current perception by many that holy Communion can be received at all times is “a great disservice to believers.”

“The realization that sin prevented us from receiving Communion was an incentive to people to go and to be reconciled with God and to make a good confession, whereas if everybody feels that anybody can go to Communion any time, that call for conversion, that hunger for God that has helped sinners to turn their lives around is taken away,” he said.

The cardinal said it was mostly coincidence that documents on the two moral issues -- along with a third document on contraception -- came up for approval in this meeting.

At the same time he recognized that the moral teachings of the Church “need to be restated and held up for people’s consideration” even if they are sometimes difficult to understand.

“The only way that we will become holy as Catholic Christians is by being faithful to these things and to these teachings that are challenged by the popular culture,” he said.

The cardinal compared the current situation in the Church today with the situation of the people of Israel after they entered the Promised Land, when they became “too assimilated into the local culture” and “were drifted away from their fidelity to God.”

“Our people are subject to that same sort of danger that we become so assimilated into the secular culture that we begin to adore these false gods and then this takes us in a path away from our God and away from the holiness that we are called to.”

“The Church needs to hold up these difficult themes and remind us that discipleship means the cross and looking for God’s plan in our lives,” he said.