The Importance of Being Catholic:
Unsolicited Advice from a Protestant Bystander

Stanley Hauerwas
The Divinity School
Duke University
Delivered at the University of San Francisco 27 February 1989

© Franciscan Friars of the Atonement

l. Personal Reflections

      "I was a communist for the FBI" was the way the fifties television show began. In a similar manner for fourteen years "I was a moral theologian, if not for the Roman Catholic Church, at least for some Catholics around the University of Notre Dame." Of course there is a great deal of hubris in that claim as many Catholics, both at Notre Dame and elsewhere, would be quick to Point out that few ever counted me among those who held the high office Of moral theology for the Church of Rome.. No doubt they are right. At best I was a Christian ethicist who was graciously given the opportunity to live, work, discuss, argue, and most importantly, worship with Roman Catholics. Moreover, my stay with Roman Catholics left its mark on me for which I shall ever be grateful. I have been given more than I ever got. I am, therefore, grateful that through the Wattson Lecture I have been given the opportunity hopefully to make some contribution to the ongoing discussion of Roman Catholics about moral theology and/or how to think and live as Catholics in the American context.1

      Of course you have really left yourself open when you invited me to address questions of ecumenical ethics. I did not spend fourteen years laboring in Roman Catholic vineyards for nothing. I learned a great deal while I was with you and I have been dying to have an opportunity to unload on someone what I think I learned. It just so happens this is the first opportunity I have had since I left Notre Dame so you are going to bear the brunt of it. You will probably get exactly what you do not need -- unsolicited advice from a Protestant bystander. For example, my Roman Catholic friends often pointed out to me I could be enthusiastic that Catholics at least had the resources to make authority an issue because I did not have to obey those who would exercise that authority.

      That, of course, is a fair criticism. Yet it is also the case, no doubt with a great deal of naivete, most of the time I was at Notre Dame I did not think of myself as a Protestant ethicist--I thought I was Catholic. This delusion at least partly derived from the fact I was and am a Methodist. An ecclesial commitment I never got most of my Roman Catholic friends to appreciate since they assumed all Protestants were Baptists, especially if they were from the South. I could not convince them that at least on some readings of Methodism is not a Protestant tradition but rather stands centrally in the Catholic tradition. Methodists indeed are even more Catholic than the Anglicans who gave us birth since Wesley, of blessed memory, held to the Eastern fathers in a more determinative way than did any of the Western churches -- Protestant or Catholic. Of course this account of Methodism has very little to do with the reality of the contemporary Methodist church, but it means a great deal to some of us who became Christians through the rediscovery of the Catholic substance of the Wesleys. We were committed to a rediscovery of the disciplined nature of the church and thought Wesley provided some important theological and institutional expression of that -- or as someone put it, "If Wesley had not been Wesley he would have been Ignatius."2

      Of course the other reason I thought I was a Catholic was I was trained at Yale. I remember during my interview at Notre Dame I was asked what problems or difference I thought being a Protestant ethicist would create my teaching. I replied I did not have the slightest idea because I did not consider myself a Protestant theological ethicist--after all, I had gone to Yale. Aquinas was as much my theologian as he was for Catholics. Aquinas did not even know he was a Roman Catholic. Moreover, I had been taught to regard the encyclical tradition as essential to any Christian theologians' work. Father Haering and Vatican II were part and parcel of my education.

      To be sure, I did not know enough then to know what I did not know, but I soon found myself thoroughly pulled into the Catholic world, and Catholic moral theology in particular. For that is what I discovered, that Catholicism was a world rich with textures and colors that I literally had not known existed. As a relatively homeless WASP I felt I had discovered a community where moral discourse still mattered. What more could someone trained in ethics ask? Couple this with the extraordinary generosity of Catholics to welcome and put up with me -- even to being willing to take me seriously--I naturally thought I was a Catholic.

      However, as one of my colleagues put it as I was leaving Notre Dame, I was mistaken to think I was ever really a Catholic. I had taken too seriously theology as defining what made Catholics Catholic. Catholicism is more than "doctrine" and theological reflection on doctrine. Rather it is habits and practices that take a life-time to understand. I appreciate that point. Indeed it is one on which I want to draw as the brunt of what I have to say is basically a pep talk to keep Catholics Catholic, even in America. I have begun with this personal word, however, in the hopes that what I have to say will not be received as an outsider, but at least as who was and hopefully still is a little Catholic. I am a bystander because I want you to be better Catholics than either I can or am perhaps prepared to be.

      In that respect I suspect Catholics should be a bit suspicious of Protestants who are enthusiastic about the current possibilities of the Church of Rome. For example, Richard Neuhaus in his wonderfully intriguing book, The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Post-Modern World , cannot say enough in support of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. He castigates Catholic liberals for following Protestants whose theology has but become a form of anthropology.3 In this I must admit I am in deep sympathy with Neuhaus. Despairing of the incoherence of theological discourse in mainstream Protestantism we cannot help but think that Catholicism still possesses enough substance to mount a good argument. As Neuhaus says prior to Vatican II, "The problems of Roman Catholicism were 'their' problems; now they are our problems. And, conversely, many of our problems have become theirs. The nature and mission of the Church, the relationship between Church and world, the role of Scripture and tradition, the question of teaching authority (the Magisterium) within the Christian community, the connection between teaching authority and theological exploration, the meaning of doctrine and dogma--the Roman Catholic Church is working through these questions on behalf of the entire Christian community. Of course there are other Christian communities addressing these questions. Some communities, however, are not capable of that. Much of liberal Protestantism has lost the points of reference, even the vocabulary, required for deliberation and debate on such questions. Most of conservative Protestantism, especially fundamentalist Protestantism, is not aware of the questions."4

      Catholics are suspicious of Protestant enthusiasm for Catholicism that Neuhaus and I represent because many Catholics have spent their lives reacting against an authoritarian church. I am often sympathetic with such concerns, but the problem with that perspective is the creation of a false sense of security. The Church could be criticized because it was assumed the structure would simply remain in place -- bishops would continue to be bishops, Rome would still be Rome. In like manner, the "old Catholic moral theology" could be criticized without fundamentally challenging the assumption that the distinction between moral theology and fundamental theology made sense -- Catholic moral theology should no longer be "legalistic," but yet the structure of moral theology was assumed to be sound. As a result, criticism of the Church too often has been a distraction from the real business at hand -- namely helping the church face the challenge of modernity. Catholics in the name of reform work to make the church look like American democracy, failing to see that cannot help but result in a church that is no longer capable of challenging the status quo. If I seem, therefore, too uncritical of Roman Catholicism it is only because I have to live out the presuppositions of the alternative. However, let me try to make these remarks more concrete by attending to the question of ecumenical ethics.

2. On the Very Idea of Ecumenical Ethics: Or, Why Natural Law Is a Misleading Idea for Catholics

      I have been asked to address the issue of ethics and ecumenism because Catholics find themselves in a quandary raised by the issue of abortion. For example, I was told Catholics, particularly in California, face a challenge in this respect as they would like to participate in the California Ecumenical Council but the latter has already taken a position that is pro-abortion at least in terms of the public policy alternatives. The question seems to be how Catholics can continue to be good ecumenical citizens while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the Catholic moral insights.

      My simple answer is that I do not want you to be good ecumenical citizens--I want you to be Catholics. I also want to say that there is nothing more important for the future unity of the church than for you to be Catholic. For unless you draw on the integrity of your hard-won Wisdom about matters such as abortion, then you will have failed your calling to be the church that holds itself in judgment for the church's disunity. For I take it that inherent in the Roman Catholic commitment to the magisterial office is the willingness to see the divided nature of the church as a sign of Catholic unfaithfulness--you've failed to help us see why Christians who find ourselves separated from Rome should be what you think we should be.5 In short, you have been so anxious to be like us you have failed in your ecumenical task to help us see what it means for any of us to be faithful to the Gospel on which our unity depends.

      Of course there is every reason for you to be confused about these matters. After all it was the strategy of most ecumenical movements in this century to concentrate on deeds rather than creeds. We assumed that there was little chance of reaching agreement in matters of belief but at least we could join hands as people of good will to fight for justice, to protest on behalf of the oppressed, to stand for basic moral values. Moreover, such a stance seemed peculiarly well-suited to Catholicism since your ethics was putatively based on natural law and thus did not require any peculiar theological justification or ecclesiological practices to be rendered intelligible.6

      Therefore, unlike Protestant accounts of the moral life that, at least in theory, maintained a much tighter connection between our theological conviction and moral behavior, Catholics seemed to have a moral tradition particularly well suited for ecumenical endeavors. It matters not whether Protestants believe in the authority of the magisterial office or have a correct understanding of nature-grace. All that matters is that Catholics and Protestants can agree that certain forms of behavior are incumbent on Christians and all other people of good will. We may not be able to agree about the status or nature of the sacraments, but at least we can agree that all Christians, Protestant and Catholic, ought to be for justice. If natural law means anything it ought to mean that.

      At a theoretical level this seems straightforward and clear. The problem, however, is this kind of account of natural law ethics failed to acknowledge or notice that it was only intelligible as long as Catholicism presupposed a social order whose practices had been formed by Catholic habits. I remember a story a Protestant observer at Vatican II told me about a bishop inquiring of his theological advisor that nicely illustrates this. The bishop asked, "Now explain to me again why only Catholics seem to believe contraception is wrong even though our position is based on natural law reasoning common to all people."

      It is tempting for me, at this point, to launch into a critique of certain kinds of natural law accounts that seem to make theological claims secondary. Such accounts I think hardly do justice to Aquinas' account of the meaning on role of natural law. I look forward to the yet to be written history that demonstrates how Aquinas' position was distorted by being read through the eyes of German idealistic philosophy. For Aquinas, natural law serves not as a principle that justifies a "universal ethic" abstracted from a community's practices or as agents' character and virtues; but rather natural law is a necessary exegetical principle for the reading of the Old Testament as well as helping us understand that when confronted by God's law we always discover we are sinners. I say I am tempted to provide a theological account of natural law but I am going to refrain because my interests here are more properly described as a theological social commentary.

      For in an odd way, when Catholics came to America you learned, but it is not yet a lesson you have taken to heart, that your "natural law" ethic was community and tradition specific. You came to America with a moral theology shaped by the presuppositions of Catholic Constantinianism. Natural law was the name you gave to the moral practices and principles you had discovered essential to Christian living, if not survival, in that barbarian wilderness we now call Western civilization. You could continue to believe in the theoretical validity of a natural law ethic even, or perhaps especially interpreted through Kantian eyes, as long as you saw the sociological and historical center of your life in Europe. After all Protestantism, whether in its Lutheran, Calvinist, or Anglican forms, still had to make do with societies that had been formed Catholic. Which is but a reminder that Protestantism remains both theologically and sociologically a parasitical form of the Christian faith. Without Catholicism, Protestants make no sense--a hard truth for Catholic and Protestant alike to acknowledge.

      Yet that changed when you came to America. By "came" I mean when Catholics took up the project of being Americans rather than Catholics who happen to live in America. For when you came to America for the first time you had to live in a culture that was based on Protestant presuppositions and habits now transformed by Enlightenment ideologies. For the first time you had to live in a society which was putatively Christian and yet in which you were not "at home." The church knew how to live in cultures that were completely foreign--in India and Japan--but how do you learn to live in America? A culture which at once looked Christian but may in fact be more foreign than China.

      It was a confusing challenge for Catholics. You came here with the habits and practices of a Constantinian ethic allegedly based on natural law presumptions and you discovered to sustain those habits you had to be a sect. Protestant Constantinianism forced Catholic Constantianians to withdraw into your own enclaves--into you own ghettoes--in order to maintain the presumption that you possessed an ethic based on natural law grounds. What a wonderful thing God did to you. Contemplating it can only confirm what an extraordinary sense of humor God must possess.

      For example, you came to America thinking that societies had the obligation to educate children about the true and the good. Yet confronted by putative neutral public education that presumed that everyone agreed that church and state ought to be separated, you were forced to build your own school system. Where else would Catholics learn that the life of the mind could not and should not be separated from the life of prayer? I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am aware that there were many reasons--not the least of which being Protestant anti-Catholicism which is still more virulent than Catholics generally are willing to acknowledge--for Catholics to live in ghettoes. Nor do I wish to invite you to wallow in romantic nostalgia for the oftentimes wonderful and terrible forms of life those ghettoes produced. Rather I simply want to call your attention to the sociological form that seemed necessary to sustain the Catholic project of a natural law moral theology.

3. Catholics in the Hands of Tolerant Protestants: Or, Being Killed by Kindness

      Of course the problem for Catholics is no longer how to survive in a hostile environment dominated by Protestant and Enlightenment presupposition. Now the great Problem is how to survive liberal tolerance. Until recently you could depend on Protestant prejudice to keep Catholics Catholic -- i.e., it may not be clear what it means to be Catholic, but at least Catholics could depend on Protestants to tell them why they were peculiar. However, as Protestants have become increasingly unclear what it means for them to. Protestant, it has become equally difficult to know-at least in matters moral--what difference it means to be Catholic. From a Protestant perspective, an long as we are characterized by a generalized uncertainty about what we are about it just seems to be a matter of courtesy to invite Catholics to become part of our amorphous search for identity.

      This is a particularly dangerous situation for everyone. Catholics desiring to show they have a positive attitude toward Protestants end up telling Protestants what we already know--e.g., that moral matters such as abortion and divorce are extremely complex so it is very hard to have predetermined moral stances about such issues. But if Catholics, thus., end up telling Protestants what they already know consider the plight of Protestants. We end up tolling secularists what they already know. Strange results for traditions that are called into the world on the presumption they have -- something to say that the world needs to hear.

      In short, one of my worries is not that Catholics will fail to be ecumenical, but when they come to cooperate with Protestants they will have become what we already are-that is, a denomination. In his book The Restructuring of American Religion, Robert Wuthnow documents the decline of mainstream Protestantism in America.7 He confirms what I think many have sensed that members of Protestant churches now depend less on belief in the particular theological and ecclesial heritage of that denomination than on how that religious organization provides a means for individuals to express their particular interests. Therefore American Protestants are no longer determined by whether they are Presbyterians or Methodists, but by whether they are "conservatives" or "liberals" within their denominations. Moreover, the meaning of "conservative" and "liberal" is determined primarily in terms of the options of the American political system rather than by theological and moral questions.

      This has not happened to American Protestantism by accident, but rather is the result of our success. Conservative and liberal Protestants could disagree about the divinity of Christ., but they were in agreement that there was a pivotal connection between personal faith and the larger society. Wuthnow characterized their reasoning as "the good society depends on individuals acting responsibly to uphold moral and democratic values; but a sense of personal responsibility is best supported by conceptions of individual accountability to the sacred; and this sense of accountability requires acknowledging the higher authority of the divine, guilt and punishiment whatever responsibility to the divine is not maintained, and the possibility of divine forgiveness, redemption, and even ennoblement."8

      In our current context this sounds remarkably conservative, so it is easy to overlook the assumption that the primary social task of mainstream Protestantism was to create and sustain a society that provided freedom for something called the individual--that is, our task was to make democracy work. Wuthnow suggests, therefore, that the supermarket with its myriad consumer products more than the traditional flag-waving Fourth of July parade has become the symbol of freedom. "Freedom means the opportunity to choose from a variety of products, to select a full complement of goods that meet our individual needs and desires. It means having the financial resources with which to purchase any gadget of seeming use in our quest for personal development and self-expression" -- and of course, it means freedom to choose our "faith." 9

      In short, Protestantism helped create, but even more, legitimate a form of social life that undermined its ability to maintain the kind of disciplined communities necessary to sustain the church's social witness. As James Gustafson noted in his essay "The Voluntary Church: A Moral Appraisal," written over twenty years ago but still unsurpassed in its keen appraisal of our situation, that themoement from the "gathered church" to the voluntary church almost irresistibly involves a compromised form. The decisive criteria for the latter is no longer holiness of life, but "the will to belong. The theological and experiential marks of authority on which the in-group was defined from the out-group have lost their power. The zest for purity in the churches has given way to an acceptance of the impossibility of its achievement, and consequently to a more or less open membership. Now, instead of being gathered out of the body of strangers into the family of saints, the strangers volunteer to join the community of those like themselves, who find something meaningful in religious life for themselves, their children, or their neighgorhood. Men admire the saints among them, and perhaps wish to join their small number. If they fail, however, there is no serious disruption of church life."10

      What I find so interesting in this process is also happening to Roman Catholics. You are becoming like Protestants, one denomination among others. No true church here, but rather one more association of people who at best share a common search for meaning. No doubt there is little you can do about this as you are subject to economic and social forces that make this process almost inevitable. What I find odd, however, is the kind of moral theology you are generating in the name of freedom underwrites this process as good.

4. Catholic Moral Theology and the Ecumenical Task

      So let me at last turn to issues I suspect you invited me to address in the first place -- namely, how should Catholic moral theology be done if Catholics are to be full participants in ecumenical dialogue and action? I have not begun with that question because I think it makes little sense to try to answer it in the abstract. The question only makes sense in the context of the forces that have produced it. Moreover, it is exactly those forces that make the question of how Catholics relate to Protestants of relatively little moment compared to the issue of how Catholics and Protestants alike maintain communities in this American context capable of disciplined moral discourse as Christians.

      Yet it is exactly that challenge that most Catholic moral theologians, whether they be of the left or the rigght, fail to make central for thier work. Catholics on the left want the church to be a morally disciplined community in order to speak in a determinative fashion about war and economic justice, but to speak less decisively about abortion, contraception, and divorce. Catholics on the right want the church to speak decisively about abortion, sexual ethics, and divorce, but less decisively about war and economic justice. One would think that this difference would be the result of some fundamental disagreements about methodology of moral theology, but I think that is not the case. Rather I fear this kind of dispute already reflects a church that has lost its theologival moorings for ethical reflection.

      Indeed I want to put the issue in an even starker fashion. For I want to maintain that the natural law basis of Catholic moral theology was insufficient to prepare Catholics for the challenge of negotiating a society like America. As a result, disputes between conservative Catholic moral theolgians and liberal Catholic moral theologians do little to help Catholics locate the challenge they faced and continue to face in America. For natural law underwrote the assubption that Catholic moral theology could be written for anyone irrespective of their relation to the faith in Jesus of Nazareth. But that "anyone" in America turned out to be the "individual" of the Enlightenment whose very being depended on the refusal to acknowledge or spell out their particular theology.

      Thus Catholic moral theologians have embraced the American project as part and parcel of what it means to do faithful moral theology. For example, consider some of the titles of recent works by Catholic moralists -- Charlie Curran, American Catholic Social Ethics: Tewntieth Century Approaches; 11 John Coleman, An American Strategic Theology 12; David Hollenbach, Justice, Peace, and Human Rights: American Catholic Social Ethics in a Pluralist Context; 13 Dennis McCann, New Experiments in Democracy: The Challenge of American Catholocism; 14 American and Catholic: The New Debate; 15 and George Weigel, Catholocism and the Renewal of American Deomcracy 16. It would be a mistake, of course, to read too much into titles, but it is at least interesting that Catholic thinkers seem to think that Catholics can and should be modified by the designation "American".

      This emphasis on "American" might be interpreted in a purely descriptive manner meant to denote the unavoidability of the American reality. No doubt at times it does mean no more than that. Yet it also means more as there is the suggestion, not only in these authors but generally in American Catholic moral theology, that "American" is a normative recommendation that should change how moral theology is done. Moreover, it is a recommendation that is in continuity with the deepest well-spring of past Roman Catholic moral theology -- namely, that grace completes nature so moral theology can first be based on the assumption that there is no fundamental tension between general societal ethos and specifically Catholic moral conviction.

      For example, Dennis McCann in his New Experiment in Democracy argues that the Americanist heresy condemned by Testem benevolentiae was not a heresy at all. Rather Americanism "is not shameful ‘indulgence' but, as Max Stackhouse has recently pointed out, ‘a liberation to new duty given by the grace of God, which leads to voluntary community, disciplined personal life, lay intelletuality, and social outreach.' Indeed, as Leo XIII feared, this liberation is a liberation from the church; but he failed to grasp the Americanists; hope that such a liberation also occurs for the sake of the church. At stake in the ‘certain liberty' for which Americanists stand condemned is, in Stackhouse's terms, the revolutionary American principle of ‘self-governing association' and its extension to all the institutional sectors of society. America thus is an experiment in which the basic, primordial freedom of the church to order its own life is taken as the basis for the organization of political, economic, educational, familian, and other aspects of life."17

      The only difficulty, according to McCann, is the "certain liberty" valued by Hecher and later by Murray, has not been fully realized byt hte church's "search for self-identity" after Vatican II.18 Yet he is convinced that the future is with the Americanist as it is the "consistent tendency of Catholics to define their own integrity in terms of this nation's ongoing experiment in ‘self-governing associatin.' In this sense the Americnaist heresy is rooted in the very foundations of Christianity in this country, a heritage common to the whole spectrum of American Protestant and Catholic communities of faith. It has become, and inevitably must become, the agenda for American Catholicism whenever Catholic people consider fully the logic of their circumstances here -- how it is that their habitual pattern of organizing themselves for participation in our common life are religiously significant." 20 McCann, thus, argues that it is the task of the future not only to make America more American by fuller institutionalization of that "certain liberty," but the church itself must be made American by becoming the same kind of voluntary, self-governing institution that already characterize most of American life.

      According to McCann the primary virtue for a church so constituted, internally and externally, is civility. Appealing to John Courtney Murray, McCann suggests that civility should be understood as "a disposition to conduct politics not as open warfare among conflicting interest groups, but as skilled and self-disciplined public ‘conversations'"21 As such, civility is not just a political necessity, but a religious virtue. "Its faithful exercise makes each of the communities participating in the American ‘public church,' as well as their respective members, more disposed to regard each other in public as mutually interdependent, as bound to each other, in Martin Marty's terms, ‘by explicit or tacit agreement, to mutual communication, of whatever is useful and necessary for the harmonious exercise of social life...' ‘Civility' thus is the ecumenical virtue par excellence; for in our pluralistic context, it is an indispensable precondition for building the Kingdom of God in America. Pluralism may exist without ‘civility,' but a pluralistic society cannot, if it lacks the sense of social interdependence which this virtue fosters among diverse communities who, both because of and in spite of their differences, remain pledged to one another for the sake of the common good."22

      I must admit I thought after John Murray Cuddihy's The ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity, no one would be able to recommend civility without apology again. For as Cuddihy points our, civility is that part of the modernization process that requires the bureaufication of private affect from public demeanor. It is the great bourgeois project to adapt the individual's inner life to be socially appropriate. "‘Niceness' is as good a name as any for the informally yet pervasively institutionalized civility expected -- indeed required -- of members (and of aspirant members) of that societal community called the civic culture. Intensity, fanaticism, inwardness -- too much of anything, in fact -- is unseemly and bids fair to destroy the fragile solidarity of the surface we call civility. Civility, as the very medium of Western social interaction, presupposes the differentiated structures of a modernizing ‘civil society.' Civility is not merely regulative of social behavior; it is an order of ‘appearance' constitutive of that behavior. This medium is itself the message and the message it beamed to the frontrunners of a socially emancipating Jewry came through loud and clear: ‘Be nice.' ‘The Jews,' writes Maurice Samuel looking back on the epoch of Emancipation, ‘are probably the only people in the world to whom it has ever been proposed that their historic destiny is -- to be nice.'"23

      Of course you may well object that being nice is not a bad alternative to being killed. But if Cuddihy is right that the "tribal, rather than the civil, nature of Jewish culture," means that Jewish Emancipation put Jews on a collision course with the differentiation of Western society, then the Holocaust is but the other side of assimilation into the new and oppressive order of civility. "The differentiations most foreign to the sheltel subculture of Yiddesheit were those of public from private behavior and of manners from morals. Jews were being asked, in effect, to become bourgeois, and to become bourgeois quickly. The problem of behavior, then, became strategic to the whole problematic of ‘assimilation.' The modernization process, the civilization process, and the assimilation process were experienced as one -- as the ‘price of admission' to the bourgeois civil societies of the West at the end of the nineteenth century."24

      It may well be unfair to juxtapose Cuddihy's account of civility to that of McCann's McCann would certainly protest that he is concerned to save particularity in the name of healthy pluralism. But it is not enough to affirm pluralism. You must be able to show, given the context of the Enlightenment ideology and institutions indicated by Cuddihy, that the forces of modernity that grind all genuine disputes into calm "conversations" can be resisted.

      Nor is it enough, as McCann and Hollenbach do, to appeal to "justice as participation" as if the very evocation of that phrase represents a coherent social theory or policy. Hollenbach, for example, notes the disagreements between Rawls, Nozick, Sandel, and Welzer concerning justice could be seen as a vindication of MacIntyre's and Hauerwas' analysis of the moral anarchy of our society and our allegedly sectarian social strategy. Rather than a confusion about justice, according to Hollenbach, what we have is the beginning of a genuine argument about justice. We do so, that is if we realize "that there is not one meaning to justice in some unequivocal sense. All of the interlocutors in the current disputation have got their hands on some part of the reality we are in search of. Socrates knew this phenomenon well: dialectic, that is argument, is a process of sorting through a host of opinions to discern what is true in each, in search of that which is most true, most good. The argument about what justice means is as old as Western civilization. The quality of the argument today may well determine whether this civilization has a future, or whether its future will be in any sense civilized. In the face of these high stakes, I think the sectarian retreat of MacIntyre and Hauerwas is ultimately, if unwittingly, a failure of nerve. It fails to appreciate new possibilities present today for expressing love of one's neighbor by engaging in the long march of cultural transformation."25 "Justice as participation" turns out to be another way to say Catholics should be good Americans.

      Of course I do not mean to imply everyone who calls for an "American Catholic moral theology" agrees with McCann's and Hollenbach's understanding of that project -- indeed, I assume that there are significant differences between the two of them. In particular, I find John Coleman to be particularly sensitive to the challenge facing American Catholicism. As he notes, "What seems abundantly clear is that the American Catholic Church cannot have its cake and eat it too. It cannot hunger after unitary prophetic strategies which presuppose authoritarian patterns within a largely hierarchial church or a restricted lay autonomy and, simultaneously, foster a human relation and voluntary model premised on pluralism and a personal freedom.... It (the church) cannot accept the game of pluralism and still expect to impose its unique agenda on the societal outcomes."26 He thus urges the church to explore all the creative possibilities of the human relations and voluntary model of the church in spite of the liability of that church's penchant to become captured by class-based moral consensus. As he puts it, "with the collapse of the immigrant church and the increasing education of American Catholics, the church is fated to that model in America"27 -- a sobering prediction indeed.

      At stake in these sociological observations is not only the question of the church's accommodation to this society, but questions of how moral rationality is understood and practised. For in the interest of joining the arguments about such matters as abortion in our culture, the church is tempted to underwrite those forms of Enlightenment rationalism that deny their traditioned character. Catholics, more than any other people, must resist the presumption of modernity that those from other traditions are "really just like us" since we can make their behavior intelligible because we putatively speak a universal language. What must be admitted is that Catholics and non-Catholics live in different worlds. That is why Christians finally do not seek to convince the other, we seek to convert. These are complex matters involving questions of relativism and truth that cannot be explored here. Suffice it to say, however, that at least one of the ways we know the truth of the Catholic faith is its unwillingness to substitute the reality of the church for insubstantial universal reasons for knowing and worshipping God rightly.

5. Abortion and Ecumenical Relations

      I am aware that I have said little about how abortion fits into this account. Indeed it may seem I have said little about moral theology, but instead I have only been talking generally about the historical and sociological situation of Catholicism in America. Moral theology is more properly about concrete issues such as how to reason about abortion, suicide, contraception, etc. Instead of talking about such issues I have used this occasion to criticize the Americanism of Catholic social ethics in order to defend my "sectarianism;" or to put the issue summarily, I have suggested that there is nothing wrong with Catholics that could not be made better if they would just quit being nice and let the nasty side come out.

      Yet I do think that what I have said is important for how Catholics think about abortion as well as how they articulate their concern about abortion to the wider society. Michael Schwartz in his article, "The Restorationist Perspective: Catholic Challenge to Modern Secular America," an article I wish I had written, notes that abortion has become the test case for the honeymoon between "Americanist Catholics -- who are usually well educated and upwardly mobile -- and the secular culture to which they have surrendered."28 These are the Catholics that Schwartz notes are subject to the paradoxical attitude that secular culture adopted toward post-conciliar Catholicism. That is, "Catholicism is still despised to the extent that it claims to teach with authority, but that contempt is no longer mixed with fear, only with condescension. The pope is unable to assert his authority effectively over even the clergy, much less the laity. And so we have the new strain of anti-Catholic sentiment expressing itself by praising those Catholics who separate themselves from the beliefs and practices of their church. To the extent that the reality of the church is despised, so individual Catholics who subordinate their Catholicism to some secular ideology are held up as models of intellectual honesty, courage, and all-around decency. The only good Catholic, it would seem, is a bad Catholic."29

      Schwartz observes, however, for such Catholics a crisis was occasioned exactly when your "new-found ecumenical friends decided that the next great step in the advance of civilization was to authorize the killing of babies. We were tolerant, and we desperately wanted to be accepted. But we were still Catholics, not barbarians. We drew the line at murdering the young."30 In opposition to those in power, Catholics knew this was not another question to be resolved by interest group politics. Catholics knew they had a duty to stand for life, to choose, as Schwartz puts it, Christ over Caesar.31

      This seems to me to put the issue just right. For if the strategy I have followed in this essay is close to being right, it is to remind you that opposition to abortion involves much more than just opposition to abortion. In fact it does nothing less than to put Catholics at odds with the primary ethos and institution of the liberal culture which has just accepted you. To be against abortion means politics as usual -- to be for or against Bush -- is no longer possible. As Schwartz says, "The unfortunate truth is that most Catholics in America look to something other than the church for their basic direction in life. There are among us today people who call themselves Catholics but who are, above all, something else: feminists, Marxists, Republicans, evolutionists, pacifists, or whatever. Not everything in these ideologies is in conflict with Catholicism, and not everything in them is in harmony with Catholicism. But where these secular ideologies are in conflict with Catholicism, those who have placed their faith elsewhere insist that the church must change to conform itself to the higher truth proclaimed by the ideology of their choice. No secular ideology can save. None of them, ultimately, is the truth. Only the Catholic faith answers the hunger of the human heart. Only the Catholic faith is true. Only the Catholic faith can bring us to the wholeness which consists in seeing God as God really is. It is not, I am saying, the church which must change to accommodate to the things of the world, but the worked that must be transformed, folded under the mantle of the Bride of Christ."32

      I have resisted using this occasion to critique the methodology of past Roman Catholic moral theology except for a few generalizations about natural law as the presumed starting point for Catholic reflection. But if Schwartz is right, as I think he is, it means that moral theology cannot be divorced from those practices and virtues that derive their intelligibility from theological convictions. After all, the Catholic convictions about abortion have never been derived from abstract principles about the "right to life," but rather have been rational just to the extent that Catholic people were formed by practices that made them a community capable of welcoming children. What is "natural" about that is that is the way we were created -- a claim about "nature" that unavoidably requires acknowledgement that there is a creator.

      As a way to make these issues concrete, let me suggest a different way to test the issue of ecumenical ethics. Rather than thinking about how Catholics can participate in the California Council of Churches, ask whether the bishops ought not to commend to all Catholic people participation in Operation Rescue. There is a test for you. You have to associate with the most despised of our society -- Bible believing fundamentalists -- in non-violent action. That is going to be a challenge to Catholics on several fronts -- namely they will have to deal with people who take the Bible seriously. Indeed as was reported in the December 8, 1988 Wall Street Journal article, "Anti-Abortion Movement's Anti-Establishment Face," there are tensions between Catholics and Protestants in the movement. Charlotte Tow Allen, the writer of the article, reports "Evangelicals rely exclusively on the Bible for moral authority. ‘I don't see how someone could believe abortion is murder without believing in the Bible,' says Michael Hersh, director of Operation Rescue in Atlanta. This can be disconcerting for those who believe abortion violates natural law as well. Catholics have a long tradition of incorporating natural law principles into their theology, which makes it easier for them to discourse on moral issues with Jews, atheists, and other non-Catholics."33 Yes, far too easy, but what a wonderful opportunity God has given you to discover the richness of being Catholic and therefore to call us all to the unity of God's good kingdom.


1 This essay was given as the Tenth Paul Wattson Lecture at the University of San Francisco on February 27, 1989. The issue I was asked to address was "Ethics and Ecumenism: Can Christians Divided by Moral Issues Be United?" I was honored to be asked to deliver the Wattson Lecture since I admire the work of the Society of the Atonement for their tireless work in service to the prayer, "That all may be one."

2 I have discovered that often when I am introduced the paragraph from the "Introduction" of A Community of Character (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1981) is used in which I describe myself as a high-church Mennonite. (6) Though such a designation is meant to be amusing, I am serious about it as I understand that to be a way of understanding Methodism -- namely we are a free church with a Catholic ecclesiology. Methodism, of course, is a movement that by accident became a church. As such we only make sense as a church that works for its own demise, that is, to be a bridge to greater unity. The reference to Mennonite in "high-church Mennonite: is also serious since I think that the Mennonites are wrongly characterized as a wing of the Protestant Reformation. For example, see Walter Klassen, Anabaptism: Neither Catholic nor Protestant (Waterloo: Conrad Press, 1973).

3 If you ever wonder where Protestant liberalism has gone to die you will discover it in the soul of many Roman Catholic theologians.

4 Richard Neuhaus, The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Post-Modern World (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), pp. 66-67. I do not share Neuhaus' sense that this is "the moment in which the Roman Catholic Church in the United States assumes its rightful role in the culture-forming task of constructing a religiously informed pubic philosophy for the American experiment in ordered liberty." (P. 283) I do not because I do not think it the church's task, Protestant or Catholic, to generate such a "public philosophy" and I am particularly distrustful of what "ordered liberty" means. I, nonetheless, share his strong claim that the essential crisis for our time and the church is unbelief. I read his book basically as a call for the church to recover its theological integrity -- a recovery that surely has, as Neuhaus rightly suggests, extraordinary social implications.

5 For in attempt to affirm the importance of the papacy from a Protestant point of view, see Robert Wilken's and my article, "Protestants and the Pope," Commonweal, CVII, 3 (February, 1980), pp. 80-85.

6 I do not mean to obscure the different accounts of natural law within Roman Catholic moral theology. Indeed it is my own view that the position I have just characterized -- i.e. that natural law could be divorced from theological claims -- has little to do with the kind of natural law position represented by Aquinas. However, this account of natural law ironically was accepted by both "conservative" and "liberal" Catholic moral theologians. For an excellent critique of this turn in natural law theory see Russell Hittinger, A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987) and his essay "Varieties of Minimalist Natural Law Theory," American Journal of Jurisprudence (forthcoming).

7 Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).

8 IBID., p. 58

9 IBID., p. 279.

10 James Gustafson, The Church as Moral Decision Maker (Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1970), p. 110.

11 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982).

12 (New York: Paulist Press, 1982).

13 (New York: Crossroads, 1988).

14 (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1987).

15 Edited by Joe Holland and Anne Barsanti (South Orange, New Jersey, 1988).

16 (New York: Paulist Press, 1989). Weigel says "Catholic incarnational humanism is a more attractive vehicle of evangelization in America than the various dialectical approaches found in fundamentalist and evangelical Protestant worlds -- and far more adequate than the apologetic accommodationism that has characterized the Protestant mainline for over a generation. Catholic liturgical sensibilities are proving attractive to those who find the lecture-as-worship model a bit aesthetically thin after a while. Catholicism's classic natural law approach to moral reasoning could make an enormous contribution to a pluralistic democracy trying to determine the right role of religiously-based values in public policy discourse. The ideal of the "communitarian individual" in American democratic capitalism coheres nicely with Catholicism's central social-ethical principles of personalism, the common good and subsidiarity." (25) In the light of such a quote I am tempted to simply say, "I rest my case." At the very least we must ask Weigel to show what form of the "classic natural law" reasoning is so helpful for a "pluralistic democracy." Not only to I think appeals to "pluralism" are empty in the face of the fragmentation of American society, but I do not think Weigel appreciates how controverted questions about practical reason are today. It is interesting in this respect Weigel appeals to "common human experience" as the basis of natural law in such thinkers as Simon, Maritain, and Murray (p. 197), but seems innocent of the problematics of such an appeal. Even stranger, Weigel fails to understand that the same appeal to "common human experience" is what underwrites the program of liberal Catholic theologians of which Weigel is so critical. In this respect Weigel manifests the same difficulties of his great hero, John Courtney Murray, who wanted to provide historical placing of Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, but still wanted to make the precepts of natural law a-historical. Like being pregnant, it is hard to be only partly "historical."

17 McCann, p. 13.

18 The appeal to John Courtney Murray among those wishing to find a role for Catholicism in America is a book in itself. One constantly wishes that the "real John Courtney Murray would stand up" as I cannot see how he can be the same person that inhabits the pages of McCann, Curran and Weigel. I think this is partly due to the incoherence of Murray's own position. For Murray tried to combine Catholic social thought, which shares much with what is being called "commontarian" today, with liberal social theory. In the last chapter of We Hold These Truths, Murray rightly noted that the liberal social theory of Hobbes was ultimately incoherent and as an alternative offered Catholic natural law. But his "natural law theory" certainly cannot be seen as the originating of sustaining ethos behind American constitutional practice, and even if it were, his natural law remains far too rationalistic to sustain the kind of duties characteristic of the early encyclicals.

20 McCann, p. 27.

21 McCann, p. 56.

22 McCann, p. 176.

23 John Murray Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974), pp. 13-14.

24 Cuddihy, p. 13.

25 Hollenbach, pp. 78-79.

26 Coleman, pp. 146-147. For an equally, if not more powerful analysis of this dilemma, see Gustafson's essay noted above.

27 Coleman, p. 147.

28 American and Catholic, edited by Holland and Barsanti, p. 90.

29 Schwartz pp. 88-89.

30 Schwartz. pp. 90.

31 Schwartz pp. 91.

32 Schwartz pp. 95-96.

33 Charlotte Tow Allen, "Anti-Abortion Movement's Anti-Establishment Face," Wall Street Journal (December 8, 1988).