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What makes us Catholic?

Archbishop discusses Catholic identity issues with Benedictine students

by Hannah Dumpert
Special to The Leaven

ATCHISON — If Coca-Cola began producing only 30 percent of its products according to the formula, it would be a complete gamble as to whether or not you would receive the true product, even though it said “Coke” on the outside. As a result, the public would quickly lose trust in the product.

That is how Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann explained the situation facing the Catholic public when looking at Catholic institutions like hospitals, schools and nonprofit groups. If a Catholic institution is not providing a true Catholic experience, he asked, wouldn’t you begin to lose faith in the product?

Archbishop Naumann discussed the subject in an informal meeting with senior theology and philosophy students at Benedictine College in Atchison on April 18. The students had picked the topic — Catholic identity among Catholic institutions and the trials that come along with it. The conversation centered on the recent decision by Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix to no longer allow a local hospital to identify itself as Catholic due to an abortion performed there.

There are specific church documents, he explained, that outline for both schools and hospitals what is expected of a Catholic institution. The interpretation of the text is left to the head of each diocese or archdiocese.

“It is our responsibility to interpret such documents,” Archbishop Naumann explained. “We must protect the integrity of the Catholic faith so that beliefs are not distorted and corrupted.”

There are times when some Catholic schools and health care facilities do not follow Catholic teaching and this can lead to a misinterpretation of the Catholic faith, which leads to scandal.

“Scandal simply means leading others into error,” the archbishop said. “If a Catholic institution teaches or operates against the faith, it will lead Catholics into erroneous beliefs, which could be a just cause for it to lose its Catholic standing.”

Archbishop Naumann continued, saying that an institution would only lose its “Catholic” title as a last resort.

“There are several steps I would take before asking an institution to remove the title,” said Archbishop Naumann. “First, I would enter into dialogue with the leadership of that institution and ask them to make a change. I would then work with the leadership to implement the changes. Through justice and prudence, an archbishop should try to take all other steps so as to not create a public scene.”

In some rare cases, like that in Phoenix, a diocese must take severe action in order to protect the integrity of the Catholic faith and prevent scandal.

Securing the future of Catholic health care institutions may be an uphill battle, he said. Since the passage of the new national health care program, the Catholic Church has put pressure on the White House and congressional leaders to correct part of the plan.

“The Obama administration was not responsive to groups who wanted religious freedom put back into effect,” said the archbishop. “This created efforts to force Catholic hospitals, if they are the only option geographically available, to provide reproductive technologies and abortion services. That simply goes against crucial church teaching.”

Catholic identity is important in the education system as well. This year, bishops all across the nation are meeting with presidents of Catholic universities to make sure they are deserving of their Catholic identity.

“In some cases, the visits are very pleasant,” Archbishop Naumann said with a laugh. “But, if there is an issue, the bishop will try to assist in correcting them.”

If students at Catholic schools are not receiving a true, full Catholic education, he continued, they will begin to lose faith.

Maintaining a Catholic identity is not an easy task. Every employee must be willing to embrace the mission.

“Whether you are a janitor, coach, teacher, or principal, it is important to maintain Catholicity across the board,” the archbishop said. “This must be done to assure students that what they are getting is authentic to the faith.”

Archbishop Naumann stated that, in the future, he could see some universities and hospitals no longer wishing to claim the Catholic title.

“Some institutions may no longer see the reward of being Catholic,” he said.

The important thing, he continued, is to make sure that Catholic institutions are held to a standard and are not misleading the public or misrepresenting the faith. People should be sure of what they will get when an institution says it is Catholic.

“People should recognize that they are getting a quality product when they see that title,” he said.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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