Date of Award

Spring 2002

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Physician Assistant

First Advisor

Hughson, D. T.

Second Advisor

Coffey, David

Third Advisor

Copeland, M. S.


The quotation above, from "Called to Be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril," a statement released by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and the Catholic Common Ground Project in August of 1996, draws attention to "the polarization" that marks the state of the Catholic Church in the United States. This polarization is marked, to a great extent, by the use of labels such as neo-conservative, conservative, moderate, and liberal, to define theological views on topics ranging from how to celebrate the eucharist to the role of women in the Church to the relation between the local church and the universal Church to the way in which the Church engages in socio-political issues. The statement laments the fact that proposals offered in the hope of advancing dialogue on a particular issue are often subject to "ideological litmus tests" and are placed within certain "pre-existing camps," without a second thought given to their potential contribution to advancing understanding of a specific issue. While the statement from The Catholic Common Ground Project particularly addresses the current state of the Catholic Church in the United States, its recognition of polarization in the Church is no less relevant for the situation of the Catholic Church as a whole in the very early days of the twenty-first century. In one way this is the case because the Church is understood principally in terms of the relations between local churches and the universal Church of Rome. Moreover, often people characterize a statement coming from either a local episcopal conference or the Pope or his representative as liberal or conservative merely because of its author. The same has been true with regard to well-developed and thoroughly researched positions of theologians that are often written not so much from one side or another of a disputed issue, but rather with intellectual acumen hopeful of genuinely contributing to the life of the Church in the world. In order to avoid making theological judgments purely based on ideological fixations and/or rooted in ecclesiastical politics, a guiding principle on every page of the dissertation is the acknowledgment, in Bemardin's words, "that the hermeneutic of suspicion must be balanced with a hermeneutic oflove and retrieval...



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