Theology Faculty Work On Common Ground Initiative

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Two Boston College theologians are playing prominent roles in the Catholic Common Ground Initiative, a project launched by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago to foster dialogue and bridge partisan divides in the American Catholic Church.

Assoc. Prof. Fr. Robert Imbelli (Theology) is one of 24 Catholic intellectuals and opinion-makers from across the country who have been named to the Common Ground advisory committee. Monan Professor of Theology Lisa Sowle Cahill will attend a Common Ground conference to be held near Chicago March 7-9, where she and other scholars will submit discussion papers on "US Culture and the Challenge of Discipleship."

Fr. Imbelli also will participate in a video teleconference capping the Common Ground forum, joining New York Times religion columnist Peter Steinfels, Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB, and Notre Dame Law School Professor Cathleen Kaveny in a panel discussion broadcast nationwide from noon-1 p.m. on March 10 over the Odyssey Channel, a religious cable network. The live, call-in program will be carried by Cablevision in Boston and Brookline on Channel A-35.
Assoc. Prof. Fr. Robert Imbelli (Theology)- Named to Common Ground advisory committee.

Launched by Cardinal Bernardin last August shortly before his death, the Catholic Common Ground Initiative aims to spark discussion on such matters as the changing roles of women and lay people in the Church, the gap between Church teachings and some Catholics' views on issues of sexuality, and the declining ratio of priests to parishioners.

The project has drawn criticism from some leading church figures, including Boston Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law, who contend that authoritative Church teachings are not subject to debate.

Monan Professor of Theology Lisa Sowle Cahill-Will present discussion paper to Common Ground conference.

Fr. Imbelli, who consulted in the drafting of the project's manifesto, said Common Ground will strive to end hostility and encourage civility in the American Catholic dialogue.

"What we're concerned about is that the challenge of discipleship is being frittered away by intramural squabbling," said Fr. Imbelli, former director of the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry.

"The polarization which has characterized at least segments of the American Church really is preventing the Church from exercising the leavening function the Second Vatican Council called us to," he added. "As we prepare for a new millennium, this represents a hopeful initiative to help people to deepen their common basis in faith and discipleship, and a way beyond some of the impasses of the present."

Led by Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., who succeeded Cardinal Bernardin as chairman, the Common Ground advisory committee features a cross-section of prominent Catholics, including Rev. J. Bryan Hehir of the Harvard University Center for International Affairs, who teaches a summer course in social ethics at IREPM. Other members include Harvard Law School Professor Mary Ann Glendon, AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney, Commonweal Editor Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Fr. Hehir will join Cahill in submitting papers at the Common Ground conference in March, which will be held on the grounds of the Chicago Archdiocese seminary in Mundelein, Ill.

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