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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

What is the Prophetic Role of the Catholic Church in American Society Today?

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

headshot of Fr. Hehir

On April 1, 2002, in the inaugural lecture of the Boisi Center’s series on “The Prophetic Voices of the American Churches,” the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, President of Catholic Charities USA and an advisory board member of the Boisi Center, offered his perspective on what the prophetic role means for Catholicism in the United States today.

In the Catholic Church, said Hehir, the prophetic vision comprises two distinct yet complementary styles,what he called the “pedagogical” and the “prophetic.” The “pedagogical” style corresponds to a perspective that sees the Church as having a universal calling and a responsibility for the whole society. As a tolerant yet firm teacher, this Church accepts the reality of social pluralism and seeks to effect change by collaborating with the institutions of society in a long, incremental process.

The “prophetic” style, on the other hand, is about witness and conversion. The Church in this mode addresses social issues with great clarity and urgency, demanding action and situating itself as a community in contrast to the established institutions of society.