Catholic Common Ground conversation gets under way

| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 11:57 a.m.

Local residents are invited to come together Tuesday to attend La Roche College's second Catholic Common Ground conversation.

And the purpose of the event is as it was when the initiative was designed in October 1996 by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the late archbishop of Chicago: to engage in discussion of important topics.

La Roche holds these conversations in honor of the Rev. Eugene Lauer, the college's former academic vice president, campus minister and chairman of the humanities division.

La Roche professor emeritus Edward Brett will moderate a discussion on “The Role of Laity in the Church.”

The free event will take place at Zappala College Center on La Roche campus at 9000 Babcock Boulevard, McCandless.

“This brings people together to dialogue and learn about each other,” said Brett, who retired in May after 28 years of teaching in the history and political science department.

It was his role as a historian that brought him into this issue-oriented leadership role. Brett, 68, of Ross Township, has published four books and 20 articles on various aspects of the Catholic Church.

Sister Michele Bisbey, professor of religious studies, and assistant professor Edward Bobinchock, chairman of the religious studies and philosophy department, also helped create this event out of discussions inside that department last summer, Sister Michele said. From their talks, the topic arose.

The role of the laity in the church has evolved, Brett explained, from the early days of Christianity, when there was “equality among the people, ‘neither slave nor free.' But as the religion spread, there were different ideas about things, and they needed leaders to keep things cohesive.”

By the Middle Ages, a hierarchy was in place, where leaders made decisions, and the membership followed, Brett said.

In the centuries that came next, the hierarchy strengthened. Brett cited Pope Pius X's encyclical, “Vehementer Nos,” in 1906, which made the role of the laity perfectly clear: “Listen submissively.”

The Second Vatican Council and Pope John XXIII in 1962 turned that directive on its head, Brett said. The definition of the church wasn't just about the leadership, such as the pope, cardinals and bishops, who made the rules, but all the people of God.

“The laity became an active part of the church by engaging in dialogue with each other,” Brett said. Decisions started to be made with a “sense of the people” espoused by the late Cardinal John Henry Newman, when the leadership asked “What do the people think?” in order to find solutions to questions.

“Now, with the conclave and new pope, this is a pertinent topic again,” Brett said.

He said he hopes this event opens channels for discussion. It will be an opportunity to hear different sides of an issue and find something to agree on that makes for additional conversation, Brett said.

In the months ahead, Sister Michele, of McCandless, said, she hopes to discuss whatever topics surface from those who participate.

“I believe that we are the pilgrim people of God,” Sister Michele said. “We have the privilege and responsibility of articulating the truth that God speaks in us, living lives of integrity faithful to the Gospel and making God's providence visible in the world by our works of justice and presence.”

Catholic Common Ground is not a place for debate or arguing, said Brett, “but a place where people feel safe enough to give their opinions. None of us have all the answers, and the questions are complex. By listening to the other side, we come to better understand our own view.”

This is especially important today in the political arena, he said, where voices “have their own agenda, and we end up screaming at each other.”

Through conversation that seeks a common ground, “people get a more mature view of the issue,” Brett said.

“We come together in a respectful manner and listen.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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