On Sunday evening it was announced that the Swiss people had decided in a referendum that no minarets could be built in their country. This is a shameful decision and an attack on religious freedom.

The Swiss government had asked people to vote against the proposal to ban minarets. The Catholic bishops did the same.

This was another sad day for those who are in favour of religious freedom. Those who protested against the judges who want to ban crucifixes from schools should also protest against this decision of the Swiss people.

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Priests disagreeing on TV

A few days ago, two Jesuits appeared on a prime-time news programme on CNN to debate the appropriateness of the reception of Holy Communion by pro-abortion politicians. The contributions followed the directive Bishop Thomas Tobin's of Rhode Island gave to Senator to refrain from receiving communion because of his support to pro-choice or pro-abortion (have your pick) legislation.

Jesuit debates Jesuit

Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ who hosts "EWTN Live: Threshold Of Hope" was in absolute agreement with Bishop Tobin. Fr Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican" was in total disagreement.

Fr Pacwa said that being in favour of abortion is a very serious sin. He continued that the issue about communion and pro-choice politicians is an example of a political position that "is trying to intrude into ... the norms (that) are set by the Catholic church for centuries and that this has been the 2,000-year teaching that abortion is a serious sin, excluding people from communion."

Answering a question by the programme's anchor he said that he would not refuse communion to a politician who supports the death penalty since this is "not absolutely prohibited but it's what the church would like us to do so that we can be consistently pro life." He said that it can be allowed "where people cannot afford to sustain people in a life imprisonment situation."

In his answer, Fr Reese said that "most of the bishops in the United States simply don't agree" that communion should be denied to Catholics, politicians who are pro-choice.

He continued saying that "it's a well-known fact that the pope, Pope John Paul II gave communion to pro-choice politicians in Italy." He put two rhetorical questions: "Now, is Father (Pacwa) more Catholic than the pope? You know, are these bishops (who deny communion) more Catholic than the pope?"

Father Pacwa answered "I don't know what Pope John Paul knew about those politicians in that circumstance. However, what I do know that during his reign ... he had legislation that was put out by the office for the defence of the faith, that said politicians who are pro abortion may not receive Holy Communion. That is church policy."

Father Reese distinguished between being pro-choice and being pro-abortion. "If someone gets up and says, I think abortion is wonderful and every woman should have one... this is very different."

Enter the bishops

The differences between Fathers Reese and Pawca reflect the differences between the US bishops on this issue. In his blog posted on November 15, 2008, Bishop Lynch said that two thirds of the bishops of the US are against adopting a policy of refusing communion to the politicians in question. This debate was very alive during the presidential campaign and election.

The debate was also very controversial when Senator Edward Kennedy was given a Catholic funeral with the participation of cardinals, bishops and priests.

Faced with the situation some people are confused, others are scandalised, while others are not perturbed at all. It is natural to have such diverse reactions as different people react differently depending on a vast number of criteria.

Beyond scandal and confusion

Let me share with you how I look at this reality:

Being a Catholic means accepting a number of beliefs and the way of life that naturally emanates from those same beliefs. One cannot be a cafeteria or supermarket Catholic, i.e. one cannot pick and choose what one likes to make up a personal brand of Catholicism.

Our common beliefs are guaranteed by the Magisterium, explained and developed by theologians and lived by all of us. On the other hand, this does not mean that Catholics are carbon copies of each other.

It does not mean that if one dissects one's Catholic theology or practical decisions one can build up a universal Catholic model.

Catholicism is not a strict monolith. The history of the development of theology is peppered with different ways of explaining our basic beliefs. Aquinas debated with Scotus; Rahner with Danileau, Haring with Zalba. We have had different Christologies, different ecclesiologies and different theologies of grace.

Our faith is greater and vaster than what can be embraced by any one theological school or trend of thought. What was considered to be shocking at one era became the obvious certainties of another era. Theologians who were suspect at one point in time became the luminaries of a latter generation.

The different theologies which have been developed throughout the centuries are a sign of the creativity of the community, which under the inspiration of the Spirit and the guidance of the Magesterium, tries to understand and interpret our basic dogmas. This applies, more and more, to the way we live our Catholic-being and to the practical decisions taken in everyday life and in politics.

Different spiritualities live side by side. Divergent pastoral strategies co-exist.

Practical church policies adopted in one diocese can be different from other practical Church policies adopted in other dioceses. Different bishops, priests and laypersons can, and do, make different prudential judgements and arrive at different ways of acting. The differences among bishops, priests and laypersons in the United States are living testimony of all this.

These differences are a sign of creativity not a sign of confusion; or diversity not cacophony. What is true of the United States should also be true among us.

It is very clear there is no one way of being a Catholic; there are variations of the same tune. These divergences and differences are our strength not our weakness! The way forward is not mutual condemnation or silencing but listening and dialoguing.

May one thousand flowers bloom under the inspiration of the Spirit and the warmth of a loving community blessed and directed by different charismas.

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