The USCCB and Cultural Diversity

Deal W. Hudson
September 8, 2010

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has set five goals to pursue until the end of 2011. They are:

  1. Strengthening marriage
  2. Faith formation focused on sacramental practice
  3. Priestly and religious vocations
  4. Life and dignity of the human person
  5. Recognition of cultural diversity
The USCCB Web site contains a link to a timeline for some of the "programs, events, and items coming from the five priority initiatives."

As I read through the goals, I was struck by how much the last – "recognition of cultural diversity" – differed from the first four. Cultural diversity seemed jarringly out of place when set beside the issues of marriage, faith formation, vocations, and respect for human life.

It was as if the guiding genera of Catholic faith and practice had decided to adopt a species from a completely different paradigm, one more rooted in modern politics and the debate over multiculturalism than the Catholic tradition.

So I decided to look through the material supplied at the USCCB Web site to find out just what made the "recognition of cultural diversity" so important as to be singled out as one of the five goals.

When I clicked on the link regarding future programs implementing these goals, I found a qualifier attached to the recognition of cultural diversity: "with special emphasis on Hispanic ministry in the spirit of Encuentro 2000."

Encuentro 2000 was a historic conference held in Los Angeles in the summer of 2000 "to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the Church in the United States." Attended by 5,300 Catholic leaders from the United States and 162 nations, the conference was held with the hope that "by bringing together people from different cultural, ethnic, and linguistic groups in the United States as one Church, Encuentro 2000 [would be] a prophetic sign of unity."

With that principle in mind, I looked at the first of the programs slated to be implemented in 2010: "Cultural Competency Guidelines for building cultural competency for clergy and laity together with in-service programs on Models and Resources."

"Cultural competency guidelines" were completely new to me, so I searched the phrase on the Internet and found that programs under this name are being administered by groups such as the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and Minnesota Department of Human Services.

The Minnesota DHS states, "An organization cannot be clinically or programmatically competent unless it is culturally competent." The Office of Minority Health at the Department of HHS has a detailed explanation of what is meant by "cultural competence" along with fourteen national standards for applying this competence to health care organizations.

It appears that something like a cultural competency standard is now being applied to the various ministries of the Church. In fact, for the past two years, there has been a Secretariat of Cultural Diversity at the USCCB with five subcommittees: Hispanic; African American; Native American; Asian Pacific; and Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers. This secretariat is already working on developing the cultural competency guidelines. It held a conference this past May at the University of Notre Dame, called the "Catholic Cultural Diversity Network Convocation," with more than 300 leaders to start formulating the document.

The USCCB press release for the Notre Dame conference contained a comment from the executive director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity, Rev. Allan F. Deck, S.J., that helped me to understand the reason behind this effort. Father Deck called the development of these guidelines vital, since "new leadership mostly of non-European descent is arising in the Church of the United States…. That leadership, however, is still largely focused on its own people and only vaguely aware of its role in relationship to the whole Church."

Father Deck's comment accurately describes the growing Hispanic presence in the U.S. Church, but it also adds a different dimension to the work of the secretariat. He talks about the importance of Hispanic leaders recognizing their relationship to the "whole Church," but the goal of recognizing cultural diversity is aimed at non-Hispanic and (presumably) now-assimilated U.S. Catholics, many from various European backgrounds.

The work of the secretariat appears to be implementing the cultural diversity goal by working in several directions at once. Hispanic leaders are to be brought into the mainstream of the Church, providing "Anglo" Catholics an understanding of their culture and practices that will form the basis of sharing a common community of worship and faith.

When the multicultural program was applied to this nation's educational system, the result was disastrous. The program was employed as a weapon to bash traditional curriculum and the teaching of basic skills. Having looked more closely at what the USCCB means by the "recognition of cultural diversity," I have come to conclude two things: First, the goal is poorly phrased because it looks like rank ideology. And second, it seems to have no purpose beyond teaching the commonsense lesson of "welcoming the stranger."

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