COR was established in 1991 as a consortium and forum for national and regional Catholic reform organizations. In the beginning, all members and applicants were baptized and formal members of the Roman Catholic Church.
Participation in COR was conditioned on these foundational identities even though members included divorced and remarried Catholics in non-canonical marriages, resigned priests and religious without Vatican dispensation, members formally censured or informally judged improperly Catholic by Church officials. These institutionally marginalized members were acceptable to COR as long as they were baptized, formal members of the Roman Catholic Church, committed to reform and invited into membership by a consensus of COR member organizations.
In recent years, COR has favored defining Church identity as "Catholic" rather than "Roman Catholic," sensing a tension between the letter and spirit of Vatican II and a Roman institution, which seems monarchical and restorationist. Yet COR seeks to remain within the tradition of a Church both Catholic and, indeed, Roman where that further adjective defines legitimate and not expropriated institutional structure.
SEVEN INDICATORS OF CATHOLIC IDENTITY
COR now seeks to include members who see themselves as Catholic and as fully independent of Rome. COR wishes to invite such applicants to membership but also to maintain its essential ties to its Catholic and even Roman roots.
We believe that this dilemma and opportunity might be addressed by considering seven indicators of Catholic identity, which are not at odds with our Roman origins.
Catholic and Roman identity begins with the foundational sacrament of baptism. Vatican II found a way to make this sacrament Catholic even when it was not Roman. It declared that baptism in any Christian Church had the same value as Roman Catholic baptism. In doing this, it accepted the fact that other Christian communities were not foundationally at odds with the Roman Catholic Church.
Indeed, the Council and the later Code of Canon Law went further and affirmed that two Protestants married in a Protestant ceremony were sacramentally married in Roman Catholic terms. Furthermore, Roman Catholics could, under certain conditions, receive the Eucharist from Orthodox Christian priests.
It is, therefore, quite possible that a member seeking admission to COR and never having been formally Roman Catholic comes to us with baptism, marriage and Eucharistic connections, all expressed outside the Roman Catholic Church and all fully accepted by it. Such an applicant is foundationally already with us, not a stranger but a member of the family.
Sacramental life is linked inextricably with intentionality in the Roman Catholic tradition. Some who seek membership in COR may do so because they wish to access more fully the values of the Roman Catholic tradition, because they have no desire to be at odds with it and because they feel that they are distant from it for less than essential reasons. Such intentionality must count for something. Clearly, it complements sacramentality. COR offers some visible structure to accommodate such members on their spiritual journey and to gain from such members wisdom in helping us to make a Roman Church more fully Catholic.
Both a Council (Vatican II) and Canon Law assure us that the Church of Christ subsists in the Roman Catholic Church. The fullness of the Church of Christ, therefore, is not present in only one Church. The whole Catholic Church is realized in a plenitude and diversity of Churches. The non-Roman Catholic applicant allows COR and the applicant to encounter the possibility of a more fully Catholic Church.
There is no way of addressing the history of Roman Catholic identity without taking into account the divisions, which have shattered the institutional unity of the Church of Christ. These divisions have kept many of us Christians separate from one another because of historical and doctrinal reasons that the Churches no longer find important. Non-Roman Catholic applicant approaches COR in a spirit of friendship and solidarity, seeking to heal a division no longer justified in the terms, which once causes it. The values of our past must not become such a burden that they take away our present and our common future.
Vatican II affirmed conscience more emphatically than any other Council in Church history. As COR accepts a non-Roman Catholic member into its consortium, it honors the conscience of such a member who says, in effect, that there is no essential antagonism between who that person is and what Roman Catholicism seeks to become.
6. Pastoral Life
COR is, in part, an academy where we learn and an agent of reform where we act. It is also a gathering of Christ's disciples who seek to marginalize no one, especially those who come in from the margins and ask for inclusivity. COR's decision to admit or exclude needs to consider whether we do Christ's work if we exclude those who come to us in friendship and faith, those who suffer significant pastoral harm by our rejection of them, those who seek the bread of communion rather than the stone of alienation. This inclusion is all the more urgent when the applicant seems not to be at odds with all that is essentially Catholic.
The Church, our creeds tell us, is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. If we interpret these signs of the Church spiritually, the Churches are already united. The non-Roman Catholic applicant already experiences the unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the Church of Christ.
Roman Catholicism, however, finds its uniqueness by taking these four signs of the Church and giving them concrete, institutional expression. It finds: institutional unity in papal structure (however defined); institutional holiness in the range and centrality of its sacramental system (no Church has more sacraments or gives them so central a place in its life); institutional catholicity (by including in its tradition all the ecumenical councils from all the ages and the cultures, always influenced by them if not determined irrevocably by their doctrines); institutional apostolicity (in the Episcopal college).
We believe that these institutional expressions of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ define the Roman Catholic Church as different from other Christian Churches. We believe, furthermore, that non-Roman Catholic applicants may well seek membership in COR because they believe also in an institutional expression of these four signs of the Church of Christ and, through dialogue, may find a way for the papacy, the sacraments, the councils and the Episcopal college to be in full accord with their conscience and calling. It is often not the reality but the way it is defined and expressed which divides us.
These seven indicators of Roman and Catholic identity may offer COR and the applicant a way of becoming the Church of Christ in a manner that is not Roman or Catholic, as we have previously understood them. Indeed, together, COR and the applicant may be seeking something new and comprehensive, a work of the Spirit, astonishing and familiar all at once.