“What can the Church in the United States offer the Universal Church and the world?”

On the cusp of Super Tuesday and in the midst of an already-heated election year, Papal Theologian Fr. Wojciech Giertych responded to that question in a Q&A style conversation hosted by the Denver-based Augustine Institute.

“I think there is certainly a very positive value that you have and you’re not particularly aware of it. That you have liberty in your country,” Fr. Giertych said in his Feb. 24 discussion. “And by liberty, I mean that you are free to set up institutions like (the Augustine Institute) without government control.”

In modern-day Europe, Fr. Giertych said, government involvement and high taxation has made independent institutions almost impossible.  

“...the bureaucrats who apparently know better, who have two charisms: that of being irremovable and of being infallible,” he joked.

Fr. Giertych is a Dominican priest who has served as a papal theologian since his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Born in London to Polish immigrants, Fr. Giertych observed several differences between the United States and countries in Europe.

The American tradition of defending the independence of local governments against the power of a central government is a very Catholic understanding of social teaching, he said, even though the Puritans are the ones who first brought it to the U.S.  

This freedom not only affects the laws of the land but the attitudes and perspectives of the people, he added.

“This allows for a greater liberty, which allows for greater virtue, because...you’re not forming your people in a sense of entitlement,” he said, “which in Europe you have the government taking over responsibility, so the government must give.”

For example, when a natural disaster strikes in the United States, T.V. stations show people in the United States helping each other to repair and rebuild, Fr. Giertych said. But in Europe, people complain that the government isn’t doing anything.

“There’s a sense of entitlement (in Europe), that I have a right to receive help, whereas in your cowboy nation, when there’s a challenge, you do it,” he said. “And in the Church, this is conducive to human maturity, to the life of virtue.”

The “cowboy” mentality also transfers to other political issues, Fr. Giertych said. People in the United States debate issues like access to contraception through the HHS mandate, whereas people in Europe wouldn’t even think to question government mandates.

“In Europe nobody discusses this, the bishops don’t say a word, nobody dreams that this is a subject that can even be mentioned,” he said. “It’s obvious that the government runs the whole healthcare system, and gives access to everything according to the ideology, and nobody questions it.”

“Here in America this is a political issue, and bishops are speaking about it and politicians are speaking about it and this is a great value that you have,” he said. “And you should scream not only in America, but your voice should be heard outside America.”

The Church in the United States is thriving under this freedom and seems to be coming out of the vocational crisis that countries around the world experienced after Vatican II, he noted.

“I see the North American College in Rome, packed with seminarians who come to the Angelicum where I’m still teaching,” he said. “And I see these boys, they’re really honest, they’re really serious.”

“And I see in this the fruits of a very wise policy in the appointment of bishops under John Paul II that your Church has changed, and it has a new vitality.”

The flourishing orders of religious sisters in the United States are another sign that the Church in America is thriving and has a chance to re-evangelize not only herself but the world, Fr. Giertych said.

“This is a sign of optimism for countries like Holland, where the Dominicans from Nashville have a house,” he said.

“They’re going to countries where there...is dismal thinking; parishes are being closed, churches being sold...suddenly the Dominican sisters come and they’re joyful and smiling and devout and serious in their formation and free within, as mature persons,” he said.

“This is a great gift that America has, so you have to re-evangelize not only America, but also afar.”

Photo credit: Jim Lopes via www.shutterstock.com