The Bernardin Conference, now held every other year, seeks to bring together leaders in the Catholic Church in the United States to discuss timely, relevant topics where polarization is evident. Participants, which have included bishops, theologians, and other church and secular professionals, come with a wide variety of perspectives and expertise. The hope of such an effort is for greater understanding and clarification among the different perspectives and a strengthening of the ecclesial unity among the participants. This unity does not necessarily mean agreement of ideas but hopefully a deep seated respect for each individual and their reasons for holding such positions.
Topic selection has typically occurred through a sub-committee of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. The conference occurs over a weekend beginning on Friday evening and ending on Sunday afternoon and has been held in several locations throughout the country over the years. Information regarding the conference topic is sent to participants in preparation for the dialogue. The weekend includes prayer and Eucharist, presentations and panel discussions. Integral to the conference is dialogue between the participants which is structured and facilitated by a hired professional. Outcomes from the conference include: points of common ground, the identification of neuralgic issues, points for further development and exploration, and aspects about the topic that were not discussed. The results of the Conference have at times led to continued dialogue sessions and publications. Conference participation is by invitation.