Last week, I began discussion about a pamphlet that was left in my car containing false assertions about Catholicism (read it here: page 1 and page 2). Today I’d like to discuss the portion of the pamphlet on page 2 regarding ecumenism.
First, a definition
For those unfamiliar with the term: ecumenism (rooted in the word ecumenical) is a movement aimed at achieving unity among Christian Churches (and other non-Christian religions) by establishing interdenominational discussions to cooperate on matters of mutual concern.
What is Catholicism, anyway?
The actual term Catholicism has its roots in the Greek word katholikos, which means literally “universal”. Without digging into extreme detail, it stands to basic reason that the Universal Church would have a mission to explore how it is, in fact, universal with other word religions and movements. However, it is my understanding that this is not the main intent of ecumenism. The main intent would be to explore ways for reconciliation and re-unification with the various Christian sects that have broken away from the Catholic Church over the ages.
And the false premises begin…
Turning back to the pamphlet, I must admit a certain difficulty parsing out the actual arguments from amid the poisonous attacks presented in this first section on Ecumenism. The first paragraph begins by stating that the Catholic “net” includes Charismatic, homosexual, Voodoo, and Buddhist sects. This is an easy place to begin: charismatic refers to a certain type of worship. I have never been (or know of) a charismatic Catholic Church. Homosexuality is a type of sin, not a religious sect. Voodoo and Buddhist refer to other religions, neither of them Catholic.
The false argument continues atop two quotations, one by Cardinal Cooke and one by Pope John Paul II. I strongly suspected that the quotation by Cardinal Cooke was taken out of context, but my attempts to find a transcription of the entire speech or homily that it was taken from came up empty (although I did find this quotation referenced in the same way several other places). The quotation from Pope John Paul II was in reference to dignitaries from Islam, in the context of a broad faith dialogue. In fact, Jews, Catholics, and Muslims do all pray to the God of Abraham. The Catholic Church contains the fullness of Revelation accomplished through Christ. The Catholic Church in no way denies Christ, invalidates Christ’s claims, or makes Him a liar as the author of this pamphlet alleges.
The one true claim made here is that the Catholic Church accepts anything holy and true in other religions. What this means is not that we part-and-parcel accept all other world religions and their premises, but instead acknowledges the fact that there is objective Truth (note the capital T), and because God is the sole author and creator of Truth we must accept it even when it is found in other world religions. Why is this important? Because it is what Christ told us to do:
In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all. Extinguish not the spirit. Despise not prophecies. But prove all things; hold fast that which is good. From all appearance of evil refrain yourselves.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:18-22
Shun counterfeit Christians? Really?
This section of the pamphlet closes with a positively strange argument that asserts that “counterfeit Christians” should not be associated with and aren’t worth even eating with. They absolutely mangle the context of 1 Corinthians 5 in order to accomplish this feat of logic. Saint Paul was admonishing the people of Corinth for tacitly accepting sexually immoral practices among members of the Church there, it really takes some leaps to associate this to a sectarian dispute and that those falling into that category should be treated in the same way. One additional note: verse 12 contains a statement relevant to our previous discussion regarding dialogue with non-Christian religions:
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
– 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
So leave it to God to work out the ultimate fate of those that adhere only partially to His Truth.
If we carry the line of argument presented in the first section of this pamphlet to it’s logical conclusion, we would just allow our misguided “counterfeit” brethren to languish in their ignorance without correction. Instead of speaking with them, treating them with respect, and bringing them closer to the Lord we would just shun them immediately. Imagine if all of the Old Testament prophets or the Apostles had taken this approach! It’s not exactly following the command of Our Lord to go forth and make disciples of all nations… nowhere in there does it say “all nations, so long as they agree with you immediately.”
For an excellent representation of the Catholic stance on ecumenism, I refer you to this talk from the Cardinal’s Symposium in 2003 regarding the ecumenical efforts during Pope John Paul II’s pontificate. Further, you can read an entire address on this topic from Pope Benedict XVI, where he outlines the intent of these interfaith dialogues and also he outlines the dangers that one can encounter. I understand that these references might not satisfy anyone that does not accept papal authority regarding such matters, but I feel that between Christ’s teaching and the words of his Vicars on Earth it is directionally correct advice.