Monday, July 23, 2007

My commentary in the Tribune

Appearing in the Sunday La Crosse Tribune was my commentary on the CDF's document. Instead of trying to deflect the Vatican's statement, or to criticize whether it said enough (which criticism I think would be valid), I tried to give another Protestant view of the document, which the media seemed to miss. There are some Protestants (as well as some Catholics) who aren't afraid to really dialogue, while holding fast to what makes them Protestant or Catholic...

Vatican avoids ecumenical confusion

For better or worse, Vatican documents tend to stir up controversy. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s most recent document was certainly no exception.

Cumbersomely named “Responses to Some Questions regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church,” the hard-hitting June 29 document was an affirmation of the Catholic Church’s teaching that she is the one, true church founded by Christ.

The document rejects claims that this teaching changed following the Second Vatican Council. In fact, citing that council, the document states, “This one church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him.”

Consequently, the document adds, Protestant churches “suffer from defects.”

It was to the latter statement that newspaper headlines gravitated. “Pope, restating 2000 document, cites ?defects’ of other faiths,” said the New York Times. “Papal arrogance may cause flight from church,” according tothe Indianapolis Star. “Pope’s statement on church primacy riles Protestant leaders,” stated the Hartford Courant. And “Who controls the gates of heaven?” asked the Orlando Sentinel.

On display in many of these articles was Protestant reaction that was decidedly - and at first glance understandably - negative.“An exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ goes against the spirit of our Christian calling towards oneness in Christ,” commented a disapproving Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

Like Nyomi, most of those reacting negatively to the document cited ecumenical concerns. How, they ask, are we to dialogue with the Catholic Church when it rejects our very existence as churches?

Although journalists somehow overlooked him, there is a prominent evangelical Protestant who provides an answer for his brethren. Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. is currently the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is often described as the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention. Time Magazine has referred to him as the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.”

In a July 13 op-ed titled “No, I am not offended,” which was published on his Web site (, Mohler had the following to say:

“Evangelicals should appreciate the candor reflected in this document. There is no effort here to confuse the issues. To the contrary, the document is an obvious attempt to set the record straight. The Roman Catholic Church does not deny that Christ is working redemptively through Protestant and evangelical churches, but it does deny that these churches are true churches in the most important sense. I appreciate the document’s clarity on this issue.”

Mohler went on to condemn what he termed a “false and deadly dangerous game of ecumenical confusion.” “Pope Benedict is not playing a game,” he wrote.

If they are offended by the Vatican document, Catholics and Protestants alike need to stop for a moment and ask themselves why they are Catholic or Protestant. Differences in belief and practice derive from more than personal preference.

If you are a Catholic, think of the thousands who were martyred at the hands of the Arians in defense of Jesus’ divinity in Christianity’s earliest centuries. Consider of the Catholics slaughtered in England during the Reformation years. Reflect on the Catholics being persecuted today by the Muslim majority in some African nations, or murdered at the hands of Hindu fanatics in India. They certainly found and continue to find something to cling to in their Catholicism.

I am Catholic and proud of it. I would expect a Protestant to be proud of his Protestantism as well. And I have far more respect for a Protestant who knows why he is a Protestant than for a Catholic who is ashamed to be a Catholic. For only when we know where we stand can honest dialogue begin.

Franz S. Klein writes for The Catholic Times in La Crosse.

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