Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pope Francis And The Hazards Of Ecumenism

This kind of needs to be pointed out given all the fanfare over this "historic" and "unprecedented" (allegedly) papacy that we are seeing unfold. First, I must present a very simple question to everyone regarding the media trou-dropping that is sweeping the world with regards to excerpts (and sometimes not even that if we're talking about Scalfari) of papal comments.

Why are the media extolling these comments from Pope Francis?

The answer is obvious. They like them because they regard them as not Catholic. This is made even more apparent when one considers the Holy Father's comments that are, shall we say, less susceptible to interpretation in such a manner. Was there any media reaction to the Pope's comments on celibacy and consecrated virginity? Of course not. People were too busy taking random comments by Archbishop Parolin out of context. When the latest public excom came down the pipe, was there any national outlet reporting? When the Pope blasted the Culture of Death, was there a flood of coverage? Nothing of the kind. We were still hearing about "who am I to judge?" and similar items.

Let it be stipulated then that the only thing that makes Pope Francis newsworthy or favored among the press is the extent that he can be made to appear not Catholic or even hostile to Catholicism.

Using that as a preface, we should consider what the potential ripple effects of this kind of coverage for the Pope might mean. And I'm not talking about for Catholics either, as that should be pretty self-evident by now.

Simply put, these easily distorted comments from the Pope are poison to genuine ecumenism.

The last few popes have mentioned the Orthodox as the ecumenical priority and rightfully so. Without addressing whether this was followed up by action, consider this article by Rod Dreher. For Mr. Dreher, the perceived lack of clarity and solidity in Pope Francis's comments confirms his decision to leave the Church. It's the lack of grappling with the issues of stuff the Four Last Things, the "faithful" of laity and clergy that actively promote immorality, etc. that led him to leave.

All this put the moral unseriousness of the American church in a certain light. As the scandal raged, one Ash Wednesday, I attended Mass at my comfortable suburban parish and heard the priest deliver a sermon describing Lent as a time when we should all come to love ourselves more.

If I had to pinpoint a single moment at which I ceased to be a Roman Catholic, it would have been that one. I fought for two more years to hold on, thinking that having the syllogisms from my catechism straight in my head would help me stand firm. But it was useless. By then I was a father, and I did not want to raise my children in a church where sentimentality and self-satisfaction were the point of the Christian life. It wasn’t safe to raise my children in this church, I thought — not because they would be at risk of predators but because the entire ethos of the American church, like the ethos of the decadent post-Christian society in which it lives, is not that we should die to ourselves so that we can live in Christ, as the New Testament demands, but that we should learn to love ourselves more.

Flannery O’Connor, one of my Catholic heroes, famously said, “Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” American Catholicism was not pushing back against the hostile age at all. Rather, it had become a pushover. God is love was not a proclamation that liberated us captives from our sin and despair but rather a bromide and a platitude that allowed us to believe that and to behave as if our lust, greed, malice and so forth — sins that I struggled with every day — weren’t to be despised and cast out but rather shellacked by a river of treacle.


Kind of says it all. And Mr. Dreher isn't the only one. We've mentioned before how actions many Catholics are comfortable with, such as the Pauline Mass, are huge ecumenical stumbling blocks for the East. This kind of stuff is huge too.

It's a big deal for Protestants as well. Take Russell Moore's description of one of the Holy Father's interviews as a "theological train wreck." I live in a heavily Baptist area. The only thing Catholics have for outreach to many here is an unshakeable commitment to certain moral laws. When those are called into question, there is nothing left.

I mention all this because so many love to talk about ecumenism but have no concept of what it means. For too many, it means stripping away the supernatural and turning the Church into an Anglican NGO. This reinforces the need for clarity and brevity in the Pope's public speaking. The Church's enemies have their agenda. We know what they are going to do. It's nothing new. It is only reasonable to give them as few opportunities to do so as possible. Souls are at stake.

Just remember. When the world applauds, there is a very strong chance that Christians will be turning their backs.

1 comment:

Daniel Brooks said...

I completely understand what you mean. I have been talking with family members who are protestant, teaching them the Catholic faith in hopes they will convert.

Pope Francis' comments has absolutely thrown a wrench in the "dialogue."

"Proselytism? Nonsense!"
"There is no Catholic God"
"Convert to Catholic? No no no!"
(...) "obey your conscience," etc, etc..

He made a statement, I can't remember when, but along the lines of 'nothing has been done' in the sense of ecumenism.
Has he forgotten Assisi? What is his idea of ecumenism?
It seems that he is in lock-step with Card. Kasper, who said that we no longer look for an "ecumenism of return."