Because I am going to write a profoundly critical document, I think it
is important to make my credentials
clear. I was brought up a Protestant, more specifically: a Methodist. I
became a Catholic for intellectual reasons, while an undergraduate at Cambridge
University. Through my whole time at Cambridge, I was involved with the
"Ecumenical Fellowship Groups" movement: something started by the Methodist
Student Society, but supported by Christians of many denominational allegiances
(though treated with a certain disdain by undergraduates of classical Evangelical
or Calvinist leanings, and with only a smattering of Catholic involvement.)
Through my involvement with EFGs, I went on three missions to ecumenically
co-operating groups of churches. In one of these, the local Catholic parish
was involved. Since that time, I founded and helped run (for at least three
years) an ecumenical fellowship and discussion group at my place of work.
Most of my close Christian friends are protestants: mainly Anglicans (of
various types) and Methodists. I also have a continuing personal interest
in Eastern Christianity: Catholic; Byzantine and Coptic. As a gay man,
I have been involved with protestant Christians through the LGCM.
As a convert to Catholicism, I am in a strong position to pass judgement
on the situation: I have seen it "from both sides of the fence", and still
do so. I understand what is important to all parties concerned and what
the dynamics of the situation are.
Because of my background and connections, I feel the pain of Christian
disunity with a particular keenness. It is something that has and continues
to affect my life personally. I can still remember the anguish of looking
at a piece of "Mother's Pride loaf" offered to me by a Methodist minister,
wondering if it was really the Body of Christ, then rushing off to rescue
the leftovers that would otherwise be fed to the birds. Ecumenism is not
an issue which is an "add on" to my notion of Catholicism, but at its very
heart. It is because of this that I am dismayed by the manner in which
ecumenical matters are being pursued.
The Liberal Agenda
In my experience, most people actively involved in ecumenical matters have
a liberal agenda. In effect they are co-religionists who happen to belong
to different jurisdictions. They largely share the same doctrinal outlook.
They largely relate to each other in the same way as do "evangelicals"
who happen to belong to differing denominations. The presumption of this
liberal elite is (roughly) that if some doctrine is in dispute, then that
doctrine cannot be important: simply because it is in dispute! What
is held in common is important, what is not held in common can be ignored
or down-played. Now in some abstract world, this might be true: in the
real world, it simply is not the case. This can easily be seen in the following
way. If you take enough versions of Christianity, and work out what they
all have in common, you will finish up with very little other than a theological
creed along the lines "Jesus was an important man" and a moral code amounting
to "be a nice person". Of course, if you exclude Unitarians and Jehovah's
Witnesses, you'll do a bit better; if you exclude the Quakers, Baptists
and Salvation Army, better still: but why should these groups be
excluded? By choosing to do so, you are simply expressing your own prejudice
as to which doctrines are important. You are selecting the data to fit
The liberal agenda is biased.
The ecumenical-liberals select the basis of the discussion, and who is
allowed to engage in it, in accordance with their own views as to what
Christianity should be. They are not really interested in engaging in dialogue
with those who disagree with them. Instead they tend to dismiss such people
as ignorant or reactionary. As a Traditionalist Catholic, I believe that
some of the most distinctively Catholic-Orthodox or "un-Protetstant" doctrines
are of paramount importance.
This belief does not limit my willingness to engage in respectful dialogue
with people of very different views, however. Neither does it incline me
to treat (even the most extreme) Protestants or their belief systems with
derision. I do not look to validate my theology by obtaining agreement
with others. For me, the test of truth is the Living Tradition, Contemporary
Experience and the Dynamic
Magisterium of the Church.
The liberal agenda is dishonest.
The liberal-ecumenical agenda is essentially dishonest. It is directed
towards subverting the prevailing theologies of the various sociological
groupings involved and replacing them by a single set of anodyne beliefs
intended to serve as a basis for common action: though to what end, apart
from general works of charity (which are not the exclusive preserve of
Christians) it is not clear. Moreover, it involves the use of equivocation
and dissimulation. For years the "Anglican Roman Catholic International
Commission" went about its task of producing studiously ambiguous documents
without challenge. The Anglicans let it be thought that they were able
to speak with one voice on doctrinal matters: whereas in fact their Evangelical,
Liberal and Catholic wings hardly talk to each other, let alone have any
common doctrinal ground! The Catholics let it be thought that certain matters
of defined doctrine were up for debate: not interpretation or explanation,
but outright rejection. In particular, they let it be thought that "The
Catholic Church" was willing to give up its peculiar claim to unique legitimacy
and become "The Roman Catholic Denomination", one church
among many. Pope John Paul II personally contributed to this expectation
by the character of his visit to Canterbury Cathedral (which forms part
of an indifferentist and syncretist pattern of behaviour, along with
the Assisi conferences of World Religions, and his visits to Synagogues
and Mosques.) The programme has been taken further by the misleading "Catholic
Lutheran Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification".
The liberal agenda is uncharitable.
Unsurprisingly to those informed in these matters the Catholic Church isn't
about to repudiate its claim to uniqueness, as was made crystal clear in
the recent document from Rome "Domine Jesus". The feelings of betrayal
and dismay expressed by those Protestants attempting to engage in ecumenical
dialogue with Catholics when this document was issued were entirely understandable.
To have allowed them to think that Rome would essentially compromise its
position was uncharitable. This is not to say that all of the work of the
was in vain. It did come up with some valid insights, though in my view,
the more valid the insights were, the less acceptable they were to the
governing bodies of one or both jurisdictions.
A good deal can be done to foster cordial relations and engender mutual
respect at the local level. I know this from personal experience when I
was a young man in Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent: where Methodists and Anglo-Catholics
were on very good terms and did quite a lot of things together. Unfortunately,
very little is done in this way of things. Typically, the only ecumenical
activity in a parish is something along the lines of inter-church Lent
groups: an essentially introverted and sterile endeavour. The principal
should be that Christians should do together as much as they possibly
can do, without compromise. This could easily mean merging their social
outreach programmes (e.g. St Vincent de Paul and similar activities) regular
Bible study groups (sorry, Catholics don't have such!) non Eucharistic
worship (sorry again, Catholics don't have any!) even some evangelistic
work (sorry one last time, but Catholics don't do this either!) I
shall not further labour the point that there is much that could
be done, even if little is in fact done. Practical Ecumenism should
be more about doing ordinary (and so important) things together,
not doing specifically ecumenical things which easily become introverted
and a distraction from the real business of Christians: proclaiming and
implementing the Kingdom
of God's Friends!
The blind leading the blind.
I know from first-hand experience that much of what is proposed as grass-roots
ecumenism (as in exploring each other's beliefs) is nothing of the kind.
This because the people involved often do not have an adequate grasp of
what the issues are. They tend to identify their ecclesial affiliations
in terms of style and not substance. They are Methodists because they like
singing hymns, they are Catholics because they are ethnically Irish and
admire the Pope. They are Anglicans because they are attached to choral
evensong and propriety. Please excuse my parody.
One can only learn from someone who has something to teach. Too often
local ecumenical activity amounts to the blind leading the blind and results
in nothing more momentous than the acknowledgement that "them across the
road are Christians too, and generally OK people." This level of response
to the private tragedy and public scandal of Christian disunity can only
be described as pathetic. In Western Christendom, only evangelical Protestants
and conservative Catholics understand their churchmanship primarily in
terms of doctrine, and neither group is generally inclined to engage in
ecumenical activity: precisely because they see it as a threat to the purity
of their doctrinal stance. The recent publication of the Catholc-Lutheran
on the Doctrine of Justification was a cause of some hope that this sterility
might be overcome.
The other danger inherent in local ecumenical activity is indifferentism.
Because most Catholics are woefully ill-formed in the Faith, they are open
to influence from others who have clearer views and definite principles
to hand. Typically, the local Catholic hierarchy actively encourages them
to believe that there isn't much difference between Protestantism and Catholicism.
Generally, this is exactly what the laity now does believe. Why shouldn't
they: it's what "Father says" after
all. Moreover, contemporary Catholic liturgy is
nowadays not very different in form from a Protestant
service, and often inferior in style. The only remedy for these problems
is better formation and education of the Catholic laity. However there
is no sign of this ever happening. It would be contrary
to the interests of the hierarchy to encourage or allow it.
Truth in Charity
I believe that the only way to make progress at the theological level is
to accept from the start that there are important differences of view.
The reasons for these differences should be identified by discussion and
debate. The basis of such a debate can only be mutual
respect. Even when one's opponents are entirely mistaken, they may
be in good faith and deserve respect for that reason if no other. Moreover,
the fact they are wrong, doesn't mean that they have nothing of value to
teach. The very reason that they are wrong may be enlightening. Perhaps
the only reason that you don't agree with them is that in your blinkered
view of the world, you haven't even begun to consider some important issue
that they have at least tried to address! They, in their error, may have
much to teach you who haven't faced the problem.
"Why?" not "What?"
The most important question is not :"How do we differ?", but rather "Why
do we differ?" This in historical terms, but also and primarily
in philosophical terms: "What continues to motivate this difference?
What is perceived as valuable in each viewpoint by its proponents? What
is perceived as dangerous or harmful or wrong in each viewpoint by its
opponents?" When these questions are answered, it may become clear that
the disagreement is more a misunderstanding, and a common view synthetically
arise from the dialogue. This is the approach that the "Joint
Declaration" attempted to adopt. It is also possible that one side
may suddenly realize, in humility that it is simply mistaken! Certainly,
Catholicism has had to come to this realization on a good number of occasions:
though it has tended to do so quietly, without any great publicity!
Ecumenism within Catholicism.
I believe that it is also important to acknowledge that these differences
do not respect denominational, jurisdictional or confessional boundaries.
Within contemporary Catholicism there are very many laity and clergy whose
theology and spirituality is indistinguishable from liberal-protestantism.
As the late Cardinal Hulme once said to me in private: "The
Catholic Church is split
from top to bottom on important theological issues". This fact simply
has to be recognized, though not approved, by the Catholic hierarchy. The
late Cardinal Bernardin attempted to address this matter in what, I believe,
was more or less exactly the right way in his "Common
Ground Initiative", however this largely went to the grave along with
him: while other voices in the Church expressed the opinion that the only
common ground" that was needed was the Papal diktat.
The present state of the Catholic Church.
It is my view that the contemporary Catholic Church is in a state of near
collapse. Its laity is ignorant, lukewarm and diffident. They are like
sheep scattering without a shepherd. They do not know what
to believe or do because they are given no direction and are discouraged
from thinking or acting for themselves. Conformity is the spirit of the
age, yet what is to be conformed to is indeterminate. Whereas the authentic
spirit of Catholicism is directed towards the creation of community
and fellowship (as indeed happens somewhat in "Basic Communities" in
South America) in Western Europe practical Catholicism is "family value"
oriented, with the result that the parish is segregated into family based
cliques. Because there are typically no formal "fellowship"
or "study" or "lay apostolate" groups (and this often justified on
the basis that people with families have no time to spare for such activities)
these cliques are never broken down. Everywhere I look within Catholicism,
I see death and decay or isolated groups struggling against the odds to
combat death and decay. Why be a Catholic? The Catholic
hierarchy has no grounds for feelings of "triumphalist" superiority in
its dealings with Protestant or Orthodox christians!
Pressing Need for Humility
If the Catholic Church comes to any dialogue with other Christians carrying
the chip on Her shoulder that She is the True Church and that they are
"just frauds", how can any meaningful and respectful interchange take place
and how can any progress towards reconciliation be made? This question
can be answered in two ways. On the one hand, the Catholic Church has no
choice but to gently insist that She has something unique and precious
to offer: namely juridical, sociological and historical continuity with
the Apostolic Church. To fail to do so would be dishonest. For others to
Her to deny Her understanding of Herself is unfair. If She gives this up,
She has nothing. On the other hand, the Catholic Church has no choice either
but to admit that:
She is in practice an imperfect realization of the Perfect
Society that She is called to be.
She has been guilty of many and serious misjudgements
in the past.
It is only to be expected that She is currently labouring under other such
She has regularly imposed uniformity out of fear in an attempt to defend
What God cares about is interior good will, not exterior legality.
Although other Christians may have lost "formal legitimacy" they may be
closer to the Kingdom in practical terms than the typical Catholic.
All Christians in good faith are already invisibly
united in the One Body of Christ, of which The Roman Church believes
Herself to be the uniquely authentic visible expression.
In Platonic terms: all ecclesial communities participate, with various
of authenticity, in the form
of the One Church of Christ.
The Orthodox Churches [Byzantine, Coptic
and "Nestorian"] are hardly
lacking in Apostolic Legitimacy: only a small set of minor issues and misunderstandings
remaining to be resolved.
In Platonic terms, their participation in the form of the
Church of Christ is no less significant (though different in character)
than that of the Roman Church's own.
The loss of Apostolic Succession in the typical protestant jurisdiction,
while grave, may not be as clear-cut as Pope Leo XIIIth, of blessed memory,
thought. The ARCIC had some interesting
insights in this field.
In other words, some humility is called for on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy.
They should stop blowing hot and cold: first betraying the Tradition by
calling every Catholic doctrine into question in ecumenical dialogue; and
then claiming that their jurisdiction is identical with the "Perfect
Society of the One True Catholic, Evangelical and Apostolic Church of the
Body of Christ". Instead, they should proclaim the Tradition,
but gently: and offer the juridical authenticity (and the magisterial
office that comes with it) as a gift to be shared. The problem is
that within the Church, authority is too often conceived of in totalitarian
terms, rather than as a charism to be used in the service of all.
Equally, other Christians must open themselves to the possibility that
they have lost something of Catholicity in their histories. It is not
just a matter of legitimate differences and different perspectives
(though both are important) but also that "All
have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God". Only when all
Christians are willing to countenance that:
significant mistakes have been made by their leaders in the past,
that we still labour under the ill effects of some of these mistakes and
that these mistakes must be identified and disowned (i.e. repented of)
will a basis for full reconciliation be created. Speaking of the Catholic
Church, but with a clear ecumenical application, Gaudiem et Spes says that
we should seek for:
".... mutual esteem, reverence and harmony,
and acknowledge all legitimate diversity; in this way all who constitute
the one people of God will be able to engage in ever more fruitful dialogue.
For the ties which unite .... are stronger than those which separate: let
there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is doubtful, and charity
In September 2005, Cardinal Kasper laid down five challenges for the Roman
and Byzantine Jurisdictions:
purification of historical memory: admitting sins and seeking forgiveness;
overcoming mutual ignorance, prejudices and lack of understanding;
the mutual exchange of gifts (such as synodality);
strengthening cooperation in order to speak with a single voice to secularised
recognising that the path to full communion is a spiritual process.
What would the final settlement look
The following is a set of notes outlining possible solutions to the main
doctrinal and jurisdictional problems that have to be resolved by any Reuniting
Churches. The central problem is that of papal authority. I write about
this at great length elsewhere. From a
Catholic perspective the sticking points are an unequivocal acceptance
that the pope of Rome has:
a pre-eminence and authority that is subject to no
other person or office
immediate and ordinary jurisdiction throughout the
the power to define doctrine in a similar manner
to an Oecumenical Council
These points are mitigated and balanced by the following
Papal authority should always be used to build communion
and fellowship, not destroy it.
On rare occasions, it may be appropriate for papal
authority to be exercised in a coercive or condemnatory manner.
Generally, however, papal authority should be exercised
in a consensual and persuasive manner, and not be directive, coercive or
It should therefore be constrained by canons.
The terms of these canons not to be varied by papal
authority, but only with the unanimous consent of the other patriarchs.
In an emergency, the pope of Rome has the right to
suspend such canons and act without legal constraint.
However, in doing so he lays himself open to the
public admonition of any and all Catholics.
It would always be possible to argue that the pope
of Rome was then acting "ultra vires".
Because this case could not be tried (there being
no competent court) the pope could not be constrained in his action; but
neither could his action be enforced.
Hence, such action would always hazard schism.
“Against this background we can now weigh
the possibilities that are open to Christian ecumenism. The maximum
demands on which the search for unity must certainly founder are immediately
On the part of the West, the maximum demand would
be that the East recognize the primacy of the bishop of Rome in the full
scope of the definition of 1870 and in so doing submit in practice, to
a primacy such as has been accepted by the Uniate churches.
On the part of the East, the maximum demand would
be that the West declare the 1870 doctrine of primacy erroneous and in
so doing submit, in practice, to a primacy such as has been accepted [sic]
with the removal of the Filioque from the Creed and including the Marian
dogmas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
As regards Protestantism, the maximum demand of the
Catholic Church would be that the Protestant ecclesiological ministers
be regarded as totally invalid and that Protestants be converted to Catholicism;
the maximum demand of Protestants, on the other hand,
would be that the Catholic Church accept, along with the unconditional
acknowledgement of all Protestant ministries, the Protestant concept of
ministry and their understanding of the Church and thus, in practice, renounce
the apostolic and sacramental structure of the Church, which would mean,
in practice, the conversion of Catholics to Protestantism and their acceptance
of a multiplicity of distinct community structures as the historical form
of the Church.
While the first three maximum demands are today rather
unanimously rejected by Christian consciousness, the fourth exercises a
kind of fascination for it – as it were, a certain conclusiveness that
makes it appear to be the real solution to the problem. This is all the
more true since there is joined to it the expectation that a Parliament
of Churches, a ‘truly ecumenical council’, could then harmonize this pluralism
and promote a Christian unity of action.
That no real union would result from this,
but that its very impossibility would become a single common dogma, should
convince anyone who examines the suggestion closely that such a way would
not bring Church unity but only a final renunciation of it.
As a result, none of the maximum solutions offers
any real hope of unity.”
[Cardinal Ratzinger: "Principles of Catholic
Theology" (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1982), pp. 197-198]
Regarding the Union of the Roman Jurisdiction
with those of Moscow, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria:
Christology and Trinitarianism
The professions of faith already made by the "Monophysite"
Coptic and "Nestorian" Assyrian
Patriarchs be accepted by all as unexceptionable and characteristic of
excommunications of Origen, Nestorius and Theodore of Mopsuestia be
declared null and void, as not in any case bearing on "faith or morals".
A detailed study is to be ordered of their writings to determine which,
if any, are tainted with heresy.
The decision of the Second
Council of Lyons regarding the Filioque be unequivocally accepted by
all. While there should be no change in any liturgical version of the Nicene
Creed, in all theological discussions and in all catechesis, the original
text - without the filioque - should be used.
All jurisdictions - including the Abyssinians and
Armenians - are to have equal access to the Holy Sites in Palestine.
Identifiable Creeds and
Symbolic statements are to be accepted with profound reverence, however
they may admit of textual variation or improvement.
Other positive teaching is to be presumed to be definitively
authentic, but is subject to change as a result of subsequent development
and the teaching of the Magisterium.
Anathemas directed at individuals can never be taken
to be "dogmatic" but only "disciplinary". Any of these may in fact be misguided
and may be annulled, even if at some time they were generally accepted
Nicea I is to be acknowledged as always having been
recognized to be Oecumenical, and the development of its creed at the local
council "Constantinople I" to be acknowledged as authentic.
Ephasus, Chalcedon, Nicea II, Constantinople II,
III, IV, V, Lyons II and Florence are all to be declared to have been Oecumenical
by: "Universal Convocation", "Adequate Attendance", "Ecclesial Acknowledgement"
and "Papal Ratification".
The teaching of the Synods of Trent, Jerusalem
II and Vatican I is to be reviewed and recognized as orthodox and definitively
authentic. These Councils are to be ratified and so gain Oecumenical status.
The anathemas of Trent and Vatican I to be acknowledged as infallible definitions.
Dogmatic pronouncements made by other Councils are
to be treated with respect but any anathemas issued be denied infallible
status, for lack of Oecumenicity.
The pastoral value of the ministries of the Lutheran and associated jurisdictions
in God's providence is affirmed.
The lack of Apostolicity of these ministries is acknowledged.
The acceptance of Apostolic Orders as mandatory for all further pastoral
ministry is affirmed.
The question of the "validity" of orders is postponed for joint historical
and theological elucidation.
Regarding theological disputes: An Oecumenical Council is to be
convened at which the following Constitutions will be drawn up and ratified
by all wishing to enter this Union.
A joint declaration on the nature of the Apostolic Tradition, developing
the teaching of "Dei Verbum".
This to include an acceptance of the books of the deutero-canon as inspired
This to include a statement that the New Testament is the prime
and most authoritative witness to Apostolic Tradition and that the Magisterium
is subject to its clear meaning, notwithstanding the fact that all
Scripture is subject to authoritative interpretation by the Magisterium.
This to include an evaluation of modern Scriptural Scholarship and Criticism.
This to include an appreciation of the importance of the testimony of the
Regarding jurisdictional arrangements within the Patriarchate of Rome
All Evangelical and Reformed jurisdictions returning to Catholic Unity
shall be incorporated within the Patriarchate of Rome, unless any specifically
wishes incorporation within another Patriarchate.
Any group with a clear identity that wishes to preserve its distinctive
spirituality and liturgy shall be encouraged to do so.
Such groups should be erected as Orders or Personal Prelatures or Provinces,
All members of each Patriarchate will be subject to the same code of canon
law, save that Orders, Personal Prelatures and Provinces may seek leave
of their Patriarch to have this varied so as to accord with their own immemorial
All liturgical books and canons shall be subject to approval by the Holy