samedi, juillet 28, 2007

My column from today's Intelligencer Journal

Rhoades: Clarity moves church relations forward
Published: Jul 28, 2007 12:01 AM EST
I have to admit that when I read press reports about the Vatican's decision to reiterate its traditional point of view on the differences between the Catholic Church and Protestant faith communities, I winced reflexively.
After all, I am a member of the Anglican Communion, a denomination that has had a long and complex relationship with the Roman Catholic Church since King Henry VIII decided to do a little ecclesiastical freelancing back in the 16th century.
A restatement of a 2000 document authored by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), the text on what elements make up a church was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog.
It is seen as a "clarification" issued in response to ongoing (and perhaps irrepressible) debate over the precise meaning of the heritage of the Second Vatican Council, a three-year conference that ended more than 40 years ago — and has had a lasting effect on church practice.
There are no shocking revelations here.
Instead there is a restatement of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that "The Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church."
Because the Orthodox Churches share a common ecclesiology and tradition, they also have the elements that constitute a church, according to traditional Catholic teaching. Protestants on the other hand are considered "Christian communities" rather than churches in the full sense of the word.
Some Protestant judicatories and individuals responded angrily to the idea that their faith communities might have "defects" rendering them ineligible to be seen as churches (or, rather, as the Church).
But was it possible that something healthy could come out of the current contretemps?
For an answer, I turned to the Roman Catholic bishop of the 250,000-member diocese of Harrisburg, the Most Rev. Kevin Rhoades.
The former head of Maryland's Mount Saint Mary's Seminary, Rhoades has been shepherd of the 15-county diocese for the past two and a half years.
Given the opportunity to get a message out to his Protestant brothers and sisters, let alone rank and file Roman Catholics, what would he like to say?
Both erudite and friendly, Rhoades said he was surprised by the negative reaction, particularly in the secular media.
Particularly distressing to him was the implication in some press reports that only Catholics could be saved.
Not so fast, said the bishop.
Although the Catholic Church believes it has the fullness of the means of salvation, Catholic teaching recognizes the saving action of the Holy Spirit in separated churches and communities and states that numerous elements of sanctification and truth do exist in other Christian communities.
Rhoades used the sacrament of baptism as an example.
Instead of being seen as a retreat in ecumenical relations, he argues, this restatement should be seen as an opportunity.
"In dialogues between Catholics and other Christian communities it is so important that we understand each other's teachings, and this is a clear affirmation of what we believe," Rhoades said.
A particularly thorny arena for dialogue between Roman Catholics and representatives of other Christian bodies is the issue of the meaning of the Eucharist and the validity of Protestant orders.
Although sometimes contentious, even painful, the discussions should neither be evaded nor avoided, Rhoades said.
"We cannot skirt these issues," Rhoades said. "We have come to the point of maturity in our ecumenical discussions where these difficult points need to be addressed."
More broadly, says Rhoades, there is a continuing need for the Church to address the troubling phenomenon that one can pick and choose various elements of faith according to personal preference.
"There is a lack of recognition for objective truth in the doctrinal and moral arena," he said.
On the other hand, Rhoades wants to remind area Catholics and Protestants alike that "We should be very aware of the many elements of the faith we hold in common and build on those."
Among these essentials, says the bishop, is an "irrevocable commitment" to the cause of Christian unity, to prayer, and to work on issues of social justice and charity common to all Christians.
Then he was off to tend to his growing flock, a veteran of ecumenical dialogues who believes that Christian faith communities must candidly acknowledge the issues that divide them so that they are free to seek the unity mandated by the One they all profess to follow.


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