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"Ecumenical Follies" Update

Zen Ecumenism

by Christopher A. Ferrara

I have seen no better example of the nonsense that is "ecumenism" than a recent article on the so-called Taizé community in National Catholic Reporter (September 16, 2005) by John Allen. The article was written after the death of the community’s head, "Brother Roger," who was stabbed by a deranged woman during an ecumenical service in his ecumenical "church" attended by Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox "monks."

As Allen observes, "Some ecumenists in Rome, for example, keep their distance [from Taizé] because they think Taizé almost pretends that divisions among Christians don't exist, never quite violating rules on matters such as inter-communion, but downplaying the distinctions among the various Christian bodies. This tension was clear, for example, in reactions to the news that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger administered Communion to Shutz at the April 2 funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II. Some applauded what they saw as ecumenical generosity, while others complained about a compromise in the church's identity. Some even speculated that perhaps Shutz had secretly ‘converted’ to Catholicism."

Shutz did not in fact convert, as journalist John Vennari learned with a simple telephone call to the community. But according to "Brother Emile," the Catholic who now heads the community, "People underestimated how far he [Shutz] had gone. He was living something that does not yet exist."

Living something that does not yet exist? What sort of nonsense is this? Emile explained this nonsense further to Allen. It seems that Shutz, according to Brother Emile, had embraced Catholicism without actually becoming a Catholic: "To call Shutz’s embrace of Catholicism a ‘conversion,’ Emile said, would be a kind of category mistake. ‘What he had achieved was inner reconciliation with Catholicism without any breaking of communion with his origins."

This strange idea prompted Allen to ask "the $64,000 question  —  is it Taizé's position that one can be both Catholic and Protestant at the same time?" And here is Emile’s nonsensical answer: "This has to be worked out. The aim is to value one's own tradition and let go of what is artificially against another's tradition."

And what is that supposed to mean? Unsatisfied, Allen persisted: "Is that a ‘yes’?" In reply, Emile offered still more nonsense: "This can't be understood in traditional categories. Divisions are always very clear, but not the unity underneath them. This should not be judged in a cheap way."

A cheap way? That’s just the smug French way of dismissing the basic rule of human thought that there is a difference between one thing and another. Applied to this question, there is a difference between a Catholic and a Protestant, and one cannot claim to be both at the same time.

Allen notes that "Emile quoted a line from Paul Ricouer, a French philosopher who devoted the latter part of his life to Taizé. He was once asked what remained of his Protestantism, and he responded: ‘Everything that is positive, and nothing that is negative.’" Perhaps this is what passes for profundity in ecumenical thought, but the attentive reader will notice that the statement is utterly meaningless. It tells us absolutely nothing about the answer to the question how one can claim to be a "Protestant Catholic" or a "Catholic Protestant."

Emile told Allen that "You can't understand Taizé if you have a legalistic concept of the church. It’s totally incomprehensible, that you can live this reconciliation. For Brother Roger, Christ is not divided. Our divisions are an accident of human history. He believed that when people give their lives for the gospel, something of the undivided church can emerge."

So there we have it: the ecumenism practiced by the Taizé community is "totally incomprehensible." "Something" of the "undivided church" can emerge, but it will not be the Catholic Church. What, then, will it be? Don’t ask, because, you see, the answer is "incomprehensible." (Sound of swelling sitar music.)

What we have here is a kind of Zen ecumenism in which human reason is suspended in favor of self-contradiction and bogus "mystery." The "legalistic idea" of the Church  —  namely, that there is, in fact, a Catholic Church which is radically other than the Protestant sects  —  is buried in Zen-like bomfoggery so that the practitioners of this muddled nonsense never have to reject error and embrace truth by becoming members of the one true Church.

But then, that is what "ecumenism" everywhere is all about: a nonsensical refusal to come to grips with the inescapable reality that, as every Pope before Vatican II insisted, the only way to Christian unity is for those outside the Catholic Church to return to Her. The nonsense of ecumenism  —  a confusion that goes beyond any mere heresy  —  is what Sister Lucy meant by "diabolical disorientation" in the Church.