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The Acid of Ecumenism

by Christopher A. Ferrara

A recent forum of "ecumenists" held at Georgetown University demonstrates how the ill-defined notion of "ecumenism" works like corrosive acid, eating away at everything it touches, including the papal primacy and the hierarchical constitution of the Catholic Church.

As reported by Catholic News Service on September 27, 2005, several of the "ecumenists" in attendance at the forum opined that "If the papacy is to be exercised in a way that serves Christian unity better, the Catholic Church must become more conciliar, with broader participation at all levels in church governance." So, the papacy is not serving "Christian unity" well enough  —  as if Our Lord had established a defective institution!  —  and the Church must allow Herself to be ruled more by councils, instead of that inconveniently monarchical pope.

According to CNS, "The ecumenical scholars [I would like to know precisely what an "ecumenical scholar" is] were responding to the 1995 invitation of the late Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical on Christian unity, asking church leaders and theologians to ‘engage in a patient and fraternal dialogue’ about new ways papal primacy could be exercised that would make the pope's ministry more effective in advancing Christian unity."

This is a reference to one of the most stupefying pronouncements by the last pope, which resulted in absolutely nothing by way of any real change in the nature of papacy  —  as if the Holy Ghost would allow this  —  but nevertheless has provoked a frenzy of "ecumenical thought" on how to make the papacy acceptable to Protestants and schismatics.

The "ecumenists" at Georgetown were not lacking in suggestions. As CNS reports, "the Rev. Scott Ickert, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Arlington, Va., and a member of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, said the fundamental Lutheran position is summarized in one sentence in the 1974 U.S. Lutheran-Catholic joint statement on papal primacy: ‘The one thing necessary, from the Lutheran point of view, is that papal primacy be so structured and interpreted that it clearly serve the Gospel and the unity of the church of Christ, and that its exercise of power not subvert Christian freedom.’"

Ickert added that "Lutherans have a problem with ‘the extent of papal jurisdiction, the reach of the papacy’ because they see it undermining the Christian freedom of local churches."

So, for Lutherans the problem with the papal primacy is, well, its primacy. The "local churches" must be free to believe as they wish, and "Christian freedom" cannot accommodate a Pope who insists that all Christians believe certain things and that errors against those beliefs be rejected.

As we can see, the net result of "ecumenical dialogue" on how to exercise the primacy in a way agreeable to Lutherans and other Protestants is, quite simply, the demand that the Pope not exercise it. My, what marvelous progress. And to think it took only forty years of dialogue to bring the Lutherans to this point!

Ah, but perhaps things are more hopeful in the dialogue with the Orthodox. As CNS notes, one Protopresbyter Hopko generously allowed that "The pope is the de facto leader of the Christian world. He is the Dalai Lama of Christianity." The only problem for the Protopresbyter, however, is that "in Orthodox thinking ‘there is no bishop of bishops. Every bishop is ‘servus servorum Dei’ (the servant of the servants of God, one of the titles held by the pope)."

So, like the Lutherans, the Orthodox would be perfectly happy with a Pope who agrees not to be Pope. But if the Pope wants to be the Dalai Lama of Christianity (whatever that means), it will be no skin off the Protopresbyter’s proboscis. The Pope can be anything he wants to be, except the Vicar of Christ who has universal jurisdiction over the Church.

This is the same sort of nonsense dealt with by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Mortalium animos condemning Catholic participation in the "ecumenical movement" when it began in the 1920s: "There indeed are some, though few, who grant to the Roman Pontiff a primacy of honor or even a certain jurisdiction or power, but this, however, they consider not to arise from the divine law but from the consent of the faithful. Others again, even go so far as to wish the Pontiff Himself to preside over their motley, so to say, assemblies."

Ironically enough, these early ecumenists seemed more amenable to the papacy than the birds the Vatican is dealing with now. But what was true then is true today: the Protestants and the Orthodox will have no Pope over them. It is that simple.

As we can see, ecumenism has accomplished exactly nothing for the reunification of Christians. All it does is tend to dissolve Catholic adherence to Catholic doctrine, while the Protestants and the Orthodox are led to believe that if they can just keep the palaver going long enough, sooner or later Rome will devise a "Catholic" Church to their liking.

The "ecumenical forum" at Georgetown is just one more example of why "ecumenism" should be abandoned  —  not only for the good of Catholics, but that of non-Catholics, who are in dire need of the helps only the Catholic Church can provide to save their immortal souls.