July 15, 2007

Once again, the mainstream dino-media gets a story wrong when it comes to religion. Of course, how could they not? My guess is, you ask any number of AP, AFP, or Reuters employees (we’ll set 99% of the nation’s major daily newspapers and networks like CNN and MSNBC aside for now) when the last time was they worshipped at a church (note I said, “worshipped”, not “attended”) and you’re likely to get a “are you kidding?” kinda look back at ya, as if you asked them if their mother was a watermelon or orangutan or something. The fact is, the major wire services have no clue about religion whatsoever, and, even if they did, they love to take their pointed sticks out whenever the Roman Catholic Church issues a statement or document about anything and everything.

So it came as no surprise this week when, after the Vatican issued a short document reaffirming the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as “the one true Church of Christ”, and stating that other faiths (namely, the Protestant and Orthodox churches) “lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church”, there were gasps and rushes to judgment quicker than you could say, Mysterium Ecclesiae. Of course, if one were to take what the mainstream dino-media writes at face value, such strong statements can easily lead to misinterpretation and controversy – especially when a reporter looking for a controversial line without paying any kind of attention to the context in which these statements are offered sticks a microphone in some Protestant pastor’s face, or reads a line back to some Orthodox priest and says something to the effect, “well, what do you think about the Pope calling all youse guys ‘untrue Christians'”, or something to that effect. Well, of course they’ll be a big brouhaha, but that’s just a result of lazy reporting and/or a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts (both of which the mainstream dino-media has perfected to the nth degree over the past two decades).

The fact is, what the actual document states is, as NRO’s Corner blogger Michael Novak writes, a necessary clarification of (and, if you will, a “redefinition” of) the meaning of the word “Church”, designed to uphold the Roman Catholic Church’s sacramental teachings and doctrine after decades of that term being watered down in the spirit of the modern ecumenism movement following Vatican II. Novak nails both the media and the true spirit of the Vatican’s document in one fell swoop:

Following upon the sloppy reporting, once again by the Associated Press, as well as some others, virulent seeds of division have been sown in the Christian world, totally without necessity, it seems almost with malice (although the true cause is probably carelessness). Pope Benedict has been accused of turning back the clock on Vatican II (1962-65), regarding that Council’s teaching on the meaning of the “Church.”

In actual fact, the new document from the Vatican, more precisely the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, under the American William Cardinal Levada, is quite short, not quite ten paragraphs long. It is also quite calm and reasoned in tone. It takes the form of asking 5 brief questions about how Vatican II used the term “Church.” There is really nothing new here. These questions have been asked and debated for at least thirty years now. It is simply a clear exposition, in a realm in which for some years not a few have been seeding low-lying clouds with confusion.

And Novak’s fellow Corner blogger Mike Potemra offers an even clearer picture of what the Vatican’s reasons behind the release of this document at this time might have been:

Before the Sixties, Catholics were generally forbidden even to attend, e.g., Protestant services; now the Pope himself was hosting Lutherans and Methodists. If it’s suddenly OK to be Protestant or Eastern Orthodox, why—many asked—be Catholic? What difference does it make? Today’s Vatican document is intended to clarify, especially for Catholics, the truth claim that continues to be made by Catholicism: that it constitutes the most faithful existing realization of what Christ intended when he founded a Church. This means, according to Catholic doctrine, that Protestant churches are not really the Church. Today’s Vatican document says: “These Communities [i.e., Protestant churches] do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense.”

This is the Vatican’s answer to the question, “Why be Catholic?”: In short, because Catholicism is more faithful to what Christ intended. Some will, no doubt, portray this as an arrogant statement, and one that represents a backtracking from ecumenism and Christian unity. But all it is, really, is a making explicit of what Catholicism really teaches. The cause of truth is not served by a failure to be honest on the part of Catholics—any more than on the part of, say, Landmark Baptists, who hold a similar belief that their denomination is the only one that technically qualifies as a “church.” Say what you believe—and then people of good will will try to sort it all out for themselves. And, as far as ecumenism is concerned, even today’s document makes clear that “there are ‘numerous elements of sanctification and of truth’ which are found outside [the Catholic Church’s] structure.” The Protestant churches “are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation.” As a Presbyterian who grew up Catholic, I view today’s Vatican statement as fundamentally an assertion that Protestants aren’t Catholics. Fair enough, and no cause for offense.

In other words, rather than saying the Roman Catholic Church is either: a) dissing the Protestants or the Orthodox, or b) being arrogant, or c) even turning a blind eye to its problems in recent years, a more correct and honest reporting of the Vatican’s release of this document would be to simply say that, by reaffirming itself as the original Christian church with true, unabated apostolic succession, and by asserting that its own practices and doctrinal teachings regarding the sacraments are closest to what Christ Himself and His followers instituted, the Roman Catholic Church is simply restating that it is the ‘true’ Church of Christ, and the fact that all other churches in Christendom have been founded and/or established after or in protest or defiance against it makes them a step or two removed from that ‘true’ Church. In other words, as Potemra summarizes, “Protestants aren’t Catholics”, and that the latter should understand the differences between them and the former.

Exactly. So what’s the big deal?

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:00 | Comments (0)
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