Sunday, July 22, 2007

News Flash: Pope Likes Catholic Church Best

My friend John, one of my far-flung correspondents (who, like most of far-flungs, will often read these rambles and occasionally comment on same, but never here on the blog), thinks it strange that I have not commented on Pope Benedict's astonishing claim that he thinks the Catholic Church is the One True Faith (actually, it's a document prepared by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is only one of the things the Mainstream Media got wrong, or got lazy about).

Maybe it is. Strange, I mean. But I guess I commented on it so much in individual correspondence with the far-flungs, as well as in real-time conversation with several acquaintances and co-workers of the non-Catholic persuasion (attentive readers will note that I work for a Lutheran organization, in which capacity it turns out that I have become a Defender of the Faith as well as a Denouncer of Catholic Myths, not unlike the Roaming Gnome) that if feels like I've dealt with The Issue, such as it may be. But John made me feel remiss in my self-appointed duty to inform, entertain, and illuminate, and so I will toss in another $0.02 worth here.

Incidentally, the infamous document, with the catchy title "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" is online here: Caution: It's a real page-turner, so don't start it at bedtime if you have to get up early the next day.

By and large, I am puzzled by the hew and cry over this document. As near as I can tell--not being a theologian, and that's an important point to make if only because the document is obviously written by theologians for other theologians, which right out of the box makes it problematic in terms of the Mainstream Media's ability to get the story straight--the document does little but re-state a position from which, to my knowledge, the Catholic Church has never deviated, viz., only the Catholic Church (more accurately, the Catholic faith) is "complete" in terms of what Christ wants in his church.

In the fifty years to which I can speak, that has always been the mantra. Other churches (and for simplicity's sake we'll call them churches and not worry about the document's claim that bunches of them are not "real" churches at all) possess in greater or lesser extents some of the Minimum Daily Adult Requirement, but, like Total, only the Catholic faith contains 'em all.

Which is where we get the One True Faith monicker that I throw around in semi-sarcastic fashion. When I was a kid, OTF was invoked in all seriousness; and of course plenty of people still feel that way.

The pope being one of them.

You find this shocking?

Now, feel free to disagree with the pope all you like. I often do. Lots of people do. I don't have any issue with people disagreeing with the Vatican. What I have issue with is the umbrage that so many people seem to be taking. Indeed, more than a few of them strike me as the sort of people who lie in wait for something to come along and offend them.

I am reminded here of several Protestant acquaintances who, over the years, have expressed varying degrees of dismay because they are not "allowed" to receive Communion in the Catholic Church. Their attitude, invariably, is that their church "welcomes" everyone to "the table," so mine should too. Setting aside the fiction that all Protestant churches as so "welcoming"*, it has struck me that the majority of these folks wouldn't be caught dead in a Catholic church in the first place, let alone lined up for Communion, so it's complaining for the sake of complaining.

Put another way: My church teaches that there are seven sacraments; most other Christian churches ignore that and teach that there are two. My church teaches that only men may be ordained; many (though certainly not all) Protestant denominations ignore that, too. My church teaches that salvation come from the combination of God's grace and our own actions; most Protestant churches ignore that teaching, and indeed insist that their view--"grace alone"--represents a "more mature" theology.

And so--given that they don't view the pope as the leader of the Christian faith; given that they freely ignore many of the teachings of the OTF; given that they aren't shy about insisting that their points of view are, for want of a better term, "right"...what they heck to do they care what the pope (that is, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) is saying?

Again, a great deal of it sounds like complaining for the sake of complaining.

Interestingly, just the day before "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" hit the fan, I was at lunch with some of my Lutheran pals when my ears picked up something from the other end of the table. One of my companions was saying something about how difficult life must have been for Martin Luther and the other reformers, to which another added, "And being right wouldn't have made it any better."

Well, there you have it. They think their religion is right; I think mine is right; you think yours is right. And so on. So what's the brouhaha? Well, geez, the Vatican actually came out and said they think theirs is right. In public and everything. How rude!

Get real. To those who claim that this strikes a blow somehow against "ecumenism": If you're really interested in dialogue, then you must acknowledge that by definition you don't have dialogue if people are avoiding talking about certain subjects--like, you know, our differences. To those who pretend that their feelings have been hurt by the pope: Grow up. I've spent a large portion of the past 50 years being assured by "good Christians" that I am not a "real" Christian because I'm a member of the Catholic Church. Who cares? To those who will insist that "my church doesn't go around pretending it has all the answers": Balderdash. They all do. That's why they exist. The only difference is in whether they choose to come out and say so, or to speak indirectly and obliquely in minced words.

Here are some sources for additional reading:

"Document Released By Pope Stirs Catholic Controversy" by Father Jonathan Morris at Fox News.

"The Pope's Got A Point" by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz in The Jewish Press.

"Dobson Offers Insight on 2008 Republican Hopefuls" By Dan Gilgoff. I throw this in for malicious fun--it's one "Christian," James Dobson, asserting that another "Christian," probable GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson, isn't actually a "Christian" at all! I include this in the spirit of clean-up-your-own-yard-before-you-complain-about-the-neighbors'.

* One of my co-workers, an ELCA Lutheran pastor, tells of the time he and his sons were traveling and were refused communion at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church because they were strangers to the pastor. Some churches do seem to "welcome all" to communion, but I think their number is smaller than those that do not. But that is just one of several inconvenient truths that are ignored in order to reserve all the vilification for the Catholic Church.

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