Preach the Gospel to Every Creature

The Vatican document that dispels religious relativism.

The Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), a group said to represent 400,000 people, sent a letter to the Vatican last November requesting “full, corporate, and sacramental union” with the Church, according to The Catholic Herald in the United Kingdom. Sounds like good news, right? Not to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

“We are on good terms with the Archbishop of Canterbury and as much as we can we are helping him to keep the Anglican community together,” Kasper told the paper. “It’s not our policy to bring that many Anglicans to Rome.”

Yes, it is. At almost the very moment Cardinal Kasper made these stunning comments, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a “Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization” that dispels the religious relativism popular among some Church officials. The document says explicitly that the Church must strive to “lead all humanity to Christ in the Church.”

The long-overdue doctrinal note addresses the very ambivalent attitude on display in Cardinal Kasper’s remarks — an attitude, disguised as enlightened ecumenism, that has crippled the Church’s missionary work for decades:

. . . For a long time, the reason for evangelization has not been clear to many among the Catholic faithful. It is even stated that the claim to have received the gift of the fullness of God’s revelation masks an attitude of intolerance and a danger to peace.

Those who make such claims are overlooking the fact that the fullness of the gift of truth, which God makes by revealing himself to man, respects the freedom which he himself created as an indelible mark of human nature: a freedom which is not indifference, but which is rather directed towards truth. This kind of respect is a requirement of the Catholic faith itself and of the love of Christ; it is a constitutive element of evangelization and, therefore, a good which is to be promoted inseparably with the commitment to making the fullness of salvation, which God offers to the human race in the Church, known and freely embraced.

That the Traditional Anglican Communion’s eager interest in the Church is treated as a cause for fear rather than joy represents a measure of the twisted theology that lurks beneath false ecumenism.
Did the apostles grow sad at the sight of crowds approaching Jesus to hear his words of salvation?

We live in strange times, in which some of the apostles’ successors welcome the worldly heterodox with one hand and halt orthodox searchers with the other. Notice that not long after Cardinal Kasper’s comments ecumenists in the Church were purring over former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s conversion to Catholicism. Why didn’t that fill them with anxiety?

The disaffected Anglicans at the Church’s door wholeheartedly accept her teachings. Indeed, according to a source for The Catholic Herald, Pope Benedict XVI gave “his blessing to the TAC’s plenary assembly [last] October, when 60 bishops agreed to seek full communion with Rome. Each bishop reportedly signed a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the church altar.”

Has Tony Blair signed a copy of the Catechism? If so, I missed that report. Somehow the bar for entry in certain Church quarters miraculously lowers for liberals even as it rises for traditionalists. The British press reports that the controversial Dominican Timothy Radcliffe contributed to Blair’s theological formation. While it’s usually churlish to gainsay a conversion, it is not unreasonable to ask in Blair’s case (as prime minister, he supported abortion, homosexual adoption and civil unions, euthanasia, and embryonic stem-cell research): To what religion has he converted? Orthodox Catholicism? Or a left-wing facsimile of it?

If Cardinal Kasper wants something real to fear, here it is: the ecumenical temptation to compromise Christ’s Church for the sake of cheap conversions from the world of the fashionable and powerful, and the concomitant temptation to reduce the Church to a kind of global therapy center or vaguely theistic political action committee. To quote from the doctrinal note:

The Church is the instrument, “the seed and the beginning” of the Kingdom of God; she is not a political utopia. She is already the presence of God in history and she carries in herself the true future, the definitive future in which God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28); she is a necessary presence, because only God can bring authentic peace and justice to the world. The Kingdom of God is not—as some maintain today—a generic reality above all religious experiences and traditions, to which they tend as a universal and indistinct communion of all those who seek God, but it is, before all else, a person with a name and a face: Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the unseen God. Therefore, every free movement of the human heart towards God and towards his kingdom cannot but by its very nature lead to Christ and be oriented towards entrance into his Church, the efficacious sign of that Kingdom.

Were the Church a man-made institution, the reluctance to convert others would make sense, for then it would be nothing more than an exercise in ideological egotism and mindless boosterism. But the Church is not our invention and we do not convert anyone. God does.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.