Wednesday, April 20

Of Ecumenism
What can we expect?

The choice of a driving principle behind one’s actions is both interesting and, in a sense, boring. It’s “boring” in the sense that driving principles don't really tell us what someone is going to DO. They need to be translated into actions to really make headlines. So, here is an attempt to figure out how does “ecumenism” translates into specific actions.

At Notre Dame, we recently had a beautiful Eucharistic Procession. This is an ancient Catholic devotion, pictures of which are located below. It was the first procession held on campus in 40 years, and it was held with a twist: it was specifically a multi-cultural procession, and this is important for many reasons. It was necesary to show unity among various ethnic traditions -- and to show that real unity occurs through the Eucharist. It was necesary to remind Caucasian Catholics, through the rituals of traditionally Catholic countries, of the reality of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. It was necesary because often minorities on campus are, rather than looked down upon, simply ignored. A multi-cultural procession worked for all those things. In the past, Eucharistic processions did none of that because they were not needed to do any of that.

My point is that totally different motivations can lead to unexpected outcomes.

Ecumenism does not, in Pope Benedict’s parlance, mean ignoring doctrinal differences with other Churches. There will be no inter-communion with Lutherans or joint-ordinations with Anglicans in the forceable future – indeed, in any future, until the doctrinal underpinnings of these disagreements are resolved.

The driving principle of ecumenism will instead play out in the following ways:
(1) Intra-Church
(2) Inter-Church, Western
(3) Inter-Church, Eastern

Intra-Church Ecumenism. For those of you who are unaware, there is currently a schism or quasi-schism within the Catholic Church, and has been for some years. Many Catholics rejected the liturgical changes (and doctrinal articulations) of the Second Vatican Council; some of these Catholics have cut off union with Rome in word and in deed. More significantly, many of these Catholics have cut off union with Rome in deed, such as the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). The SSPX is a group of priests dedicated to pre-Vatican II ways of doing things, who recognize the Pope but refuse to obey him. Ratzinger is calling on them to obedience.

The primary reason that the SSPX (and other schismatic or quasi-schismatic) Catholics are not fully united with Rome is because they want all priests to be able to celebrate the sacraments the “old way” (as was done before Vatican II) without getting any sort of special permission. Until the Pope gives all priests this ability, the intra-Catholic Church schism will continue. Pope Benedict’s address thus strongly suggests that a universal indult (permanent grant of permission) to celebrate the sacraments according to ancient rites is coming. That’s the only way to seriously address intra-Church ecumenism, which he has now made his top priorty.

Western Inter-Church Ecumenism. This might take the form of unions of disaffected Anglicans with the Catholic Church may begin to take place at a serious level. If such unions really are the top priority of Pope Benedict, it is not unreasonable to expect that he may do the following:

- Seeking out Anglicans interested in united with Rome and make that union happen. For many years, Anglicans in Australia have expressed interest in uniting with Rome, but under JP2 this was not overtly encouraged. Pope Benedict may be more willing to actively encourage such conversions.

- Creating a sub-Church (a rite) for these Anglo-Catholics to allow them some self-governance and to allow them to use their own rituals

- Allowing Anglo-Catholic priests (but certainly not bishops) to marry in this new rite – not just converts, but new priests.

Eastern Inter-Church Ecumenism. If the Pope is able to successfully address Catholics who celebrate the sacraments according to the ancient pre-Vatican II rites, this will look very good to the Eastern Churches. The Eastern Churches use ancient rites as well, and Rome’s focus on using revised rituals has worried some Eastern Churches. Eastern Orthodox Churches are also convinced that Rome tries to make all rituals look like the Roman rituals; if the Pope allows a plurality of rituals, this may show the Eastern Churches that he will protect their individual identity and rituals. Also, if the Pope is able to create a sub-Church (a sui-iuris rite) for Anglican converts to Catholicism, which would be more indirectly connected to Papal Authority, this act would instill confidence in the Eastern Churches that union with Rome doesn’t automatically mean taking lots of orders from Rome.

As Cardinal, Ratzinger continually stressed both of these points. With the chance to prove his theories by actions, he can show the Eastern Churches that he really meant what he said. He has said that union with Rome does not require the Eastern Churches to change their beliefs of practices, saying “what was sufficient for union in the first millennium will be sufficient in the third.” If he is able to handled the Catholic Traditionalists and the Anglican questions well, the East will have confidence that union with Rome is possible.

Thus, we may see some actions (married priests, many more Old Latin Masses, emphasis on conversions) which do not belong together under a “liberal/conservative” dichotomy, but animated by the principle of “ecumenism” as he understands it, are natural partners.

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