True or false unity?
The Week for Christian Unity
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began last Friday
and will end this Friday, on January 25th, the Feast of the Conversion
of St. Paul. Every year on this occasion, Pope Benedict XVI presides
over a liturgical celebration in St. Peter's Basilica, with the
leaders of the most important Christian Churches and communities.
Their common objective is clear: to advance in unity.
This initiative is the work of Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch,
who heads the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and
the dialogue with Judaism. He explains its origins:
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in the 19th
century. It was an ecumenical initiative of the Anglicans,
accepted by the Catholic Church with Pope Leo XIII.
After 50 years, that is, after the opening, we have been
able to gather much fruit. Now we have 16 dialogues with 16 other
Churches and ecclesial communities in the world. We have been able to
create a network of friendship with the different Churches and
ecclesial communities, which are no longer enemies but acknowledge
themselves as brothers and sisters… The mutual acceptance of baptism
is the bridge of the whole ecumenical movement. Clearly after 50 years
it's not been possible to attain the objective of ecumenism, which is
the visible unity of all the Christians of all the Churches.
The cardinal interestingly mentions the fact that, “of
the believers in the world who are being persecuted for reasons of
faith, 80% are Christians” and quoting John Paul II, who spoke of
an "ecumenism of martyrs", he added:
For me this is a very profound idea, because all the
ecclesial communities have their own martyrs. Martyrdom is already
living a "full communion", and we on earth not yet... So the prayer
of the martyrs in Heaven can help to deepen unity and ecumenism on
The reference to Leo XIII, which the cardinal seems to
place as the father of modern-day ecumenism, prompts us to offer
our readers some extracts of the clear-sighted article of Fr.
Connell, close collaborator of Msgr. Fenton, writing for the
American Ecclesiastical Review (October 1943),
and available online. Note the connection he
makes between ecumenism and freedom of religions, the key program
of the Conciliar Church!
One of the outstanding events of the Columbian Exposition,
held at Chicago in 1892-1893, was the "World Parliament of
This gathering embraced representatives, not only of the
Christian and the Jewish creeds, but also of the Mohammedan,
Confucian, Buddhist, Shinto and Theosophist religions. The general
sessions lasted from 11 September to 27 September. Besides these
general meetings, there were 48 particular denominational congresses
held in connexion with the Parliament. One of these was a Catholic
congress, which lasted a week and was attended by thousands of
Catholics, both clerical and lay.
Prominent among those who attended the general Parliament
were Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop Feehan of Chicago and Bishop
Keane, then Rector of the Catholic University. The first session was
opened with the recitation of the Our Father by Cardinal Gibbons. In
the biography of the Cardinal it is stated that when participation
in the Parliament of Religions was considered at a meeting of the
Archbishops in New York in the autumn of 1892, some objections were
made, but the Cardinal took a pronounced stand in favor of
participation, and in the end the prelates decided to accept the
invitation. Bishop Keane was appointed to arrange for the proper and
adequate presentation of Catholic doctrine. As was to be expected,
latitudinarianism - the idea that all forms of religion are good -
was expressed frequently in the course of the Parliament.
With characteristic prudence and moderation the Holy See
waited two years before passing judgment on the participation by
Catholics in the Parliament of Religions… The ruling of Pope Leo
XIII was substantially identical with the prescription of the Code:
Let Catholics take care not to have debates or conferences,
particularly of a public nature, with non-Catholics, without the
permission of the Holy See or, if the case is urgent, of the local
Catholics of present-day America can profitably find in the
apostolic letter of Leo XIII a reminder of the care they must
exercise lest their faith suffer from the spirit of religious
indifferentism that is so prevalent in our land today.
Two sources of danger should be particularly noted. The
first is the attitude toward diversity of religious beliefs
engendered by conditions existing in our armed forces. The intimate
association of our Catholic soldiers and sailors with those of other
denominations, the common use of the same chapels, the identity of
insignia for all Christian chaplains, the "general services" which
army regulations prescribe under certain circumstances; above all,
the governmental attitude, so consistently practiced in all matters
pertaining to religion, that all forms of religious belief are
equally good - all these circumstances unquestionably tend to foster
the idea that religious differences are of little or no importance.
“The second source of danger is the emphasis that is
nowadays laid on one of the "four freedoms" - freedom of
religious worship. Indeed, this is commonly proposed as one of the
objectives for which America is fighting. Beyond doubt, the
expression "freedom of religious worship" is ordinarily understood
by our non-Catholic fellow-citizens, when they advocate the "four
freedoms", in the sense that everyone has a natural, God-given right
to accept and to practice whatever form of religion appeals to him
individually. No Catholic can in conscience defend such an idea of
freedom of religious worship. For, according to Catholic principles,
the only religion that has a genuine right to exist is the religion
that God revealed and made obligatory on all men; hence, man has a
natural and God-given freedom to embrace only the one true religion.
One who sincerely believes himself bound to practice some form of
non-Catholic religion is in conscience obliged to do so; but this
subjective obligation, based on an erroneous conscience, does not
give him a genuine right. A real right is something objective, based
on truth. Accordingly, a Catholic may not defend freedom of
religious worship to the extent of denying that a Catholic
government has the right, absolutely speaking, to restrict the
activities of non-Catholic denominations, in order to protect the
Catholic citizens from spiritual harm.
We shall conclude this with another view, rather negative,
of the fruits of ecumenism expressed by no less than Paul VI.
The difficulties to re-establishing a real unitarian fusion
of the various Christian denominations are such as to paralyze all
human hope that it can be realized historically. The ruptures that
have taken place have ossified, solidified and organized themselves
in such a way as to characterize as Utopian all attempts to
reconstruct in dependency on the head, which is Christ, “a body”,
as St. Paul writes, “joined and knit together…”
This text reveals more than the pope’s
dream of combining all the Christian Churches; it reveals that he
had not yet understood that such an enterprise to unite contraries
is quite simply absurd. Only a mind tainted by the modern evil could
desire at all costs the squaring of the circle.
1 Quoted from
Zenit article of January 6, 2013, "Ecumenism: A Network
of Friendship (Part 1)".
L'Osservatore Romano, English language edition, January 26,