Since the publication of Dominus Iesus last September, I have been asked on several occasions whether I gained particular satisfaction from having beaten Rome to the punch in publicly condemning false dialogue, false tolerance and false ecumenism at the May 2000 Faith of Our Fathers conference. The short answer, of course, is that it gave me no satisfaction whatsoever. It was nice that coincidentally the Vatican document quickly confirmed everything I had said on that score, even down to reaffirmation of the one true Church and clearly implied criticism of the likes of ARCIC and its long-time overseer Archbishop Murphy-O'Connor. Yet any gratification at having my comments so thoroughly affirmed by head office was negated by the knowledge that for
all its welcome deflating of the turgid ecumenical balloon, Dominus Iesus was very much a case of too little too late. Better late than never, perhaps, but still at least twenty-five years overdue - as the outrage and bewilderment which greeted the document, both within and without the Church, dramatically highlighted.
Such furious indignation was, of course, entirely predictable. My own modest contribution to ecumenical balloon-pricking had provoked a small-scale foretaste of the same reaction. A panel on London's Christian Radio station stuttered and spluttered in sheer disbelief as they discussed a report of my antediluvian Catholic address at FOOF 2000 which attitude they feared would set the ecumenical movement back decades (if only!). Meanwhile, summing up this liberal response at home and abroad, the American magazine U.S. Catholic dumped me unceremoniously in the "Bad News" column of its September "Good News/Bad News" round up (I'll sue!). Clearly, then, a heavyweight Vatican document elaborating on the same theme - restating basic Catholic doctrine and thus the futility of counterfeit dialogue - was a touch-paper waiting to be lit. And so it was.
Refutations, dilutions and excoriations of Dominus Iesus came thick and fast. The unworthy Archbishop of Westminster rushed to appease the worldlings: "I feel your pain" noises gushing apologetically from his mealy-mouth as he reduced the document to a mere intellectual exercise for prelates and theologians; Cardinal Cassidy's vested interest in the ecumenical enterprise, as Appeaser-in-Chief of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, moved him both to criticise Cardinal Ratzinger for the "mistaken tone and timing" of the document and to falsely suggest that the Holy Father had not sanctioned it; Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the Milwaukee schismatic, naturally opined that "dialogue partners" would find the document's tone "almost arrogant and condescending" (unlike himself, of course); Archbishop Brunett of Seattle, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's ARCIC sidekick, pouted: "This declaration does not further the cause of mutual understanding and dialogue" (diddums); Father John Fernandez of the dissident Catholic Priests' conference of India whined that the document imposes an "18th century European faith on a 21st century Asian Church." [read: "Thanks for the dogmatic memories, but no thanks!"]
Not to be outdone, garment-renting and teeth-gnashing outsiders also weighed in with censorious abandon. Anglican caricature George Carey, charitably reminded by Dominus Iesus that what he presides over is not, in fact, a "proper Church" at all and that his own ordination, since "deficient", was also no ordination at all, replied anaemically that this surely couldn't be true and that "the idea that Anglican and other churches are not 'proper churches' seems to question the considerable ecumenical gains we have made." The more virile Jews forced the cancellation of a Vatican "Day of Dialogue between Jews and Christians" by pulling out in protest at "the climate created after the views expressed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger."
The letters columns of the daily press, meanwhile, were filled with the fearful and/or indignant reactions of so-called liberal 'Catholics' and adherents to the Heinz 57 varieties of Protestant "ecclesial communities."
Yes, all a load of old tosh, to be sure. But doesn't it say everything about the self-indulgent free-for-all that postconciliar ecumenism has become? How could there be such an outcry about a document which merely restates the Vatican Council teaching in Unitatis Redintegratio, the very Decree on Ecumenism so beloved of the liberals and upon which they have built their ecumaniacal house of cards? The answer, as we all know, is that having read Unitatis Redintegratio as selectively and interpreted and exploited its gaping loopholes as mendaciously as they have every other Council document, the professional "dialoguers" were mortified at being publicly denuded by a sudden reminder of what the Vatican Decree actually said! Christ as the sole source and centre of unity and salvation; the "deficiency" of "ecclesial communities"; warnings about false ecumenism; fidelity to Catholic truth and tradition as the foundation of Christian unity…. it's all there in Unitatis Redintegratio. Dominus Iesus merely restates the case. It even does so in the same dense and wordy Vatican II style preferred by ecumenists. So, ecumenically-speaking and despite the uproar, nothing has really changed. And therein lies the problem and an opportunity lost.
Dominus Iesus is certainly a most refreshing restatement of the Catholic obvious. Yet as I stated at the outset, not only is it too late, as the collective reaction of the ecumenical establishment testified, it is also far too little. By effectively retaining the status quo ushered in by Unitatis Redintegratio thirty-six years ago, Dominus Iesus fails to reign in the corrupting influence of the runaway ecumenical movement. As arch-dissenter Fr. Richard McBrien realised with no little satisfaction once his initial disdain for Dominus Iesus had abated: "the document could have been written on the day after the Second Vatican Council adjourned in December 1965." In other words, it's ecumenical 'game on'. John Paul and Cardinal Ratzinger said so themselves amidst the above outcry. Despite the spiritual damage that ecumenism continues to inflict upon the Faith and faithful, there is no desire whatsoever to return to the traditional and eminently prudent course articulated by Pius XI in Mortalium Animos ("On Religious Unity," 1928).
The stark difference in ecumenical approach between Pius XI and the present Holy Father is worth recalling. In many respects their views are directly opposed. In Mortalium Animos, Pius states unequivocally, for instance, that participation in what he calls "pan-Christian" gatherings, of the type famously embraced nowadays by John Paul, where "a large number of listeners are present, and at which all without distinction are invited to join in the discussion… Can nowise be approved by Catholics… nor is it lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ." Asking rhetorically: "how does it happen that this charity [of promoting Christian love and unity] tends to injure faith?", Pius simply states that St. John "who never ceased to remind his followers of the new commandment to 'Love one another', altogether forbade any intercourse with those who professed a mutilated and corrupt version of Christ's teaching: 'If any man come to you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house nor say to him: God speed you' [11 Jn 10]. " Considering the present moral and doctrinal degradation of the Lutheran and Anglican ecclesial communities, to name just two, how much more relevant is this wise counsel today! Pius notes the stubborn refusal of the non-Catholic ecumenists of his era to accept the one true Church, and he goes on to contrast their constant preaching of "fraternal Communion" and pious quoting of Christ's prayer "That they all may be one" with the fact that there are "none at all to whom it ever occurs to submit to and obey the Vicar of Jesus Christ either in His capacity as a teacher or as a governor." Plus ca change….. Most pertinently, however, Pius says that those who consider all religions to be more or less good and praiseworthy because "they all in different ways manifest and signify that sense which is inborn in us all, and by which we are led to God and to the obedient acknowledgement of His rule" (surely the essence of John Paul's postconciliar ecumenism) are "in error and deceived"! Pius also rejects utterly the commonly heard argument about an overriding need to unite with other Christians to drive out "the pest of irreligion" taking root in society. All of this, he insists, distorts the idea of true religion, leading ultimately to "naturalism and atheism" and to "altogether abandoning revealed religion."
Turning away from the practical wisdom of Pius XI, the Vatican Council Fathers encouraged a dangerously naïve optimism which allowed for the abandonment of traditional principles even while admitting their perennial value. "Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians", states Unitatis Redintegratio, "but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice." Thus, in typical Council fashion and notwithstanding a standard face-saving caveat that "worship in common is not to be…used indiscriminately", the door was left ajar for the scourge of indiscriminate ecumenical services we endure today - even to English Bishop Ambrose Griffiths dispensing with the Sunday Mass obligation so his flock could attend an ecumenical service in a Protestant church where a notorious Anglican heretic preached, or to Irish Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe allowing a Church of Ireland Rector to receive Communion at last year's televised Paschal vigil in his cathedral.
One might have hoped, therefore, that belated Vatican recognition of the urgent need to clarify traditional Catholic doctrine for the benefit of ecumenical anarchists would have been accompanied by renewed calls for the return of wandering sheep to their true fold and a restoration of Catholic wisdom in matters of common worship, unfettered dialogue and Assisi-like pan-Christian extravaganzas. The ongoing cost of not doing so is all around us. Tragically, however, there is about as much chance of such corrective action as there is George Carey, Ambrose Griffiths and Willie Walsh being received into the Catholic Church. For John Paul has ruled out any change in methodology, apparently convinced that he is moving the Church toward some inscrutable ecumenical apotheosis under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that the hapless souls confused and lost along the way are a small price to pay. And how could we be anything but confused? Even Cardinal Ratzinger is scratching his head and ruminating about the ecumenical movement's aim of attaining "the true unity" of an imponderable "future Church" as if that unity does not exist right now in the Holy Catholic Church! This sounds less like Dominus Iesus and more like the ecumenist's motto: semper fudge!
Is it any wonder that Catholics are said to constitute the majority of the 5,000-10,000 white Muslim converts in Britain and twenty per cent of the yearly 300-400 converts to Judaism, not to mention a goodly portion of Protestant and New Age sects. Or that self-satisfied liberals perceive how thoroughly the ecumenical morass has undermined Catholic claims. Writing in the The Observer last August about the "ultimate secularising conclusion of religious toleration," humanist Will Hutton opined: "Religions today must respect each other's claim to exist and even recognise each other's underlying morality, but to do so is to surrender the claim that they offer the one true path." The Catholic Church, he gloated, "has been reduced to but one faith community that necessarily respects others, a humbler position in the moral universe….. For the trajectory of Roman Catholicism being the moral authority that underpinned every aspect of society……. to its current standing alongside the Church of England and Islam as another faith community exactly mirrors the rise of science and its humanistic project to extend man's power over nature." This is the real cost to Church and State of the Vatican's loss of Catholic nerve. To reiterate teaching is one thing; to act as if you believe it - by calling lost sheep home - is quite another.
The highest possible stakes - the salvation of souls and common good of nations - are thus riding on the Holy Father's prudential judgement here. It may be that John Paul is privy to some private revelation or divine intuition dictating his break with tradition in this ecumenical regard. If not, then we are surely witnessing one of those prudential howlers not unknown in the history of the papacy which have sometimes cost the Church, and souls, dear.