On Catholics and Pundits, by Kelly Baker
On Tuesday, July 10th, the Vatican issued a sixteen-page document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which described Orthodox and Protestant denominations as “wounded” for not recognizing the primacy of the pope. While this might not seem particularly surprising, Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had issued a similar document in 2000. What has been interesting to this American religious historian is how pundits have reacted to this statement.
In my own New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal found this story riveting and interviewed several Protestant leaders in the community. Here’s a blurb from the article:
The Rev. James M. Collie, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Santa Fe, said Pope Benedict's return to traditional language that denies the unity of the church and embraces artificial barriers is "regrettable."
"But, let me tell you, Roman Catholics are not going to get away from the Presbyterians that easily," Collie said. "We've worked too hard and too long with our Catholic colleagues in New Mexico. We know that we always do better when we bring our strengths together— rather than remain weak and divided."
Suddenly, it seems (to some) that Catholics are drawing lines where none previously existed, and that this somehow jeopardizes interreligious dialogue at the local scene as well as the larger global community. Yet, I would probably differ with this assessment. I think most will probably react like the Rev. James Collie and not allow this statement to damage ecumenical relationships.
What is more interesting to me is the reaction of CNN correspondent, who declared the pope “irrelevant” to non-Catholics. A previous Catholic and now devout Protestant, the correspondent takes up historical American Protestant critiques of the Catholic Church from lack of knowledge of scripture to lack of autonomy for laity to Catholic Church’s ownership of Jesus. This begs the questions: What is at stake in Benedict’s pronouncement? And will it really affect the relations between American Catholics and American Protestants? How much is the everyday practice of religion by both impacted by a statement from the Vatican?
More interestingly, I wonder if there could ever be a “Christian” history of America that wiped away denominational differences. Yet, I think this would erase valuable differences that make the story rich and, well, complicated.