For all those who like to remind that things in the Church have improved, a little story to remind how far we still have to go.
For a tradition-minded guy who writes about Catholic stuff, I mostly want to mind my own business.
It takes quite a bit for me to say anything to anyone regarding Church matters. It takes quite a bit more for me to say something to a priest. In fact, in my 46 years I have only done it once or twice before(Mostly friendly jabs at priests I knew fairly well). Nobody likes that guy and I don't want to be that guy.
But you know what? Sometimes you gotta be that guy.
A few weeks ago I attended mass at a parish near my house. The parish recently got a new priest as part of the regular rotation in the diocese. This mass was the first time I had Father, a man I would guess to be around 50. The Gospel that day had Jesus instructing the disciples not to take the highest place at the table but to take the lowest. You know the one.
The new priest gave a decent homily about not looking down on other people and thinking we are better than them. All was well until his closing remarks.
"...and we should not look down on other religions as well. Their religions offer salvation as well."
Now my first inclination, believe it or not, was to give the priest the benefit of the doubt. I thought that he must have been clumsily trying to say that that the salvation offered by Jesus is offered to all, even if they are not visibly part of the Church. I thought it almost certainly was a verbal misstep since his somewhat rambling homily was clearly not prepared and as we all know, those who shoot from the hip tend to miss the target.
So it was that I waited around after mass. I shook the priest's hand and told him that when he was done greeting everyone else, I would like a moment. After he finished his greeting he showed me, and two of my boys in tow, to a back pew.
"Father," I said. "I just want to clarify something from your homily. At the end you said that other religions offer salvation as well. Is that what you really meant to say?"
I thought for sure that he would realize what I was getting at and amend his statement to something resembling Catholic teaching. So it was that his short answer to my question surprised me.
"Father, it one thing to say that salvation is offered to all or even to say that other religions can have a sanctifying element in so much as they conform to the truth. But it is entirely another thing to say that other religions offer salvation."
"But they do. They have salvific elements."
"Salvific elements? Salvific elements is not what you said in your homily, you said salvation. But even so Father, no. Elements of truth, ok. Elements of salvation?"
I then asked him why we sent missionaries into the jungles of the new world if not to bring them salvation through Jesus and His Church.
"To bring them the fullness of the truth."
"The fulness of the truth, but not salvation? They already had salvation?"
"Father, when the Church says that outside the Church there is no salvation..."
Before I could even finish the thought he jumped to his feet wildly gesturing.
"Aha! Aha! The Church abrogated that teaching in Vatican II."
"Abrogated? Father, again, no. The Church clarified the meaning of what it means to be in the Church, but it certainly didn't abrogate it!"
Clearly agitated, he tried to shut me down by standing up as if to walk away and saying that he wrote his thesis on this.
"Father, you are not suggesting that the Church can abrogate its own teaching are you?"
"Certainly, why not?"
"The Church can never abrogate its own teaching, Father. Never."
"You just want to argue over that word now?"
"No father, I am merely concerned about what you said in your homily."
"We will just have to agree to disagree."
"Agree to disagree,' he said as he walked away.
The one bright spot in the story is the conversation I had by phone with the pastor a few days later. He seemed genuinely alarmed by what I relayed and said he would talk to the priest to clarify the situation. He thanked me for bringing it to his attention.
I think this dialogue shows just how far we still have to go. This is such every day heresy that nobody else even reacted to it Have things gotten better? Sure, some things. But your boat sinking a little more slowly is not much to celebrate.