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BY The Editors
Imagine a father calling his many children to sit with him
in the kitchen. A few, when they hear his call, come and gather around.
“But where are my other children?” he asks.
Then they hear the voices of the other children in the
dining room. Together, they are saying out loud, “We love you, father, and we
are so glad that you’ve called us together today.”
The father smiles and says to one of his sons, “Go tell them
I want all my children together, in the kitchen, with me.”
The son does what he is told — but the dining-room group is
aghast at his message. “Well, look at Mr. Special,” says one of them. “He
thinks it’s his way or the highway!”
“All of this talk about ‘You must gather in the kitchen’ is
silly,” says another. “What’s most important is that we love our father and we
are talking to him. It’s all his house. He can hear us just as well from the
dining room as from the kitchen.”
Another dismisses the son with a shrug. “It’s always rules
with him, not love. For us, what’s most important is that we love our father,
and show our love in all we do.”
That’s a little like the reaction to the new Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith document — in fact, the angry comments above are
taken practically verbatim from media reports on reactions to the June 29
document that was released July 10.
The document is called “Responses to Some Questions
Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.” It reiterates the
teaching of the Second Vatican Council that “the one Church of Christ ...
subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the
bishops in communion with him.”
It draws on the teaching of Dominus Iesus (The Lord Jesus),
a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document from the year 2000 that
distinguished three kinds of Christian
1. First are Churches led by a bishop in communion with the
bishop of Rome. These come in many varieties: Maronite, Ukrainian Rite, Roman
Catholic, etc. But they are all in communion with the pope — and all Catholic.
2. There are Churches with true sacraments that are not in
communion with the bishop of Rome. Orthodox Christians of various kinds worship
in these Churches.
3. There are Christian communities that have no priesthood.
These are the communities that Protestants worship in. Lacking the real
presence of Christ in the Eucharist, these can’t properly be called Churches.
The problem, of course, is that on the night before he died,
Christ very pointedly asked exactly what the father in our story asked. He
wanted his children to gather in his presence in one Church.
He formed one — and only one — Church in stages, but
significantly at the Last Supper. That’s when he instituted the Eucharist and
the priesthood — breaking the bread and saying, “This is my body,” handing it
to the apostles and saying, “Do this in memory of me.”
He wanted the Church to remain one, he said, not just for
the sake of Christians, but for the sake of others. He prayed to the Father
“that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be
brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and
that you loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).
He made it clear that the Church was his body. To divide it
is to tear apart the very body of Christ. That’s why the greatest sin of all
time is the disunity of Christians — and the sin isn’t only on the side of
those who are outside the Church.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document
makes it clear that Catholics do not have a monopoly on the Father.
It points out that Vatican II didn’t say that the Church of
Christ “is” the Catholic Church. The council document Lumen Gentium (Light of
the Nations; the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) said that the Church of
Christ “subsists in” the Catholic Church.
That, says the congregation, is because the phrase “subsists
in” “brings out more clearly the fact that there are ‘numerous elements of
sanctification and of truth’ which are found outside her structure.”
It is true that the document points out that there are
“defects” in the other Christian communities. It also points out that the
Catholic Church falls short of what it should be. “Because of the division
between Christians,” it says, “the fullness of universality” (another word for
“catholicity”) “is not fully realized in history.”
The document is thus in the same position as the son in our
He’s calling out to his brothers and sisters. “You’re in the
same house, and you’re praising the Father, but you aren’t doing it on his
terms,” he’s saying. “We’d love for you to join us, so that we could all be
together. It isn’t the same without you.”
We pray that this plea will one day be heard — and that we
won’t make it any harder for our brothers and sisters to come back.