Ecumenism has as its goal, in fact it has as its actual definition, the aim of unity among all Christian churches throughout the world. It is a laudable goal for Christianity to end this disunity among Christians; for it is scandalous to Christ and to His prayer for unity. So it is a rightful goal of all Christians to work diligently for the unity that Christ wanted for His Church. To that end many church leaders have embarked on this goal through dialog with one another to see if we can one day reunite as one faith.
For the Catholic, the Vatican II document, Unitatis Redintegratio (commonly referred to as the Decree on Ecumenism) had as its aim to open up this dialog with those who have parted from the Church, especially the major Protestant denominations. The document however makes it clear that we cannot give up the purity of our doctrinal teachings just to arrive at a false appearance of peace though we are not in agreement on matters of doctrine. The following quote from the document makes that clear: “Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism (a social temper, condition or a state of public opinion for making peace), in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.” __ Decree on Ecumenism(Unitatis Redintegratio), Chapter II, 11
So the above is the Church’s intent for a genuine attempt at ecumenism and these guidelines insure that we do not change our de fide teachings simply to gain a form of unity that would be, in reality, no unity at all. Peace between the denominations, though the goal or end of ecumenism, cannot make use of a means to that goal which denies the essential teachings of the faith. The ends, though admirable, never justifies the means if they are not of themselves in keeping with the truth.
I was recently made aware of some progress in the ecumenical talks between some of the protestant denominations. Much work had been done emphasize what we had in common rather than what we held as differences. One area that has excited some was the movement of some protestants to a position of acceptance of the Catholic Pope as a head of Christian leadership, however the Pope would be more of a figurehead with no real authority. This information seemed to seemed to delivered to me as a positive sign and first step toward an eventual reunification. Another sticking point, however, was that the other faiths would require that we rescind our anathema for those who didn’t hold to the defined dogmas of our faith, especially those that condemned the protestant position as heretical and therefore opposed to the faith.
My initial question to his announcement was to ask, how the Catholic Church could reverse a solemn definition made in a Dogmatic Council which was held by the Bishops in union with the Pope? It was indicated that it might take another Council. However, the Catholic Church has never in any Council overturned a dogmatic teaching by another Council. If they did it would nullify a valid Council of the Church and overturn our traditional belief that the Holy Spirit guides and prevents such Councils from error. The other thought was the Pope could remove the anathema.
That type of thinking to me is what is wrong with many who get involved in the new evangelization and why so many critics call it an ecumenism of syncretism. It has violated the principles cited above from Vatican II and is nothing more than an accommodation for peace between denominations facilitated by abandoning essential, traditional and definitively held teachings of the Catholic Church. I don’t think any ecuminism has a chance of getting Rome to ratify such demands on the part of the protestant denominations. If they did, it would spell the end of the Catholic Church as we now know it. The Church could no longer call Herself indefectible when relating to Her teachings on faith and morals. We will have abandoned the foundational principles of our faith to make friends and to mediate a new belief that is conciliatory and a collaborative effort by different faiths. It would be a watered-down faith that could no longer call itself the True Church.
My other thoughts are these:
First, if the Pope is just a figurehead without any power, how can we consider that this in any way is an agreement between different faiths and ours? Or is the pastor implying that they wouldn’t mind changing the defined role of the Pope to just a figurehead without the special graces granted Him by Christ? That would deny solemnly defined teaching.
Secondly, if we did remove the anathemas for this or any other held belief, then what is the need for any definitive teaching? The condemnation of an anathema is automatic even if not stated. If someone holds to a heresy, then they are ipso facto excommunicated simply by holding to the heresy itself. It is the most common form of excommunication. Therefore if I, as an Anglican, sign some document that says that we are in agreement on matters of the Pope yet I do not agree with the de fide teaching of the Church, we are back where we started. I would be excommunicated ipso facto and we would no longer share in a communion of belief: not that we did anyway because the Pope is more than a simple figurehead.
Now maybe I misunderstood the positions that we are now calling a hopeful sign in this movement. However, if what was related to me is true, it would be a scandalous departure from the intent of ecumenism as put forth by the Council Fathers at Vatican II. I pray that I did not understand this apparant movement as intended. Perhaps it was just showing that inch by inch protestants are moving toward eventually accepting the Catholic positions.
God help us if this is the outcome we are looking for as an end, however. If so, this kind of dialog would be nothing more that the false irenicism warned against and would seem to make our ecumenical efforts nothing more than a false ecumenism.
 Literally ‘of the Faith’: it is a theological term used to express an essential teaching of the Church that cannot be changed.
 Condemnation, as in a heresy, which represents a serious breach of faith and is worthy of excommunication.
 The combining of different (often contradictory) beliefs, while melding beliefs or practices from various schools of thought.
 By the very fact itself.