1. Ecumenism, Influence-Envy, Etc. 

By George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, First Things, August 9, 2017

Defending the indefensible is never pretty. Or so we’re reminded by recent attempts from the portside of the Catholic commentariat to defend the madcap analysis of America’s alleged “ecumenism of hate” that appeared last month in the Italian Catholic journal La Civiltà Cattolica (edited by the Jesuits of Rome and published after vetting by the Secretariat of State of the Holy See).

[D]efenders of the Spadaro/Figueroa article, less chastened by the self-evident fact that the article would receive a thumping “F” in a freshman religious studies course at any reputable college, have taken the occasion of the article to scrape their various boils and indulge in the very Manichean division of the ecclesial world into children of light and children of darkness that the article condemns. One of these boils involves a project I helped launch and in which I’ve been engaged for over two decades: the study group known as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”

A post–Spadaro-Figueroa editorial in the National Catholic Reporter charged that ECT, as it’s widely known, is a prominent example of “Catholic complicity in the politicization of faith”; that the participants in the original ECT statement, from which the study group takes its name, were on the “outer conservative edges” of their communities “before the landscape fades to irrational extremes”; and that the original statement “ill-served” Catholics, evangelical Protestants, the cause of the Gospel, and the health of American public life. Moreover, the NCR grimly warns “bishops and those who staff their offices” against conceding anything to “the visions of ideologues in think-tanks and institutes with an absolutist and narrow agenda.” For in doing so (by, presumably, embracing the ECT agenda) these bishops and staff “have squandered their standing and credibility in the wider culture.”

Oh, dear. Where to begin?

ECT is an ongoing project, which has now produced nine joint statements, with a tenth, an explanation of Christianity to its contemporary cultured despisers, coming soon. Five of the first nine—on justification, Scripture, the communion of saints, the universal call to holiness, and the Blessed Virgin Mary—were entirely theological in character and had nothing to do with political controversies. Those that touched on contested issues—the statements on the sanctity of life, on religious freedom, and on marriage—set the discussion of public policy in an explicitly biblical and theological context (as, indeed, did the initial ECT statement the Reporter editorial deplores).

The five theological statements measure up well against similar documents from other ecumenical dialogues of the past half-century; an honest Catholic liberal, Notre Dame’s Lawrence Cunningham, recommended all the ECT statements for “the pertinence of their concerns and the sophistication of their theological argument.” From the very outset of our joint work, ECT participants have made it clear that we speak from and to our various Churches and ecclesial communities, not for them. We have also scrupulously described our differences, with a concern for expressing the “other’s” views accurately.

The honest engagement of differences in service to evangelical vigor is not advanced… by the systematic misrepresentation of others’ views, by the puerile bullying of bishops, or by indulging in spasms of influence-envy.


2. Pope Francis and the convert problem.

By Austen Ivereigh, Contributing Editor, Crux, August 9, 2017

I hesitate even now to write about convert neurosis, and how it conditions critiques of Pope Francis.

For one, I don’t want to be seen to be sniffy and condescending towards people who become Catholic, which is how Dr. Stephen Bullivant, writing in First Things, said he felt about a comment in Michael Sean Winters’s blogpost. “I am so tired of converts telling us that the pope is not Catholic,” complained the sage of the National Catholic Reporter.

Winters wasn’t being sniffy about converts either, but simply pointing out the – let’s just call it, for the time being, incongruity – of those who join the Catholic Church in a blaze of Damascene fervor later announcing noisily, after a new pope is elected, that the pope is not doing what they believe popes should do.

And if the many retweets of my retweet of Winters’s complaint is anything to go by, many share his view not just that this stance is not just incongruous, but annoying, because rather than consider the possibility that there may be something deficient in their own view of the Church and its tradition, they prefer to assume that it is the successor of St. Peter – chosen by the Holy Spirit in a conclave free from outside interference – who is lacking.  

Now it is quite possible that elegant commentators such as Ross Douthat and  Matthew’s boss Rusty Reno (both former Episcopalians), or, at the rougher end, writers such as Carl Orlson (ex-Protestant fundamentalist) and John Henry Westen (ex-atheist), or indeed ex-Anglicans in my own patch such as Daniel Hitchens of the Catholic Herald and Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register in Rome, are all correct in their readings.

But it is a lot more likely that their baggage has distorted their hermeneutic, and they are suffering from convert neurosis.

A neurosis is a pathological or extreme reaction to something that simply doesn’t correspond to reality. A war-scarred victim, for example, might react to a friendly cop’s question by throwing herself on the ground and covering her ears. You understand why she does it, but it’s neurotic.

I began to notice this reaction among former Anglicans during the synods of 2014-15. A friend, a Catholic priest, told me he had seen these kinds of arguments before in the Church of England, and they always ended badly; and that he hadn’t joined the Catholic Church to go through it all again. He was deeply disturbed by what he imagined was happening, fueled by Douthat’s predictions of a schism and his dark warning that the pope “may be preserved from error only if the Church itself resists him.”

Then there is the neurosis of the convert escaping the shifting sands of relativism, who projects onto the Church the idea of something fixed and distant and unchangeable, frozen at some point prior to the Council. This makes them susceptible to the traditionalist Catholic horror not just of the Council’s reforms, but of the very idea of change, as if this could be avoided.

Yet the Church’s tradition has always been made up of the new things brought by the Holy Spirit revealing “new aspects of Revelation,” as Evangelii Gaudium puts it. Francis approaches the past as all popes must do, with discernment, preserving what must be protected, and removing what has become an obstacle to evangelization.

The Church has always required perpetual conversion in order to recover what has been lost – the centrality of Christ, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and closeness to the concrete lives of ordinary people. Catholics trust the pope to discern what needs to change.

Conversion is an act of humility. It involves a renunciation of sovereignty, the idea that I know best. It involves trust – in Jesus Christ, and in His Church, and in the successor of St. Peter – even when they challenge my preconceptions.

This doesn’t mean agreeing with everything a pope says or does: Complaining about popes is nothing new, and anyway, Francis is the first to invite criticism.

But it does mean respecting the office founded by Jesus Christ, and trusting that the Holy Spirit guides its current occupant. That, surely, is a big part of why people become Catholic in the first place.


3. Parolin says “urgency of finding peace” key aim of visit to Russia. 

By Claire Giangravè, Editorial Assistant, Crux, August 9, 2017

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, will be visiting Moscow at the end of August (21-24) to formalize the olive branch that Pope Francis has been extending toward President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

The diplomatic visit is the latest episode in an ongoing effort on the part of the Vatican to initiate an ‘encounter’ – to use a term dear to the pope – with the Russians.

For those hoping that Parolin’s trip constitutes a ‘trailer’, of sorts, of an eventual papal visit, the Vatican’s #2 answers by saying no… but yes.

“Among the aims for my visit there isn’t that of preparing for a possible trip of the Holy Father in Russia,” Parolin told Italian daily Corriere della Sera. “I hope, nonetheless, with God’s help, that it may offer some contribution in this direction.”

In Moscow, Parolin is scheduled to meet with Putin as well as the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow “save for last minute unexpected events.” With Putin, the Vatican secretary of state said he would discuss various conflict situations in the world, including those in the Middle East, in Syria, and in Ukraine.

These conflicts, as well as others, “are the object of constant attention and concern for the Holy See,” Parolin told the newspaper’s Vatican correspondent Gian Guido Vecchi in the interview. “Therefore, the necessity and urgency of finding peace and the ways to obtain that will certainly be one of the main themes of the meetings.”