In the last couple of days, I have had an e-conversation with a potential SCE commentator. He had submitted a comment on my “caption competition” of Arch. Vincent Nichols giving the “thumbs up” (see here). His entry read: “I see you’re still bagging the Lutherans. Good show!”
I wrote to him, saying:
Sorry, ol’ boy, I didn’t really think that your entry in the caption comp was worthy of publication. We don’t “bag” Lutherans on this site, and I don’t think the good Archbishop of Westminster would either. Don’t let this disuade you from future submissions, however!
I then received a reply which has really set me thinking and reflecting on my comments on this blog. In fact, what he wrote fairly well accords with another comment that was submitted for my post concerning Fr Cutie. So I thought, is there substance to this accusation?
I will give you his complete email so you can judge for yourself – and perhaps tell me if I have been “bagging Lutherans” (et aliter):
That’s okay, David. I was debating with myself whether you would publish my gag, and I had already decided that you probably wouldn’t.
Call it what you will, but “bagging Lutherans” is the impression I got from your blog. (I have no connection to Lutheranism. I discovered your blog while researching reactions to the shooting of Dr Tiller.) For example, just recently, you’ve:
compared your Lutheran ordination to fornication;
expressed incomprehension at an abortion provider being an active member of a Lutheran congregation, and implied that the Lutheran Church is utterly unable “to even begin to address the ethics of abortion”;
described the Lutheran Church’s claim to be “a safe place for all” as “a laughing stock”;
implied that there is something bad about the “ELCA…health policy which includes funding abortions for their female pastors”;
published (without apparent criticism) Peter’s comment which implies that the ELCA is not a real church and that the ELCA’s female pastors are not real pastors;
published (again without apparent criticism) Joshua’s comment which implies that a female pastor of the ELCA who sought an abortion “would be more honest if she worshipped Ishtar or Moloch.”
Not that you’ve limited your insults to the Lutheran Church only. You’ve demonstrated a casual disrespect for “the truth of the Episcopalian faith (whatever that may be)”, described the Episcopalian clergy in the photo on your blog as “obscene” and “gloating”, and implied that their support for Father Cutié may be fickle (“they’ve just snared the biggest fish of their lives…before tossing it back in the water or…?”).
I find it contradictory that all these insults (and the corollary lack of charity, humility and forgiveness) come from a person who is committed publicly to supporting ecumenism. Your insults on your blog remind me of a consumer who has switched brands (in the spiritual marketplace, in this instance) or a person who has changed lovers: not only do you talk up your new loyalty, you talk down your old.
I’ve often experienced far-right Catholics insulting others (and each other); but insults are a poor display of Christian patience and love nonetheless.
I want to reply to this letter in public, because there is a good chance that others may be thinking exactly the same things. My question here is: Is there enough truth in what he says to raise questions? Or is it simply the frame of mind in which he has read what I have written?
Are my comments as heinous as my correspondent paints them? Actually, if I indeed said all things that he says I said, I would have to agree: I would be unfit, not only as an ecumenist, but as a Christian!
Let’s look at the charges. He says that recently I have:
1) “compared [my] Lutheran ordination to fornication”
He takes my comment (in this post) out of context. I was responding (in part) to a comment on Fraser Pearce’s blog, which suggested that Lutheran pastors who abandoned their ordination vows to become Catholics were “selfish”, and compared it to those who abandon their wedding vows. My response in comparing Lutheran orders to “fornication” or “adultery” was not to suggest anything lude nor to denigrate the immense value of the Lutheran ministry, but simply to point out that invalid ordination vows cannot be considered any more binding canonically than invalid marriage vows. The fact that the Catholic Church does not recognise Lutheran orders is no secret, although it may well be impolitic to mention it in polite company.
I can see how my comment could be read out of context as “insulting” to the Lutheran Office of the Ministry. All I can say is that it was not meant to be read in that way.
2) “expressed incomprehension at an abortion provider being an active member of a Lutheran congregation, and implied that the Lutheran Church is utterly unable “to even begin to address the ethics of abortion”;
I find it incomprehensible that an abortion provider could be an active or true Christian of any stripe at all, not just a Lutheran. And I did not say that “the Lutheran Church” is “utterly unable to even begin to address the ethics of abortion”. I said that “some mainline liberal protestant Churches” are utterly unable “to even begin to address the ethics of abortion”. There is a considerable difference. I actually seem to recall that Cardinal Walter Kasper has said something similar at some point along the way (I don’t have the reference at the moment), and he is in charge of a far more important ecumenical agency in the Church than me.
Of course, certain Lutheran Churches, and certain Protestant Churches – liberal and conservative – ARE able to address the ethics of abortion. I was simply saying that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is not. That is an opinion with which many Lutherans themselves would agree, both here and in the States. I might also point out that the Lutheran Church of Australia is a staunch opponent of abortion and ally of the Catholic Church in this matter. I was not including them in “some mainline liberal protestant Churches.” Which isn’t to say that there are NOT some MLP Churches in Australia to whom this DOES apply.
These are facts, not “insults”.
3) “described the Lutheran Church’s claim to be “a safe place for all” as “a laughing stock”;
I will only just say in my defence that this was not a comment about “the Lutheran Church” in general, but about the particular statement of the particular congregation of the ELCA where Dr Tiller was a member. It obviously wasn’t a “safe place” for unborn children. Was what I said an “insult”? I will leave it to you to judge.
4) “implied that there is something bad about the “ELCA…health policy which includes funding abortions for their female pastors”; ”
WELL, DUH! ISN’T there something “bad” about funding abortions? And something PARTICULARLY “bad” about Christian clergy procurring abortions? THIS is an “insult”?
5) “published (without apparent criticism) Peter’s comment which implies that the ELCA is not a real church and that the ELCA’s female pastors are not real pastors;”
Peter’s reference was to a book (which you can buy and read called “There we stood, here we stand”), which has a chapter by an ex-ELCA woman pastor, Jennifer Ferrara, entitled “Real Churches don’t kill Babies”. She could have called it “Real Christians don’t kill babies”, and it would have made the same point. I don’t think either Peter or Jennifer were passing a canonical ruling on the ecclesiological authenticity of the ELCA (for this you will have to read the equally negative judgement of the declaration Dominus Iesus). Rather they were making a moral judgement. And I find it hard to disagree with that moral judgement. Is this an “insult”? No, it is a criticism based on the facts that are clear for all to see.
5) “published (again without apparent criticism) Joshua’s comment which implies that a female pastor of the ELCA who sought an abortion “would be more honest if she worshipped Ishtar or Moloch.”
That was Joshua’s point of view, not mine. His name, not mine, was on the comment. I am sure Josh would stand by his point of view. Was it immoderate? You judge.
As for “bagging Lutherans”, I wrote to my correspondent, who confessed that he has “no connection with Lutheranism”, that
I describe myself (have described myself often on my blog) as a “Lutheran in communion with the Bishop of Rome”. I am an honourary member of my wife’s Lutheran parish, the pastor of which is one of my oldest and best friends. Since becoming ecumenical officer of the Archdiocese, I have advanced every possible opportunity for dialogue with the local Lutheran Church. I am on friendly terms with the local Lutheran President (“bishop”). My blog is read regularly by many Lutherans in Australia and elsewhere. A regular commentator is Pastor William Weedon, LCMS pastor from the United States. The fact is that when I speak of Lutheranism, I am not speaking as a “non-Lutheran”. I am speaking to members of my own family. I have not “changed lovers”. Perhaps that is why you misread my comments as “insults”. You can find more – and indeed more strident – criticisms (or “insults” if you will) on Lutheran blogs of the very things that I criticise on this blog.
However, my correspondent claims that I have not “limited [my] insults to the Lutheran Church only”. I have, apparently,
1) “demonstrated a casual disrespect for “the truth of the Episcopalian faith (whatever that may be)”
Guilty. But when the only clearly and dearly held “truth of the Episcopalian faith” is the right of homosexuals to a Christian marriage, and when they are willing to divide the entire Anglican communion over this “truth”, it is far too easy to show the “casual disrespect” for it.
2) “described the Episcopalian clergy in the photo on your blog as “obscene” and “gloating””
Okay, maybe I was a bit harsh on this. But tell me: there are four clergy in the picture with Mr Cutie, two of them bishops. How many bishops/clergy does it take to receive someone into the Church? Perhaps you could put this down to sour grapes on my part that there were no bishops at all at my reception, and not even Kairos, let alone Associated Press, turned up to take a photo. But I can’t help comparing this reception with the recent reception of an esteemed friend of mine who is a highly educated scholar of theology. He was catechised and received into the Church by his parish priest just before Christmas in a little parish Church down Geelong way. All I’m saying is that this simply isn’t “our style”.
3) “and implied that their support for Father Cutié may be fickle (“they’ve just snared the biggest fish of their lives…before tossing it back in the water or…?”).”
Well, okay, guilty as charged on this account too. I hope Mr and Mrs Cutie are fulfilled in their new life as Episcopalians. I really do.
To sum all this up.
I am completely and totally committed to the Catholic faith and to the Catholic Church. That’s why I call this blog “Sentire Cum Ecclesia”.
I am completely and totally committed to the ecumenical endeavour, that is, to seeking the full, visible unity of all Christians.
In particular, it is my most ardent desire to do all I can to foster good relations between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church here and elsewhere. While I respect the reasons why Lutherans in this country continue to remain apart from the communion of the Catholic Church, I can myself truly see no good reason why any faithful Lutheran should do so, and I long for the day when I will once again be able to kneel with all my Lutheran friends and family at the altar of the Lord to receive his precious mysteries.
(And it would be really neat if all my other Anglican and protestant friends were able to join us there too!)