Cardinal Pole has come out all guns blazing against what he sees as a terrible scandal: the Catholic charitable organisation “Aid to the Church in Need/Kirche in Not” financially supports the theological resourcing of the Russian Orthodox Church.
I seem to recall a recent controversy over funds from a Canadian Catholic charity going towards a Latin American organisation which supported abortion, which would and should have generated outrage. But how much more outraged should we be at Church sponsorship (by an “international Catholic charity dependent on the Holy See”, no less) of schism—abortion kills the body, but schism kills the soul.
Comparing the support of the Aid to the Church in need for the rebuilding of the ecclesial life of the Russian Orthodox Church to funding an organisation that supports abortion is quite beyond the pale.
I applaud the work that Kirche in Not does, and I support them financially. They are doing good work with the full support of the Catholic Church.
We need to step back and understand what is happening here.
You all know the facts:
1. The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest non-Roman Christian communion in the world.
2. The ROC is a true Church in the proper sense, despite its lack of communion with the Catholic Church.
These two facts alone mean that if we are serious about the unity of the Church, we must be at least as serious about the ROC as we are about the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. St Paul exhorts us (Gal 6:10) “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” According to Catholic ecclesiology, the Russian Orthodox belong to “the household of faith”. They are not only true Christians, but they are a true Church even and especially “in the proper sense” despite the lack of full communion with us. They have true bishops, true priests, and true sacraments. They are arguably more truly a “Church” than (for eg.) the Society of St Pius X is – and look how we are bending over backward in charity to bring them back into the fold with us!
Now add a few more facts:
3. The ROC has recently emerged from the most turbulent period in its history, in which the Communists almost succeeded in eradicating not only parish life, but the life and spiritual tradition of the monasteries as well. (I spoke to Bishop Hilarion about this once – they had to rebuild their monastic tradition by consulting BOOKS because there were no monks left to speak of who could pass on their living tradition!)
4. The ROC is desparately in need of theological resources to enable it to carry out the mission of the Gospel in Russia. Christian Charity (Christian love, not “charity” in the secular sense) demands that we give the Russian Orthodox aid in their greatest need.
There has been a period of acrimonious relationship between the Vatican and Moscow. There are signs of this relationship entering a more healthy phase – and part of this improvement in relations will be the demonstration of our good faith that we are not in competition with them, but that we share with them the burden of the promotion of the Gospel and ecclesial life in Russia.
So the Russians may be “schismatics”, as Cardinal Pole calls them (although more accurately, they were never in communion with us to enter into schism with us), but they are – more importantly in the eyes of God – our brothers and sisters in the faith, and by showing love to the members of “the household of God”, we work towards the restoration of that communion which our Lord prayed would exist between all his disciples.