Brothers and Blades. The Risky Ecumenism of Pope Francis

Brothers and Blades. The Risky Ecumenism of Pope Francis

 

Sandro Magister – 8/12/18

On the ecumenical terrain as well, Pope Francis is breaking new ground.

No pope before him would have put a Protestant at the head of “L’Osservatore Romano.” And he did it, appointing as the director of the Argentine edition of the Holy See’s official newspaper the Presbyterian Marcelo Figueroa, his longtime friend.

No pope had ever been able to arrange a meeting with the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow. And he succeeded, with an appointment at the airport of Havana.

In the dialogue with non-Catholic Christians, Jorge Mario Bergoglio doesn’t overlook anyone at all. He shows a friendly face to even the toughest interlocutors, like those Evangelical and Pentecostalist movements that are on the rampage among the Catholics of his Latin America, drawing them onto their side by the millions.

His friend Figueroa, of Calvinist stock, has in the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica” put his byline to a frontal attack against the so-called “theology of prosperity,” professed by a Pentecostalist movement born in the United States and marauding around the south of the continent, according to which it is wrong to be poor and the true faith makes one rich, healthy, and happy.

But one of the leaders of this theology, Texan pastor Kenneth Copeland, has been the pope’s honored guest at the Vatican. And to other Evangelical leaders Francis once said, conversing off the cuff: “God is with us wherever we go. Not because I am Catholic, nor because I am Lutheran, nor because I am Orthodox,” because if this were the case we would be, he added, “in a theological madhouse.”

In the Vatican bulletin that transcribe his conversations, at this point there is written in parentheses: “laughter.” And more “laughter,” along with “applause,” appears after this other quip of his: “Let the theologians do their work. But we expect them to come to an agreement.”

Francis has said this dozens of times. The monumental divergences of faith that divide the Christian world must be set aside. His is an ecumenism of action, for the sake of peace among peoples.

As for the unity of faith, instead, for him just being baptized is plenty, and about the rest, “let’s send all the theologians to have their discussions on a desert island.” Bergoglio repeats this quip often and attributes it to ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras, he of the memorable embrace with Paul VI in Jerusalem in 1964. It does not appear that the patriarch ever said that, but it has now become a stable part of the narrative of the current pope.

Even this ecumenism of action, however, has its sore spots, with dramatic repercussions outside and inside of the Catholic Church.

For Catholics, for example, communion at Mass is something entirely different from how Protestants see it. But Francis, in responding three years ago to a Lutheran woman who asked him if she could receive communion together with her Catholic husband, at first said yes, then no, then I don’t know, then do whatever you want.

The result is that in Germany, where interconfessional marriages are numerous, the majority of bishops allow communion to be given to both spouses. With seven German bishops, including one cardinal, who have however appealed to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, which has called a halt to everything with the demand that an agreement be reached first on such a sensitive matter, not only in the entire Catholic Church but also among the other Christian confessions. Which is like saying never, since the Orthodox are unswervingly opposed to any sort of “intercommunion,” which they judge an abomination.

Ukraine is another of these explosive topics. There the Orthodox have for centuries been subject to the patriarchate of Moscow. But now they want to strike out on their own, with their Greek Catholic countrymen backing them up and with the support of the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew.

In Moscow, naturally, they don’t want to give in, and in the meantime Russian president Vladimir Putin has annexed the Crimea and has attacked Ukraine militarily. And Francis? He has entirely taken Moscow’s side, publicly rebuking the Greek Catholics and ordering them “not to meddle.” The ecumenism of Francis also works like this.

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2 comments on “Brothers and Blades. The Risky Ecumenism of Pope Francis

  1. To correct some points, Russians were invited by more conservative, proRussian elements in the Eastern Ukraine. The Russians did not simply invite themselves. Nor is there any hard evidence of direct involvement, other than the repeated lies of the US/EU/ George Soros/antifamily/antilife/proEnlightenment leftist and neo con media of the West.
    As far as Rome’s unwillingness to give legitimacy to the Ukrainian Catholics and their Orthodox brothers, keep in mind there are Polish and other nationalities’ bishop that have been hurt by the Ukrainians, and Ukrainians are not liked by Catholics opposed to Naziism during the last world war. The Ukrainians, for those in the West don’t know, were fierce allies if the Nazisis. They, perhaps more than the Germans were happy to endorse genocide for libenstraum, and they are continuing this to this very day.
    Rome is not favoring the Ukrainians because they are not just opposed by the Russian government. They are hated everywhere in Eastern Europe. About 5 years ago, a greek Catholic rite parish had the Ukrainians kick out the Ruthenians, because wanted their own people only, and because the Ruthenians wanted to use the traditional Old Church Slavonic but the Ukrainians wanted only the language to be Ukrainian.

  2. POSTSCRIPT – Sandro Magister – 8/12/18 – I need to make a correction. Professor Enrico Galavotti has pointed out to me that the quip about confining the theologians to a desert island really was originally said by Patriarch Athenagoras, and can be found in the book by Olivier Clément “Dialogues avec le patriarche Athénagoras,” published in France by Arthème Fayard and translated in Italy by Gribaudi in 1972 with the title “Dialoghi con Atenagora.”

    But in what sense did that patriarch pronounce it? Here is the “ad hoc” passage from the conversation.

    *

    CLÉMENT: It seems that you have said that you would like to drown all the theologians in the Bosphorus!

    ATHENAGORAS: I never said that! It is a myth… I only proposed gathering all of the theologians on an island. With lots of champagne and caviar!

    CLÉMENT: To get rid of them, or to give them a chance to work in the best conditions? They’re not accustomed to champagne dinners, after all. They’re not drunk at all – alas! – not even on champagne…

    ATHENAGORAS: … nor on the Holy Spirit! You’re even worse than I am… To answer your question: at first I would have liked to put them on an island so as to breathe a bit in peace: so that the Christians of the different confessions could get to know each other in a spontaneous, disinterested way, without being reminded all the time that they are right or that the others are wrong, and they have to stay on their guard… But now I think that they should be put on an island so that they may discuss thoroughly… The time has come.

    CLÉMENT: Now, in fact, thanks to the long labors of the ecumenical movement, thanks to the profound reconciliation with the Church of Rome, of which you were the initiator, there exists among Christians a fundamental trust.. At bottom, for you, the work of the theologian is always secondary: it expresses an overall attitude that is already in place, distrust in times of distrust, convergence when love returns…

    ATHENAGORAS: That’s exactly right.

    *

    From the way he often reprises the quip, it seems that Pope Francis has reinstated the first of the two successive meanings – “At first… But now I think” – given to it by Athenagoras.

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