Pope Francis and Tony Palmer – A Contrast in Ecumenism
Ecumenism is difficult. And lately, we’ve had no shortage of examples, both good and bad.
Maybe you’re like me, and when you hear someone speak about ecumenism, you kind of brace yourself a little. It’s one of those topics where when I hear it come up, I mentally prepare myself for battle with heresy.
So, I admit, when I heard of Pope Francis’ video message to the recent pentecostal conference in Texas, I wasn’t sure whether to arm myself for another round of grossly misunderstood and intentionally misrepresented “ecumenical” quotes plastering the internet.
Pope Francis has been noted for his eagerness to reach out to groups that are often seen as distant from the Church, such as atheists and proponents of gay marriage, and he has done so with varying degrees of success. Sometimes, I think, his statements were a little too vague, other times words were put in his mouth.
This time, I think our beloved Pope just about nailed it.
In a clear and compassionate way, Pope Francis expressed his love for our Christian brothers who are separated from the Church, as well as the need for concrete and true unity. His analogy of a family separated by sin hit the nail on the head.
Too often, Catholics look at ecumenism with a limited perspective – we either focus on being friendly and welcoming at the expense of truth, or we do the opposite. I’ve personally enraged enough internet-protestants that I know my bent is toward the latter. As is so often the case, the true, Catholic way is the sane balance between these extremes.
If we take the analogy of a family shattered by separation, consider how one could ever reunite them. Would they be united by the mere imposition of the facts? Or would it take an act of love to bring them back together? This is how I view what Pope Francis did – the father of that broken family, still feeling the hurt, and not ignoring the facts of the matter, but reaching out in love despite that. It’s the only way to make a first step toward true unity.
Now, for the contrast.
Tony Palmer’s speech to this pentecostal group was interesting, to say the least. Certainly it contained a boatload of doctrinal and historical errors. But that’s not, I think, the main point where it diverges from Pope Francis. Where it diverged was the tone and message, which were directly opposed to the Pope’s.
Where Pope Francis spoke warmly, he also spoke sadly. He knew and acknowledged the terrible wound inflicted on all the faithful by the continued separation of so many from Christ’s Church. He spoke of the healing that is necessary, and invited those listening to pray, and to continue the journey.
Palmer spoke triumphantly. He claimed he was Catholic, and so were all the pentecostals. He contrasted diversity and division, as if to say that the pentecostal position was not divided from the Church. He preached the comfortable false gospel: all is well, carry on as you are. He praised God for a victory that did not exist. I couldn’t help but think of a general telling his men to crack open the beer kegs and drink themselves stupid in celebration, right before the battle begins.
Contrary to what Tony Palmer says, doctrine does matter. And so does ecumenism. All of us could benefit from watching these two attempts at it, and using them to thoughtfully inspect our own outlook. We must desire unity as Christ does, and work for it with love and truth, in equal measure.