Great Minds Think Alike: The Pope of Christian Unity

I just had a note from a rather distinguished reader of WDTPRS alerting me to something that appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal

BTW… there is a POLL on that page, but you have to search for it.

He wrote: Next to its article titled "For the Vatican, New Resolve to Expand the Catholic Fold", the WSJ captioned a picture of Pope Benedict with "The Great Unifier?"

Here is some of that WSJ piece with my emphases and comments.

For the Vatican, New Resolve to Expand the Catholic Fold


ROME — Long regarded as a hard-liner on religious doctrine, Pope Benedict XVI also is emerging as the pontiff of interchurch, or ecumenical, relations[Sounds right.  This is the Pope of Christian Unity.]

The 82-year-old pope’s decision Tuesday to amend Vatican laws to make it easier for Anglicans to become Roman Catholic represents his most aggressive attempt to bring more Christians into the Catholic fold.  [Again, this was an overture also in response to Anglican initiatives.]

The pope’s outreach to rival churches has spanned the conservative-liberal spectrum. He has bolstered dialogue with Lutherans and other mainline Protestants. [liberals] He met with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, regarded by some as the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Churches. And he lifted an excommunication ban on the highly conservative Catholic splinter group Society of St. Pius X.  [conservatives]

Few expected Pope Benedict to reach out to other Christian churches aggressively [there it is again… makes it sound like the Anschluss.] when he was elected in April 2005. Yet the rise of secularism among European Christians and the expansion of Islam on the Continent in recent decades have influenced thinking within Vatican corridors. In addition, this pope considers divisions among rival Christian churches as a threat to Roman Catholicism’s credibility in the market of ideas and faiths, according to Vatican analysts and advisers to the pope.

"Anyone who thought he wasn’t serious about ecumenical dialogue was seriously mistaken," said the Rev. Joseph Fessio, one of Pope Benedict’s former students whom he occasionally consults.

Yet some Christians don’t view Pope Benedict’s latest move as an ecumenical gesture, and they warn that it risks derailing decades of formal dialogue between the Vatican and Anglican leaders[This is exactly the point I was making HERE.]

You can read the rest there.

Remember: Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian Unity.

He has the correct ecumenical vision.  A true ecumenism does not compromise essentials of our faith and identity even while it challenges us to stretch.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Why does the article seem to suggest that doctrinal orthodoxy and unifying the Church are opposed to each other?

  2. PJ says:

    “the market of ideas and faiths” – what a horrid idea.

    An amusing mental image comes to mind.

  3. Dan says:

    Might I also add that there is a poll related to this article on the WSJ website?

    What do you think of the Vatican’s idea to fast-track Anglicans seeking to convert to Catholicism?
    Good idea | Bad idea

  4. Mariana says:

    “Reaching out aggressively” is probably high praise from the WSJ.

  5. John V says:

    Fr. Z’s magnificent phrase: “Pope Benedict XVI – The Pope of Christian Unity”

    Short version: Pope Benedict the Unifier

  6. albizzi says:

    The WSJ’s poll results currently are:
    Good idea: 71 %
    Bad idea: 29 %

  7. Henry Edwards says:

    I just had a note from a rather distinguished reader of WDTPRS

    The Great Unifier himself?

  8. chironomo says:

    Why does the article seem to suggest that doctrinal orthodoxy and unifying the Church are opposed to each other?

    Because the “prevailing wisdom” is that Unity is achieved through compromise, and that an insistence on orthodoxy would usually mitigate against compromise. Being basically a secular publication, the WSJ fails to take into account that the Roman Church is offering a Truth that cannot be compromised. Instead, they would see the process being something like “OK…we’ll come into the faith and boost your numbers, you have to drop those silly things about priestly celibacy and contraception”… in other words, they see the process as a give-and-take negotiation.

  9. Melody says:

    I agree, Pope Benedict simply makes it easier to do the right thing.

  10. seanl says:

    “Few expected Pope Benedict to reach out to other Christian churches aggressively when he was elected in April 2005. Yet the rise of secularism among European Christians and the expansion of Islam on the Continent in recent decades have influenced thinking within Vatican corridors”

    The Church has always reached out calling our brothers and sisters back into Unity. Nice use of language on the author’s part to make it seem like Pope Benedict has begun this unification process out of a sense of threat.

  11. Sandy says:

    As most critics will do, it twists the overture into “aggressive pursuit”. The suffering Anglicans are looking for shelter in the storm and our Holy Father has offered it. There is nothing aggressive about it. But then, some journalists never let a little thing like objectivity get in the way.

    Anyone who has watched Marcus Grodi’s “The Journey Home”, knows this has been happening on a smaller scale for years. God bless all who will come home!

  12. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: BTW… there is a POLL on that page

    I assume you refer to their question

    Will Windows 7 revive Microsoft’s image as a software and technology leader?

    After my “no” vote had been recorded, the count stood at 243 yes, 244 no. Once again, WDTPRS has made all the difference!

  13. Rien says:

    I think that this may not be as significant as most think.

    In terms of number of conversions. There are few Episcopals in the US – the Episcopal church near me is progresssive. Thety advertise a Goddess Rosart. I don’t see any of those parishioners being interested.

    High church folks are rare in the US now. It’s basically progressives and low church. The low church evangelicals will have nothing to do with this.

    Given the low Mass attendance of Anglicans in the UK and their generally progressive nature I can’t see many conversions there. Its like what happened with the ordination of women priests. More than a thousand Anglican priests were expected to come over. Less than 450 actually did and many ended up returning to the Anglican church.

    The AU has been present for 20 years or so in the US and there are just 5 or 6 AU parishes. it has not been a “success” in terms of winning converts.

    TAC? 400,000 coming over en mass? Highly unlikely.

    In the end, a decade from now, I will be surprised if much more than several ten thousand or so convert.

  14. Malta says:

    “The attitude which goes with true ecumenism involves sympathetically emphasizing the elements of truth in other religions while clearly rejecting the errors they contain.” (The Devastated Vineyard, Roman Catholic Books, 1985.)

    And, although you have to look hard, Vatican II says the true aim of ecumenism is reuniting our lost (yes, LOST) Christian brethren back into the Catholic fold, the Arc of Salvation, outside of which, “there is no salvation):

    “The Council moreover professes its awareness that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy objective-the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ.” Unitatis Redintegratio, 24

  15. thereseb says:


    You may be right on numbers – only time will tell whether this is a tipping point or not.

    However – rejoice for the tens of thousands who will get the spiritual benefits they have been searching for – and whose path is being made straight by the Pope.

  16. Rien says:

    Is the canon closed?

    I had thought that was the Catholic church’s teaching. Mormons teach it is not closed as do some other groups.

    It has implication for any eventual reunion between the Orthodox and Catholics.

  17. Rien says:

    I think the urgency on the part of the Pope for unity and even the openness of the Orthodox to it now are in good measure a response to the collpase of Chritianity in the face of secularism and Islam. Especially in Europe but the US too.

    In America the largest group of converts in prisons are African American and Hispanic prisoners converting to Islam.

    Spain is seeing a lot of conversions or re-conversions to Islam. Spanish Muslims are asking for the return of some of the former mosques converted to churches.

    Spanish Muslim missionaries are active in Central America. The WSJ had an article a number of years ago about whole villages converting in Central America to Islam – at the lead of the village head.

    In the US Christians have dropped to around 75% of the population and that trend is expected to continue and accelerate. Most self-identified Chritians in these polls are nominal at best. The Catholic church near me had 6 Masses filled to overflowing in the 60s. Now its down to 3 and the church is half full for each.

    Protestants too have collapsed in the US. Mostly the progressive mainline churches but growth has stalled for some of the fundamentalist churches such as the Baptists.

    Only Mormonism is growing as fast or near as fast as Islam.

    But beyond that Chritianity is in a nosedive in terms of people beleiving it on to the next generation.

    So, in a way, this can IMO be seen as a move of desperation. It gives Chritianity more of a unified front which is one of its weak points. Muslim missionaries here like to point out that the prayer of Jesus that they be one was not efficaciouis – we are 25,000 or more so they use that as an argument to “prove” the lack of validity of Chritianity.

    Anyway, lots of things going on with this initiative. How it plays out and what impact it has the the apparent collapse of Chritianity at this time only time will tell.

  18. Who cares about numbers? Let those who want to be in full communion with the Holy Catholic Church do so, with all of us rejoicing!
    Pope Benedict has said in the past that it is not the numbers but the fidelity and fervent love of the Church, even if it is in a minority, that will influence the world.

  19. In business circles, people use “aggressive” as a synonym for “intense” or “serious” or even “proactive”. If someone is pursuing every lead and trying every approach, that’s “aggressive”.
    For example, from a business POV, most vocations recruitment among American Catholics is not “aggressive” in the least. If the archbishop came to speak about vocations to gatherings of all the kids in the archdiocese, and actually “asked for the sale” at the end of each talk, that would be just the beginning of “aggressive”.

    That said, American journalists often have a streak of anti-Catholicism or at least discomfort with religion. So the positive gets clouded by that.

    Re: liberals — There is a spectrum of liberals, don’t forget, and some of them aren’t particularly fond of the games being played by the Anglican/Episcopalian groups and do love certain parts of liturgical tradition. Also, there are people everywhere who actually answer when called by the Holy Spirit. So I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few liberal Episcopalians also find themselves becoming Catholic. But we’ll see.

  20. Supertradmom says:

    Not just American journalists are anti-Catholic. Did you see the horrible articles on the BBC online editions? Secularists are becoming alarmed, as they thought they had won the day. I am sure journalists are taken aback by the hugely positive feedback on this news from Rome. Pope Benedict XVI, the Pope of Unity, is stealing the headlines again.

  21. Athelstan says:

    Rien does have a point: In America, and perhaps even in Britain, the bulk of remaining Anglo-Catholics likely to “pope” have already done so. Many of the remaining conservative rebels are really evangelicals. It makes one said to think of the possibilities had this move been made back in, say, 1980 when the Anglican use provision was first approved. Today we could have a burgeoning Anglican Personal ordinariate that might compare in size with some of the largest sui juris eastern rite churches.

    And yet…

    We don’t know who will come over. My guess: the bulk of the TAC, and perhaps a couple of the flying bishops in England and a smattering of their priests and lay followers. Maybe a trickle later. And this would be more than enough to justify this move. But one aspect which has not yet been considered is how many existing Catholics, especially converted Anglicans, who might be attracted to such a beautiful liturgical option. Especially those who crave real reverence and mystery in the mass but don’t get it in their novus ordo parish, and yet are still a little put off by all that Latin in the nearby TLM (assuming there is one). I know a few such Catholics myself, and they have made clear they’d be off like a shot to an Anglican P.O. parish using something like the Knott missal and Anglican choral tradition if it became available.

    So this may plant seeds which might sprout and grow in all kinds of unexpected ways.

  22. Patrick J. says:


    How does one use the term ‘desperate’ relative to the Holy Mother Church, about her Christ himself said ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against’? What a profoundly odd statement if indeed coming from a believer. Maybe you will clarify.

    The point of all of this is shoring up against the sources of confusion, which are the ‘water downed’ so called Christian Communities, including the cafeteria style Catholic, and letting them stand quite apart and distinct from the ‘unifying’ and coming to be more Orthodox Catholic Church in all of her manifestations. This may signal the end times ‘separating’ the Lord spoke of, i.e., sheeps from goats, and perhaps a more refined, ‘without spot or wrinkle’
    ‘remnant’ Catholic Church, but certainly not one that is ‘desperate.’

  23. geoff jones says:

    I agree with Athelstan. Born an Anglican as I was, I still love some of the beatiful prayers from the BCP and I, too, would go to any AU mass if available. Don’t underestimate the number of cradle Catholics who would be interested either. If you look at the A.U. Lady of the Atonement website you’ll see that half of the people there are Hispanics–and it is flourishing.

    The Catholic Church in the west is facing a momentous crunch. I don’t think many people GET just how decimated our numbers will be in 30 or 40 years. But in 30 or 40 years the Anglican Use will form a VERY significant portion of the faithful remnant who will remain.

  24. geoff jones says:

    Re: Rien,
    You have a point about the Mormons. Clearly they are doing something right that we are not. I think it is time we took a leaf out of their book. One thing that they certainly do is promote within their ranks those who have good business nous, and, indeed they run their chuech like a business. One can be cynical about their methods, but one cannot scoff at their results.

    I think that a free market approach would help the Catholic church prosper. We, as paying laity should be asking how many souls are being saved for my dollar. If the parish is dysfunctional it doesn’t deserve my money. There are groups within the Church who DO deserve it (like the FSSP, or Opus Dei) so they should be supported.

  25. Patrick J. says:

    The Catholic Church, Latin Rite, shot itself in the foot with the pedestrian translations which are presently being rectified. AU did not take that route. (let’s not even rehash the more egregious examples of abuse liturgical) If and when the RCC gets its liturgical act together, there would not be such a yen for the more formal non Latin Rites, beautiful as the AU must be, (have heard about it but not witnessed). I myself took refuge in an Eastern Rite parish. In our church, the translated English can read like: “it is truly meet..” IOW more formal, poetic, less pedestrian English, ala the AU. So, it is very true, people are tired of the tennis shoed altar boys (and girls??) the aw shucks banter from the celebrant, the mundane language of the prayers, etc. We don’t need to discuss music, do we? Good, my fingers are tired! So, and , blah, blah

  26. Patrick J. says:

    No need to study Mormons, any more than Scientologists or the New Age or JWs. They are just filling a void left as a result of a feckless and confused Catholicism. The Catholic Church in the late 50’s in this country was a juggernaut, burgeoning seminaries, robust school systems and hopitals, all lifting up Christ to the world. Hollywood asked our permission, in a manner of speaking, to release films. We basically walked off the playing field (or were, perhaps more accurately, tricked off by the great deceiver, ol’ slewfoot). LET US STUDY OUR PAST. Therein lies the answers we seek.

  27. Catherine says:

    What do you think of the Vatican’s idea to fast-track Anglicans seeking to convert to Catholicism?

    Good idea: 875 Bad idea: 218

    The vitriol in blogs and chat rooms is perceivably thick. Common issues: married priests/bishops, rights of women, the Vatican “pressuring” Anglicans into joining just because they need priests, etc. These dissidents are bitterly resentful already. It’s sour grapes all the way around. Good and faithful Catholics, be prepared to defend this Pope and his motives for unity! As Christ said, “I pray, Father, that they may all be one, as you and I are one.”

  28. Henry Edwards says:

    400,000 former Anglicans worldwide seek immediate unity with Rome

    But what would the Times of London know about the Anglican scene, as compared with our resident experts here at WDTPRS?

  29. Warren says:

    Vati-can – 1; Angli-can’ts – 0.

  30. Lori Ehrman says:

    I can’t find the poll. Help me, I need to vote!

  31. ssoldie says:

    False ecuminism, means to compromise Truth. I once told a friend, you do not become a Catholic, for a fiance, husband, girl friend, wife, child. You become a Catholic because you believe in the Holy Catholic Church, as it was instituted by Christ, and all that has been handed down from his apostles as doctrine and tradition. It is each individual who uses right reason, common sense, free will and to know history, then you will be Catholic.

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