Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Respectfully Disagreeing with Benedict

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was headed up by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger until his election as Pope, has recently released a document with which I have to take issue. I know, a progressive American Methodist taking issue with Roman Catholic theology?

But I feel the need to comment on this one because of the extreme irony I see in the situation. The Congregation's document "clarifying" (reinterpreting) statements made by the Second Vatican Council states that churches outside of full communion with the Roman Catholic Church "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because we do not enjoy the full benefit of "apostolic succession in the sacrament of orders". Basically because I'm not ordained by a bishop that has been appointed by the Pope, I'm not a legitimate celebrant of the Eucharist.

(Here is the full text, and here is the short version, courtesy of CNN.)

I could play the proof-texting game here, throwing out verses like "wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am there" and whatnot. But someone could come back with "on this rock (Peter) I shall build my church", plus I don't believe in lobbing Bible verses back and forth. I could even question the legitimacy of true apostolic succession in the papal office because of the number of times there have been multiple claimants to the throne or how many times the office was achieved through simony. But I won't even do that because the ecclesiological practices in my own denomination are in need of great repair.

What I find ironic about this situation is that it represents the very thing that Jesus stood against: the hegemony and exclusivist practices of the religious establishment. Jesus broke Sabbath laws, reinterpreted Mosaic Law, taught without official authorization, and hung out with the unacceptable and "unclean" people to show that God's grace is available to everybody, regardless of whether the authority figures liked it or not. Grace is God's alone to give, and is not subject to the whims of any person wearing fancy robes- myself included.

What the Vatican is saying through this document is that ecclesial bodies who do not profess allegiance to Rome are at best second class citizens in the Kingdom, and at worst are totally left out, simply because they (we) do not choose to play by their rules. Jesus was executed because he flagrantly disregarded the rules of the system. We in the Protestant churches constantly fail to be truly Christlike communities, but perhaps in this one instance we find ourselves in very good company.

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