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The Vatican, Ecumenism, and Tolerance | Dr. James Hitchcock | IgnatiusInsight.com
The phrase "Vatican II" has long been a mantra that shuts off real
thinking, used to imply that somehow that Council negated almost
everything in the Catholic past and uncritically embraced everything
As usual with such slogans, those who use it don't really care whether
it reflects reality, so that when they encounter the real Vatican II
they are often offended.
Their most recent offense has been caused by a Vatican document stating
that the fullness of divine truth is found only in the Catholic Church
and that other groups possess truth in proportion to how close they are
to Catholicism, something that implies that other groups are partly in
error. Pope Benedict is therefore accused of leading the Church back
into the Dark Ages, by repudiating the Church's commitment to ecumenism.
Where does the commitment to ecumenism come from? From Vatican II of
course, specifically from its decree on ecumenism, Unitatis
Redintegratio (The Restoration of Unity). But then where does the idea
that the Catholic Church alone possess the fullness of divine truth come
from? From the same Vatican Council, from the same decree on ecumenism.
Thus those who reject the latest Vatican statement must logically also
reject the very document that committed the Church to ecumenism in the
One of the main criticisms of the recent statement is that it offends
some people. But although it may be heresy to say so, offending people
is not the worst of all possible sins - it depends on why they are
offended. It is necessary to speak the truth, no matter how much it
The people who accuse the Vatican of being intolerant cannot themselves
avoid being intolerant, since they demand that everyone share their own
view of the matter. Increasingly the fetish of "tolerance" (a much
over-rated virtue to begin with) is itself a cloak for intolerance.
Those who condemn the Church's claim to posses the fullness of truth are
in effect charging that the Church teaches pernicious error, which,
whatever else it is, is a peculiar manifestation of "tolerance."
Such people do not seem to recognize that they are simply pushing their
own theological agenda, which is the assumption that all religions
merely represent human opinion, that no one can claim real divine truth.
Is there one God (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or many (Hinduism)? It
doesn't really matter.
Significantly, a leading Protestant, Albert Mohler, has said that he is
not offended by the controversial Vatican statement, a fact that is
especially significant because Dr. Mohler is a Southern Baptist, which
is America's largest Protestant group and one that is hardly soft on
He observes that the Catholic Church is only being true to itself when
it states that other faiths are partly in error and that the appropriate
Protestant response is not indignation but for Protestants to assert
their own claims to truth. "I appreciate the Roman Catholic Church's
candor on this issue, and I believe that Evangelical Christians, with
equal candor and clarity, should respond in kind," he concludes.
This is real ecumenism, of the kind Vatican II originally envisioned--the
ecumenism of those who take their own faith very seriously and do
not feel threatened when adherents of other faiths confess their own
(This article originally appeared on August 4, 2007, on the
Women for Faith and Family website. It is reprinted by the kind permission of the author.)
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links/Articles:
Excerpts from Truth and Tolerance | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Is Tolerance Intolerant? | James Hitchcock
Are Christians Intolerant? | Michael O'Brien
Our Enslavement to "Freedom" | James Hitchcock
Conscience and Chaos | James Hitchcock
Secularity: On Benedict XVI and the Role of Religion in
Society | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
What Is Catholic Social Teaching? | Mark Brumley
Personally Opposed--To What? | Dr. James Hitchcock
Dr. James Hitchcock, (e-mail)
professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary
Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press, in the Adoremus
Bulletin, and on the Women
for Faith and Family website. He is the author of several books, including
The Recovery of the Sacred, What is Secular Humanism?, and Years
of Crisis: Collected Essays, 1970-1983.
Princeton University Press just published his two-volume history of the
Supreme Court, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life:
The Odyssey of the Religion Clauses (Vol. 1) and
From "Higher Law" to "Sectarian Scruples"
(Vol. 2). He is also a regular contributor to many Catholic periodicals,
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