Catholics and Protestants “journey together towards the unity that Christ prayed for”
On October 31, 2017, the Holy See Press Office published a joint statement from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation. This text, which marks the end of a year of joint commemoration of the Protestant Reformation, explains the goal of these ecumenical efforts: to receive the Eucharist at one table “as the concrete expression of full unity”. For, the text explains, the separation was a failure that “wounded the Body of the Lord”. This year has been another step forward “towards the unity that Christ prayed for” (see Jn. 17:21), claims the statement without batting an eyelash.
While the past cannot be changed, the text admits, its influence on the future can be “transformed to become a stimulus for growing communion”. Catholics and Protestants have been traveling together towards this unity for fifty years now, and “what we have in common is far more than that which still divides us”. According to the joint statement, this journey has already put an end to prejudices and allowed for better mutual understanding and “decisive” theological agreements. The most important of these being the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed between Catholics and Lutherans in 1999. The World Methodist Council and the World Communion of Reformed Churches later joined in this declaration, in 2006 and 2017 respectively. As did the Anglican Communion on October 31, 2017.
For the first time, points out this joint statement, Catholics and Protestants have been able to join together in celebrating the anniversary of the Reformation, with many common prayer and worship services. Especially since, as the text claims, spiritual and theological gifts were received through the Reformation. (See: Luther, A True Reformer of the Church?)
In answer to this “new attitude, made up of praises for Protestantism and apologies for Catholicism”, Bishop Bernard Fellay recalled in his Letter to Friends and Benefactors #87 (Easter 2017): “This traditional language leaves no room for the confusion that is so widespread today in the name of a false ecumenism. The warnings of the Congregation of the Sacred Office in 1949, following several papal documents, the most important of which is certainly the Encyclical by Pius XI, Mortalium Animos (1928), these fair warnings seem now to be a dead letter. Nevertheless, the dangers of this ecumenical irenicism, which was denounced by Pius XII in Humani Generis (1950), are immense and extremely serious, because it discourages conversions to Catholicism. What Protestant, seeing the ‘riches’ and the ‘venerable traditions’ of Luther’s Reform being praised, would feel the need to convert? Besides, the very word ‘conversion’ is currently banished from the official Catholic vocabulary when it is a question of other Christian denominations”.