Methodist-Catholic Relations

Richard Hall nails it: in a week when the Roman Catholic cathedral in Liverpool’s hospitality to hold Methodist ordinations has been spiked by a word from the Vatican, Richard writes:

My experience for a long time has been that the Methodist and Catholic communities get along very well together ‘on the ground’. We’ve come a long way from the “catholics are the anti-Christ” attitude that was very present during my upbringing …

Sadly, the powers that be in the Catholic Church just don’t seem to get it. They seem content to turn a blind eye to local co-operation as long as no one makes too much fuss about it, but they remain committed to a worldview which sees their church as the repository of truth with the rest of us being second class Christians at best.

His summary chimes with my experience. My best man (and best friend since the age of seven) is a Catholic. In my ministry, I have almost always got on well with the Catholic priests in the localities. But at ‘top’ level, we’re still in the Dark Ages. In fact, you get the impression they wish the Second Vatican Council had never happened.

Some of it does filter down to ordinary Catholics, sadly. Go to the Catholic Herald report on this story and you will find some utterly spiteful remarks from lay Catholics in the ‘comments’ section. Go to one of the Catholic blogs that first protested the original invitation and you will see commenters saying things like this:

It reminds me of the Imam preaching in Westminster Cathedral, or ++Vincent Nichols laying flowers on a heather altar in Willesden, or the idol on the Catholic altar at Asissi.

And that from a man who describes himself as a ‘Former teacher, banker, teacher, investment consultant, project worker in London homelessness charity’. The clear implication is that this educated man still thinks that all non-Catholics are non-Christians.

I am glad I shared a Good Friday walk of witness this year with very different Catholics. But the bad old days are clearly still alive and kicking like a mule in other places. No wonder Richard says he thinks ‘that the ecumenical movement is well and truly stuck’. I guess we’ll just have to remain subversive at the grass-roots level, and support those of our Catholic sisters and brothers who quietly have to ignore or defy these oppressive policies.

How I contrast this with the meeting I had in Addlestone this last week, where representatives of our small and largely elderly Methodist congregation considered overtures from our local New Frontiers church to use our hall for reaching out to people in debt and for running a post-Alpha Course Bible study. We don’t agree on all matters, but the spirit of the meeting was about co-operation in the Gospel. And the more of that there is, the better.

I’m sorry if some of this sounds angry, but the arch-traditionalist Catholics need to understand what their attitudes are doing to other people who also follow Jesus Christ. And that’s a serious matter.

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About Dave Faulkner

I'm a British Methodist minister, married with two children. I blog from a moderate evangelical-missional-charismatic perspective, with an interest in the 'missional' approach. My interests include Web 2.0, digital photography, contemporary music and watching football (Tottenham Hotspur) and cricket.

Posted on May 29, 2011, in ministry and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. “…but the arch-traditionalist Catholics need to understand what their attitudes are doing to other people who also follow Jesus Christ.”

    Agreed, entirely. And I’d add, they need to think about what they are saying to the huge numbers of people who are looking on from the sidelines, and wondering why these Christians can’t get on. This is a terrible witness.

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    • Thanks, Tony, it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one who feels like this. And yes, what a terrible witness.

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    • Speaking as a revert Roman Catholic happily married to a United Methodist, I think Rev Faulkners perspective is a tad bigoted, truncated and intellectually dishonest.
      The differences between faithful Roman Catholics and practicing Methodists are not superficial matters of mere style.Nor are ‘arch traditionalists’ the culprit.
      The problem is Truth. We make important, disparate and mutually exclusive truth claims. That does not mean we do not have much in common, but we must respect and explore charitably the differnces.
      I am sad my Jewish friends don’t believe in the Divinity of Christ and wish they did, but I do not remonstrate them for it.

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      • Steve,

        Welcome here and thank you for your comment. We do have big differences and yes we should explore them, but:

        1. If they are as big as you suggest, why was the invitation extended in the first instance?
        2. By comparing things with Judaism, are you implying that Catholicism and Methodism are not varying expressions of Christianity but actually completely different faiths? If that is the case, whatever do you make of the tradition since Vatican II of referring to other Christian traditions as ‘separated brethren’? Whatever our major differences, we affirm the same ecumenical creeds, for example.

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  2. The arch-traditionalist who are calling us evil and all manner of other pejorative names also need to realize that their attitude is not in line with current Catholic thinking. We are “separated brethren” and, like all people of all faiths, to be treated with charity and respect.

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    • It makes you wonder whetehr ‘separated brethren’ is rather like ‘dhimmi’ status in Islam, with its varying levels of charitable interpretation, from warm to hostile.

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  3. I had a look at some of the Catholic bloggs regarding this and was utterly stunned by the vitriol and bigotry. I’ve clearly been living in some sort of naive bubble in which Christians love each other and regard each other with respect.

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    • I know, it shocked me and that’s why (after some consideration) I reluctantly decided to post this. My personal experience of Catholics is as good friends, and the guy who was heavy on describing us as Protestants made it sound like we Methodists were a wing of the Banner Of Truth or the Protestant Truth Society. As for saying that Methodists don’t believe in the Real Presence, well I’ll freely admit that my own theology of the sacraments means I don’t, but I know plenty of Methodists who do. Hence the level of ignorance that is attached to the vitriol is shocking, especially when it comes from people with a palpably educated background. I wonder whether any of these have even talked to Methodists.

      Of course, there is then also the matter of the fire and brimstone that comes from Christian blogs of other persuasions, too, and if the experience of reading these hurtful comments has done anything for me it is to remind me to check that even my most passionate criticisms should be expressed in a better spirit than these.

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  4. I’m afraid the words of Bl John Paul II are ringing rather true for me at the moment in respect of some of those in the blogosphere… “the Catholic Church does not forget that many among her members cause God’s plan to be discernible only with difficulty”. I too am given hope though by the very positive relationships we enjoy with Catholics on a local level.

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    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for that quote from John Paul II, I hadn’t heard it, and it applies to more than just Catholics.

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      • Indeed it does. It’s from paragraph 11 of Ut Unum Sint.

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      • abusedbymethodists

        Let’s be sure to put that sentence in context vs. miss-lead and I believe that can be accomplished by offering the entire text: 11. The Catholic Church thus affirms that during the two thousand years of her history she has been preserved in unity, with all the means with which God wishes to endow his Church, and this despite the often grave crises which have shaken her, the infidelity of some of her ministers, and the faults into which her members daily fall. The Catholic Church knows that, by virtue of the strength which comes to her from the Spirit, the weaknesses, mediocrity, sins and at times the betrayals of some of her children cannot destroy what God has bestowed on her as part of his plan of grace. Moreover, “the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). Even so, the Catholic Church does not forget that many among her members cause God’s plan to be discernible only with difficulty. Speaking of the lack of unity among Christians, the Decree on Ecumenism does not ignore the fact that “people of both sides were to blame”,13 and acknowledges that responsibility cannot be attributed only to the “other side”. By God’s grace, however, neither what belongs to the structure of the Church of Christ nor that communion which still exists with the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities has been destroyed.

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  5. As A Catholic I find your article very disappointing. It is quite typical of the rather pompous and holier than thou attitude that I regularly find from Methodists. Always quick to give back-handed compliments about the Catholic church. It was only 4 years ago when a 20 year old Methodist girl (daughter of a minister) reacted with utter horror and disgust upon finding out that I was Catholic. Her exact words where “I hate Catholics”.
    The ordinations should never have been set to go ahead in a Catholic church. That may be something you are fine with, but in Catholicism it is inbelievable to consider non-Catholic ordinations in a Catholic church. That is our rules and culture and is, quite frankly, none of your business.
    If you will deliberatley misinterpret Catholic teaching to create some anti-Methodist bogeyman (whilst using ridiculously over the top metaphors such as Dhimmis) then that is up to you. You have done nothing for the cause of Christian unity with this article unless, of course, it is a more hard line and oppressive form of protestantism you are wishing to move towards.

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    • Mike,

      I’m wondering whether you read my article in any detail at all. Read again what I said about my best man, about the local priests I’ve always got on very well with. I emphatically do not share the view of the young woman you heard saying, “I hate Catholics”. I am sorry she said that, but it is manifestly not the common view of Methodists about Catholics. It is more common to hear people say, “We all believe the same things.” (Whether that is actually true is another matter, but the point is that generally a charitable view exists.)

      You can say by all means that the ordinations should not have gone ahead on Catholic premises, but you fail to tackle why such a senior Catholic offered such hospitality in the first place. Can you imagine how we feel led up the garden path?

      As for me doing nothing for Christian unity, what do you think this action has done? Our denomination was offered hospitality and then had it ripped from us. It really is hard to consider that we are treated as anything better than second-class Christians, if even that. Hence I stand by the ‘dhimmi’ analogy. Sometimes Muslims treat Jews and Christians with charity and respect, sometimes they use it to oppress. Besides, what about the offensive language on the Catholic blogs, comparing us to heathens? It’s hard to avoid the sense that Catholicism still tends to a belief that you are the only real Christians, and that Vatican II never happened.

      Further, if you think Methodists promote ‘more hard line and oppressive … Protestantism’ then you really don’t know us at all. We are the Free Church tradition that explicitly from the outset rejected Calvinism.

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      • Well Dave I think you need to re-read my own post. I did not say Methodists promote hard line and oppressive protestantism.

        I really think you need to calm down over the situation. Your use of the ridicuslous analogy of dhimmi and words such as ‘ripped’, ‘oppress’ and ‘being treated like second class citizens’ are laughable and show your emotions controlling your thoughts.

        I am sure there were some stupid remarks from Catholics about the situation, and I’m equally sure I could easily find some similar remarks by Methodists if I spend 10 mins trawling the net.

        I know many, many Methodists. They are trained for ministry in my city’s uni. They are as good as any other. The problem I find is that they have a high opinion of themselves as being ‘laidback’ and ‘relaxed’ and therefore all other Christians need to learn from us Methodists. This leads to very patronising and obnoxious comments being a very regular thing to hear from Methodists. They seem totally unaware of this. My advice would be to not look to other faiths in future but take a good look at yourselves and your own failings.

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        • Mike,

          I’m going to begin this reply by saying that to some extent I do agree with some of your criticisms of us Methodists in your final paragraph. I have seen a certain hubris in some ecumenical contexts where we are more full of what we bring to the table than appreciating what others offer. Usually it’s some smug superior comments about our hymnody. I think you make a fair point there. As someone who did his first Theology degree at an Anglican college, and who has spent thirteen years working in ecumenical churches (including, for five years, one where Catholics were the majority group), I find that behaviour ugly and share your distaste. I have sometimes said that ecumenical conversations need not only to be about what we bring to the table, but about what we are willing to give up – all parties, that is.

          However, it is still hard for us to avoid the feeling that the RCC assumes we are second-class. I have sat in a Catholic Mass at an ecumenical occasion, listening to intercessions that clearly identify the Church of Christ with the Church of Rome and nothing else. I can’t receive the Eucharist, and my call to ministry is not officially recognised, because I haven’t had the right hands laid on me. Rome only seems to do unity on its own terms – it’s hard to avoid the thought that that constitutes a power game. You say I’m emotional – well, appreciate there is bound to be pain here. However, there are facts about our differences behind my decision to use language such as ‘second class’. Note the pain, too, behind the comments of Tony, Pam and Michaela, who are all Methodist ministers.

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      • abusedbymethodists

        I wish what you are saying were true. I have a relative who married a Methodist pastor quite young, she left her Catholic faith for him. He has stated awful things about Catholic beliefs, he has lied about the millions who are served by Catholic Charities, he has blasphemed Catholics by speaking regular non-truths, and I guess what I think is important in a pastor is humility, compassion, empathy… this kid doesn’t have it! They have recently been provided the opportunity to start a church. They said when they develop their values they want to make it clear to those who enter that unlike Catholics all are welcome and they are excited about things like people of different faiths being able to marry. I informed these points are non-truths, and I asked why must they even bring up Catholicism at all? I was told I didn’t understand. I questioned why they posted an article about the Catholic Salvation Army refusing homosexuals at a NY shelter last year or the year before until I posted very clearly that The Salvation Army is Protestant and they do turn away homosexuals – whereas a Catholic Shelter would have welcomed them with open arms – they simply would be required to be celibate while on premise. The United Methodists must be very threatened to even bring us up – otherwise…why do it? Another exchanged included her mom saying she quit going to church because of fallen priests… really?? They are human beings? I in turn to prove this point sent her an array of articles and cases on United Methodist Pastors who have committed an array of sexual crimes. I am beyond middle age. I attended parochial school, I have been a committed and devout Catholic – I love the Mass, and I love our churches Bible Studies as well as the many Community events and greater community work that we do together. Never…. Never in all my years of life EVER heard a Catholic Priest, pastor or member of my parish speak negatively about any other faith. In fact we offer educational sessions on all faiths in an effort to figure out how to do God’s work together. I guess all that I feel I should suggest is that you and your church leaders who guide these young pastors to stop… discern, and pray…. There is genius in Catholicism. We don’t claim perfection – and if your church is perfect please announce this and get it in the news and on billboards because we all want to know your secret!

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        • I am sorry to read of your bad experiences. This is not what I stand for. I wrote this post because of the way kind local Catholic hospitality to Methodists was clearly ‘leant on’ from above. I would like to think that things will be diffeent under Pope Francis. We shall see.

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  6. I think you are both forgetting that a Christian is firstly and foremostly a follower of Jesus. Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.
    There are no Catholics, methodists or baptists (As a denomination) in the bible, and there will be no segregation in Heaven.
    I am a Christian, I love the Lord and it makes me sad to see grown men behaving like little kids.

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    • Thanks for the rebuke, Mary, but I couldn’t agree more with your basic premise. It’s the putting up of barriers beyond that basic commitment to follow Jesus that is distressing.

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  7. The Methodist Church feels more user-friendly. I particularly like the custom of bringing children up to the front during service and making them important. I also appreciate the big screen TV that puts the words of the songs up. It is relaxed and casual. Most of one’s time is spent away from Church, and a personal walk with Christ is important. That being said, I know the Catholic Church is the Big Gun, and I am glad it is there. It is like the sun with its gravitational pull on the satellite churches. I know they have it all, but sometimes I need something small and personal. Remember, there was a time when there wasn’t a powerful Church in Rome and we Christians were getting fed to the lions by a pagan emperor.

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