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.
According to Reuters an Indian bridegroom had to take his wedding vows by mobile phone when floods preventing him reaching the location of the ceremony.
So what are the issues around technology and proximity? In the 1990s I once heard the Revd Dr Phil Meadows argue that there was little difference between communicating certain things via virtual reality and mediating them through other, older, more socially acceptable technologies such as hearing aids. (And what about spectacles?) Earlier than that, in the 1980s, when Ship Of Fools was an ordinary magazine made of paper, they reported on the case in the USA (where else?) of the Roman Catholic ‘drive-in confessional’, with the slogan, ‘Toot and tell or go to hell.’
So how close do we have to be to someone for it to be personal? Conversely, how far away do we have to be from someone to break the sense of personal connection? What barriers are acceptable, because we don’t perceive them so much a barriers as mediators? Theologically, what constitutes community and incarnation?