Regular readers know that I’m an advocate and practitioner of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and cooperation. I believe that persons, including leaders, of different traditions of faith should treat each other, and each other’s faiths, with respect and look for opportunities to work together to uphold and advance values they hold in common. This does not require pretending that there are not important differences between faiths. A fruitful ecumenism cannot be founded on religious relativism or indifferentism. Nor need ecumenical and interfaith partners refrain from criticizing teachings of each other’s faiths with which they strongly disagree. There are respectful, civil, and entirely appropriate ways to do this.
I raise these points in light of the goings on in San Francisco regarding the appointment and installation of Salvatore Cordileone as Archbishop. The city’s Episcopalian bishop “welcomed” the new Archbishop with (how shall we describe it?) a rather pointed open letter implicitly, but very clearly, characterizing Catholic teaching on sexual morality and marriage (and, perhaps, on abortion as well, though that is a little less clear) as “repression,” and implicitly characterizing the Archbishop himself, who is a strong defender of marriage, chastity, and the sanctity of human life, as an oppressor.
Well, it is San Francisco.
And we are talking about an Episcopalian bishop. It’s not exactly news that some bishops of the Episcopal Church (remember John Shelby Spong?) long ago traded classical (biblical, natural law) Christian moral ideas for the timeless doctrines of the Summer of Love. In response, many faithful Episcopalians have jumped ship to become Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or Evangelicals, or formed breakaway churches within the Anglican communion, sometimes under the authority of bishops in Africa and other places where traditional Christian moral beliefs remain intact.
Evidently, the San Francisco Episcopalian bishop believes that “turn-about is fair play.” In his open letter, he invites left-wing Catholics who reject the Church’s moral teachings to join the Episcopal Church.
Some Catholics seem to have been offended by this invitation. I’m not one of them. Quite the opposite. I don’t much care for the Bishop’s manners; and I certainly don’t share his moral views; but I think it is entirely natural and reasonable for someone who strongly believes something to invite others to believe it. And it is even more natural and reasonable for someone in religious community A to invite people in religious community B who do not believe the teachings of B but do believe the teachings of A to leave B and join A. That, it seems to me, is precisely what Pope Benedict did in establishing the ordinariate for Anglicans who wish to join the Catholic Church while retaining certain aspects of their Anglican heritage.
Perhaps the San Francisco bishop could create a special community for Catholics in the city who wish to become Episcopalians, but who want to hang on to, I don’t know, folk masses and Teilhard de Chardin reading groups.
Just a suggestion.