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In today’s “On the Square” article, Another Long Lent , George Weigel asks “where do things stand, two and a half weeks into what at first seemed poised to become a scandal as devastating as the Catholic Church in America’s Long Lent of eight years ago?”

And answers the question well. I’ve been pondering another question, which I’ve not seen asked anywhere. It arises from my long ecumenical experience and friendships with many convinced, confessional Protestants, many of whom are noticeably friendlier to Catholics and even to Catholicism than were their fathers, or even than they were themselves ten or fifteen or twenty years ago.

The question is: What will this do to the growing friendship of Catholics and Protestants, which people on both sides (those people including Father Richard Neuhaus) have been so carefully nurturing for some time now? Specifically: Will outspoken Protestants break for or against Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church, and will some simply retreat from their engagement with the Catholic Church or even take the chance to make hostile arguments against the Church’s teaching? Will they revert from dialogue to the polemics of old?

Take mandatory clerical celibacy, on which many of my Protestant friends have very strong feelings, in some cases to the extent of feeling personally offended by it. (Which, to be honest, bewilders me.) They think it obviously unbiblical, a willful rejection of biblical teaching in favor of “the traditions of man,” and to be equally obviously practically and pastorally unwise and even foolish. They assert the Reformation’s alleged recovery of marriage as an apologetic argument against the Church. Many assert that requiring celibacy leads to sexual perversions and to perverts in the priesthood. Now seems the time to drive all that home.

We (Catholics and Protestants) should not underestimate the depth and intensity of anti-Catholic feeling even among some of the friendliest Protestants, which is like a pot of boiling water always threatening to boil over if someone doesn’t keep the lid on. The differences are, they believe, too crucial for human salvation to let simmer.

It will be hard not to say “I told you so” or to score points for their side. Catholics have not been slow in the past to score similar points when the news favored them.

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