Catholics and Protestants still have doctrinal differences

ReligiousWarSignGifI know this is old news, but a reader sent along another recent story about Pope Benedict XVI saying that non-Roman Catholics are outside the true church. I know we covered this already, but the media treatment of this story has been so horrific that it merits another post. For this week's installment, let's look at Steve Maynard's piece in the Tacoma News Tribune. First the subhead:

Puget Sound-area Protestants and Catholics reach out to each other after a message from the pope prompts shock and dismay.

Shock and dismay, eh? So it's going to be that kind of story. A caption says "Catholic leaders are downplaying a recent Vatican declaration reaffirming Catholicism as the one true church." Let's see if they're downplaying the Vatican declaration or the media treatment:

Faithful people from Tacoma to Tulsa to Tijuana took notice this month when the Vatican reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church as the only path to salvation. Pope Benedict XVI's stance that other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches had the potential to divide.

Ugh. It's amazing that this story comes so late in the news cycle and repeats errors from day one of the coverage. At least it's good that the reporter has noticed the Vatican simply reaffirmed its teaching. The Vatican has said nothing new here. And given that, it is rather odd that reporters and others continue to be shocked that the Vatican teaches Catholic doctrine. But, most importantly, did the pope say that all non-Catholics are going to hell? Or did he say that Lutherans, Anglicans, Protestants, etc., are not the true church?

A quick note to complain at the unimaginative nature of all the coverage surrounding this Vatican reprint. It's so easy to take the most obvious point-counterpoint approach. But why not flesh it out a bit more? This supposed shock and awe felt by others seems a bit manufactured (or at least prompted) by the media. I disagree with the document because Lutherans believe the Church is "the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel." But I'm not upset, shocked or even the least bit surprised at the Vatican's document.

Is it really newsworthy that Catholics believe themselves to have the right teaching? If they didn't, why would they retain their teachings? Isn't everybody in the church body they're in because they believe it to be right? If I were a reporter covering this and was required to interview people who were upset by this document, I would ask lots of questions about precisely why they were upset. So many mainstream reports just assumed that outrage was the natural response. Why? Is it news that Catholics have different doctrinal views than other Christians? Is it news that these different beliefs, you know, mean something to people who take them seriously? Apparently it is:

The Rev. Dave Brown of Immanuel Presbyterian Church decided it was time to talk with the Catholic priest two blocks away. . . .

"I was bothered by the pope's statement and felt it was the catalyst to start developing a relationship with him," Brown said.

Protestants are not the only ones shocked, dismayed and hurt by the Vatican's statement, said the Rev. David Alger, executive director of Tacoma-based Associated Ministries.

"A lot of Catholics are deeply troubled and are struggling with what this all means," said Alger, an ordained Presbyterian.

And, in fact, the reporter speaks with precisely one -- that's one (1) -- lay Catholic who says he's upset by the document. In setting up the quote, the reporter says the pope asserted that Catholicism "has a corner on salvation." Which is not what the document said. The rest of the Catholics interviewed? They all explain how the media misinterpreted it. In fact, one specifically says:

"It's not a question of saying only Catholics are being saved," [the Rev. Michael McDermott, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Tacoma] said.

How the reporter could include this quote while saying the absolute opposite in the opening paragraph rather mystifies me. The priest goes on to explain that Catholics believe they are the only true church in part because of their seven sacraments and a lineage of bishops they believe can be traced back to Jesus' apostles. But, he says, that doesn't necessarily mean that Christ isn't present and operative in other church groups. The fact that Catholic churches accept the baptisms of other Christians should be proof of this to any average religion reporter.

But the reporter seems confused that Catholics and Protestants could have a long history of working together on (non-sacramental) food banks and other social welfare programs while actually believing each other to teach doctrine incorrectly or administer the sacraments incorrectly.

With this much time out from the reissue of that document, I was hoping for more substantive coverage. One great angle, even for a local religion reporter, would be to look at the different views of apostolic succession among Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and Protestant churches. Particularly since different views and practices about same were a major point of the Vatican document.

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