Statement of Pope Benedict XVI and Ecuminism of Return

A poster on CAF once posted this:

“Benedict XVI, Address to Protestants at World Youth Day, August 19, 2005: “And we now ask: What does it mean to restore the unity of all Christians?.. This unity, we are convinced, indeed subsists in the Catholic Church, without the possibility of ever being lost (Unitatis Redintegratio, nn. 2, 4, etc.); the Church in fact has not totally disappeared from the world. Other the other hand, this unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one’s own faith history. Absolutely not!” (L’Osservatore Romano, August 24, 2005, p. 8.)”

What does this mean? Does it mean the Pope thinks that Protestants should be able to maintain their traditions while becoming Catholic?

Just guessing here, but perhaps we could look to the new Anglican Ordinariates for a hint of what the Pope may have meant. On the one hand there is a indeed a return, if you will, to full communion with Rome, to the fullness of the Catholic Faith, to validity for all seven sacraments, etc. But the focus isn’t 100% on return, without any sense of continuity with their past whatsoever. These Anglican Catholics are able to retain those aspects of their patrimony which are actually good and compatible with the Apostolic Faith, and even to some degree retain a sense of continued Anglican identity, though now as true Catholics in the fullest sense of the word.

One can retain what is true and good from one’s faith while embracing the truths of Catholicism.

We see it all the time here in the South. Baptists bring great zeal for Jesus and hatred of sin into the Church. Evangelicals bring a great love of scripture. All bring a love for evangelization which the Church desperately needs.

All these unite thier faith to Catholic truth and the sacraments, and when these Churches finally unite under the Holy Father, they will bring great gifts into the Church.

That’s my guess.


I recommend you keep researching what the Catholic Church REALLY teaches in the present era about non-Catholic Christians how Catholics should regard them and interact with them. Read original sources, and interpret them for yourself–don’t over rely on alleged experts to tell you what they mean. Don’t go by what you’ve always assumed is the Catholic view on Ecumenism and the conversion of non-Catholic Christiants. Read them for yourself. See what they mean. If you’ve complete the 8th grade, you can understand them yourself. The two essential original documents to read on this matter are, in my opinion:

(1) The Vatican II Council decree on Ecumenism.

(2) Blessed Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on Ecumenism.

I believe there is a massive, widespread confusion nowadays about the real teaching of the Catholic Church the issues raised by the quote from Pope Benedict above.

I once emailed that quote to a well known Catholic radio apologist, and he emailed back an answer that opened with this line: “I don’t get bogged down in the minucia…” *

I constantly hear Catholics promoting the view that, for the sake of their salvation, it is a matter of urgency that all Protestants, Evangelicals, and Eastern Orthodox to covert to membership in the Catholic Church, and that, therefore, the aim of the Catholic Church is to convince all of these non-Catholic Christians to convert.

When, in the above quote, Pope Benedict said he rejects the idea of “ecumenism of the return,” he meant to communicate something very definite and profound. Keep researching–you will find the answer!

Best wishes.*

So you don’t know what it means either? :smiley:

But it is my understanding that previous Popes or at least one previous Pope has taught us the necessity of* return* for the salvation of those outside the Church. It is best to keep with tradition/with what Pope Benedict XVI’s predecessor(s) have taught. If, however, Pope Benedict XVI is saying that Protestant traditions may be maintained while Protestants return to the Catholic faith, then I have no problem with his statement. But maybe he means something else, something else that I would have not have a problem with, but I don’t see what else he could mean. Are there any other suggestions anyone?

“Ecumenism of Return” is a misunderstanding of ecumenism, usually attributed to former Protestants who are now Catholic, but not solely to them. In practice it amounts to a rejection of one’s faith journey, as if it began on the day that one heard the call into the Catholic Church.

An ecumenism of return promotes interfaith dialogue with the sole purpose of proselytizing to the non Catholic Christian in the hope of getting them to embrace Catholicism and reject Protestantism. This paradigm was more common among some Fundamentalist Christians who had converted to Catholicism. For whatever personal reasons they had, they brought into Catholicism a type of anti-Protestant mindset. I believe that it’s just part of the fundamentalist way of thinking. Even if one becomes a Catholic, certain patterns of behavior do not disappear over night.

The problem with this is that when one rejects one’s faith history, one denies the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life and sees it only from the moment that the person begins his journey home to the Catholic Church. The truth is that the person may have become conscious of Catholicism at a given age and place in history, but God has been leading all along.

An excellent example of this is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. She entered Catholicism from the Episcopal Church. However, when she writes, she attributes her conversion to her Episcopal roots. She fondly recalls the wonderful spiritual works and spiritual support that she found in the Episcopal Church, which she brought with her into Catholicism.

One of the things that she most treasured from her Episcopal roots was the practice of Lectio Divina. Praying with the Scriptures is not common among Catholic laymen. It’s thought of as an exercise for religious. In her Protestant community, Elizabeth learned to pray with the Scriptures. She always thanked her Protestant roots for this special awareness.

She made mention of something rather important in her Protestant history. She tells her family that her ancestors have become Protestants in search of Truth and that by becoming Catholic, she was not dishonoring them. In fact, she’s honoring their quest by following Truth where she found it, which is in Catholicism.

This is a concrete example of what the Pope is trying to tell Protestants. The fullness of the Christian Church subsists in the Catholic Church. Through Baptism, they are incorporated into that Church. However, they have to reach the fullness of faith, which will only happen in Catholicism. At the same time, he reminds then that they are not returning and turning their back. They are in fact moving forward, not regressing. They bring with them a faith tradition that is very much a part of their journey and which they must appreciate. That faith tradition inspired them to love and seek out the Fullness of Truth.


Br. JR, FFV :slight_smile:

1 Like

Thank you, Br. JR FFV! And thank you to all! I now feel I understand our Holy Father’s statement better. A lot better!

Better said than I could do.

I was an Episcopalian. I certainly do not reject my Protestant roots–they are part of my faith journey, and I am richer for them. As a Catholic, I often still use the Anglican forms of prayers, except when these contradict Catholic teaching in some way. They rarely do.

I still have love and affection for Anglicanism, and for my Anglican friends.

I just think it best if each person read and see the answer to this for themselves.

But I will provide a few quotations from High Authorities that might give some help:

(1) Blessed John Paul II, General Audience, September 9, 1998, paragraphs 2 and 3:

“Because of the human spirit’s constitutive openness to God’s action of urging it to self-transcendence, we can hold that “every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person” (Address to the Members of the Roman Curia, 22 Dec. 1986, n. 11; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 Jan. 1987, p. 7). We experienced an eloquent manifestation of this truth at the on 27 October 1986 in Assisi, and on other similar occasions of great spiritual intensity. The Holy Spirit is not only present in other religions through authentic expressions of prayer. “The Spirit’s presence and activity”, as I wrote in the Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, “affect not only individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions” (n. 28). Normally, “it will be in the sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates of their own conscience that the members of other religions respond positively to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their Saviour.”


(2) From Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s book Salt of the Earth, 1996, page 24:

“Q. But could we not also accept that someone can be saved through a faith other than the Catholic?
A. That’s a different question altogether. It is definitely possible for someone to receive from his religion directives that help him become a pure person, which also, if we want to use the word, help him please God and reach salvation. This is not at all excluded by what I said; on the contrary, this undoubtedly happens on a large scale.”


(3) Doctrinal Note on some Aspects of Evangelization, paragraph 7 (2007, Cong. of Doctrine of the Faith):

“Although non-Christians can be saved through the grace which God bestows in ‘ways known to him,’ the Church cannot fail to recognize that such persons are lacking a tremendous benefit in this world: to know the true face of God and the friendship of Jesus Christ, God-with-us.”


Note how the above quote refers only to a “benefit in this world,” and says nothing about a benefit with regard to attaining eternal life in Heaven.

But, it is so key for a person who REALLY WANTS TO KNOW the Church’s teaching on all this TO GO DEEP into the official Church documents. A quote here and there just won’t do it. If someone wants this all reduced to a SOUND BITE or one-liner, then they will be doomed to substantial ignorance/misunderstanding.

This matter really cannot be answered and understood in the context of an apologetics forum or radio show.

A person who really wants to understand must sit and read and reflect on all the major Vatican II Council documents, and on John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism. These documents must not be read just once.

The person must also really seek to understand what Pope Benedict XVI means by the terms “hermeneutic of continuity” and “hermeneutic of reform.” One place in which he explains those are here:

Trust me. You cannot get the understanding you seem to be seeking on this in a sound bite or on a Catholic forum web site. Don’t get caught up in the “quote wars” that often breaks out on issues like this.

This will take time. You must go deeper. You must spend time alone with the original documents and with the Holy Spirit.

On second thought, don’t trust me. And don’t trust all the people, many with good intentions, stand ready to explain it all to you. Find out for yourself, if it really matters to you.

Best wishes.

Dear Bartolome Casas,

What do you think of JReducation’s post? Did it reflect what you found in the Church documents? It sounds like it makes a great deal of sense to me.

Best wishes.

Wow, I stumbled across these post and you guys are so smart. I am definately a small fish in a HUGE pond. Keep it up!! You guys make this much more fun then Face Book!! lol j.k

I believe that the suggestion to read the documents of Vatican II and the works of Bl. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are a good starting point. That being said, there are several things that must be considered.

First, these works do not stand alone. They are part of a fabric. In other words, to read them and ignore what came before will only lead to an incomplete understanding of the message. These writings assume that the reader is familiar with what the Church has taught up to that point and familiar with certain classical works on this subject.

Second, one must never attempt to go at this alone. We’re not meant to do this. St. Paul was very clear when he said that scripture was not for private interpretation. The same has to be said of the writings of the Church. They are not for private interpretation. They must be interpreted in the light of our shared faith.

I can’t just pick up a stack of documents, read them and say, “This is what they mean.” If one billion Catholics did this, we’d have chaos. It is important that one read them the way that the Church meant them to be read.

The Church has its own language. I don’t mean Latin. I mean language in the sense of shared meanings. Words that mean something in the secular world don’t always mean the same thing in the Church, because language in the secular world is always in a state of evolution. Language in the Church is static.

I’m trying to say that one must read the writings with one question in mind, “What does this mean in Catholic tradition?” This has been the problem with the implementation of many Vatican II documents. Everyone wants to interpret them independent of tradition. The result has been confusing and disheartening.

It is important to read. Read what has been written lately. If you need background knowledge, go to older writings. If you are unsure whether your interpretation is consistent with the intended message of the Church, go to a reliable scholarly source.


Br. JR, FFV :slight_smile:

Thanks, Br. JR, FFV. I do trust you and agree with your posts.

Dear ready,

If you are satisfied and content with JReduction’s answers, then go with that. The view expressed by JReduction is not original with JReduction. I’ve heard that view many times.

But is it the view taught by the Vatican II Council, by Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI?

Let me pretend to be in a courtroom, and say: “Your Honor, I refuse to answer the question on the grounds that my fellow Catholic must do his own research in the original documents!”

My fellow Catholic, you are doing what I have done a millions times, and what other do a lot: Asking someone to “boil it down” for you, to bottom line it.

That won’t work for this.

Suppose you knew nothing about the plays and poems of Shakespeare and you asked someone to just summarize it all in one typed out page. Do you think after reading that one pages that you would really UNDERSTAND Shakespeare?

The kind of short answers we get in forums like this, and one apologetics radio shows, have value. But these short answers don’t hack it on some matters. If you really want to know, you must GO DEEPER.

I refer you back to the original source documents I mentioned earlier. Read other original source documents too. Stay away from and do not trust secondary sources intended to explain these original source documents to you. You ARE able to understand the original source documents. Beware. Don’t be misled.

Do that, and then you will KNOW. Then you will have PEACE. Then you won’t have to be are war with liberals or conservatives or traditionalists or ultra-traditionalists or radicals or anyone in the Church or outside the Church. You will be at one with God and with the Church. You will know God is in control and that you can trust Him. Your crisis will be over, even if crisis and chaos and fear and anxiety continue to rage on inside of others.

Thanks for your feedback.

This is a strange thread.

I second that!:thumbsup:

What is strange is that you call this a strange thread. This thread addresses something very important. Perhaps it is best that you should leave the thread if you haven’t anything to contribute.

Ready, I wasn’t referring to your original post, so maybe tone down the hostility.

But you’re right. I do not have any answers to contribute, so I will leave your thread as you requested.

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