It's that man again...

Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his hope that the various Christian traditions will join together and the desire for Judaism and Christianity to celebrate their 'joint spiritual heritage'.

Isn't that wonderful? Isn't it something to warm the cockles of your heart that this new Pope may not be the Rottweiler of the Vatican but has been misrepresented and is as nice and kind a man as you could hope for. He probably has a stash of Werther's Originals in his Pontifical robes to give to any cherubic children he may happen across.

No. It isn't. It is a manipulation, and a cynical manipulation at that. If you read the Nicene Creed, a creed popular in the Church of England, you will see a reference to 'one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church'. Catholic doesn't necessarily mean connected to the Roman Catholic Church, but that there is ultimately only one, universal Church for everyone, no matter what disagreements there may be between us.

So what, I hear you ask?

You would be pretty surprised if the Archbishop of Canterbury, the senior cleric in the Protestant Church of England, suddenly turned around and announced to the world that actually, the Roman Catholics were right. Aside from the swinish multitudes (to coin a phrase) that follow a religion, often with great fervour and dedication, because it happens to be inextricably linked with their culture (and yes, I know that's most of them), religious communities follow a particular religion because they believe it is correct/right/whatever. The Catholics think they're right, the Protestants think they're right, the Presbyterians, well, we're not quite sure about them, but they probably think they're right.

If you're going to have a union or understanding or accomodation between the Churches, you're going to have to accept that one - admittedly powerful - group can't impose its will on the others in return for a few sops. This situation is similar to alphabet soup left groups, but the first person to compare the SBL to the Protestants is going to be, well, it'll be unpleasant.

One of the objections made, particularly by the Orthodox Churches (who see themselves as the legitimate successors to the first Pope, St Peter), to Benedict XVI is that he refers to other Churches in mother/daughter rather than sister/sister terms - that in some way the Roman Catholic Church is 'better' or 'truer'. Of course they do. But everyone thinks that about their own group. A genuinely ecumenical movement is going to have to couch itself in a very different rhetoric. In any case, the rhetoric thus far suggests conflict with other churches in the future.

This would be bad not just for abstract religious reasons but because conflict with other Christian traditions would put the Holy See on a defensive footing with others from the beginning and would allow issues such as contraception to block effective charitable co-operation between Christian groups.

Nor should Benedict XVI's extension of the hand of friendship to Jews be seen as an unqualified good. The basis for this token is a shared history. There are three religions in the Abrahamic tradition and the third is Islam. We already know that the new Pope does not want Turkey to join the EU. I hope that his political opposition is not blinding him to Islam almost as much as I hope that I hope he does not see Muslims as invaders of some sort.



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