Dialogue: Should the Pope Kiss The Koran?:
Ecumenism as an Effort to Acknowledge Partial Truth Wherever it is Found

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The following is a dialogue with a fellow Catholic apologist and good friend who wished to remain anonymous. He is not a so-called "traditionalist," and accepts ecumenism, Vatican II, etc. But he was troubled about this gesture of the Holy Father. I defended it to the best of my ability (though admittedly I speculate), and tried to introduce larger issues in so doing. His words shall be in blue.

Here are a few of his general opinions, expressed in letters to me recently, so as to make clear that his objections do not flow from the typical "traditionalist" perspective:

The bottom line is that I don't like the kiss (if it happened) . . . Alas, this episode still makes me cringe inside; you haven't yet convinced me on that. But I'm regarding Assisi [i.e., the ecumenical gathering] in a more positive light all the time. In fact, I'm citing Assisi as an example of valid ecumenism in a letter to the editor against a heretical order of nuns . . . , who use Nostra Aetate to excuse teaching New Age, feminism, and other Eastern Mysticism directly contrary to the Faith. So I'm using the Holy Father as an example of boundaries in ecumenical outreach.Your influence allowed me to not only understand the Holy Father's actions better but, as you can see, even use them positively to counter heresy and compromise.

(He wrote in his letter to the editor):

Our Holy Father John Paul II models true ecumenism and collaboration with non-Christian religions as envisioned by Vatican II. He dialogues with those of other faiths, collaborates with them in areas of common ground such as the pro-life movement, and prays with them for world peace. But he never sets aside his Catholic distinctives or embraces or promotes belief systems antithetical to historic Christianity. That would be false ecumenism and contrary to the teaching of Vatican II. The Pope has stated that New Age spirituality is "in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially Christian."

And now on to our original exchange:

I think far too many people are hyper-critical of the pope. I agree with someone who said: "I trust John Paul II more than any man alive." I don't think it's that difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt when we don't understand something that he does, rather than to make it an occasion for more doubt about this extraordinary man, which in turn causes people (in group discussions) to stumble and possibly get sucked in by the deadly "traditionalist" mentality (which I've been debating much lately).

E.g., the Koran incident. You cite the pope's words in his book about Islam, but then (apparently) draw the conclusion that he contradicted himself. I don't do that at all. I reason that since he has expressed himself about it (and the Catholic view is clear, anyway), then the kiss obviously was not meant in a sense of total agreement. I interpret the act in terms of the rest of what we already know. I don't conclude that he must therefore be an indifferentist and a liberal (like so-many "traditionalist" types do - I'm not saying you are doing this).

Can we get to point, however, that in our zeal to defend the pope at all costs we are incapable of scandal? I, too, agree that the kiss, if it occurred, would not have meant total agreement. But the fact is that it is a scandalous thing to do, in and of itself, because of the gigantic potential for misunderstanding.

This is a serious charge. Let me make a series of analogical arguments (my favorite kind). See what you think of this:

Are not a lot of things in the Catholic Church gigantically misunderstood? If we stopped doing and believing things for that reason, we could do little except be "mere Christians" and "skeletal Christians," as I like to call a certain sort of minimalistic, least-common-denominator sort of Christianity. The Marian doctrines are severely misunderstood. Should we, then, not proclaim them, and refuse to participate in Marian devotion? Should we totally rule out the possibility of the pope defining Mary-Mediatrix for that reason (and I speak as an "inopportunist" myself, tho I accept the doctrine). And you know that Jesus was often misunderstood. One could make a similar argument of, "why did Jesus do that?" - say, forgiving the adulteress, or turning the tables in the Temple - "It was terrible PR . . . ," etc.

Ok, this is not a bad line of argument. Let me press it a bit more. I too am an inopportunist with regard to the Marian definition; however, I would accept and fully defend it, if it were in fact defined. It would be widely misunderstood and highly scandalous to some, but since it is true there is no intrinsic sin in defining the dogma and there would certainly be some benefit. Also, it is certain that such a definition would come to us in very exacting language so the possibility of misunderstanding for those who care to understand would be relatively small. It would only scandalize the clueless and the obstinate, not the faithful or true seekers.

I agree, though I would submit that it would offend also the more thoughtful evangelicals like Geisler and Harold O.J. Brown, etc. They might realize that it wasn't rank idolatry, but they would regard it as - shall we say - extremely excessive (and untrue, of course), regardless of the exactitude of the definition. Just look at how they view the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption and papal infallibility itself, for previous examples of same. This one would be even worse, guaranteed.

The kissing of the Koran is different in several ways. First, the Koran does not deserve to be kissed. It is not a holy book and it contains numerous false and some would say even blasphemous teachings.

You have agreed that a kiss didn't suggest carte blanche approval, so again, it would merely mean acceptance of those things which are true in the Koran, per Vatican II directives on ecumenism, and John Paul II's many comments in this vein. In other words, his actions have to be interpreted in light of his overall teaching, and that of the Church, as crystallized especially in Vatican II.

Careful. I agreed that the kiss didn't mean carte blanche approval. But it is precisely my point that it suggests this to a great many people who are not equipped to make the fine (very fine) distinctions you are making to defend it.

And that's why I introduced the analogy of doctrine which is misunderstood by the masses also. A full-blown Mariology (even already-defined Marian doctrines) "suggests" a bunch of false ideas to a bunch of folks, too.

Second, the action is nebulous in the extreme. What exactly does such a kiss mean? I know what it means in the only other context in which a book is kissed; it means to venerate as the pinnacle of inspired Scripture (the Gospel). If it does not mean that here, what exactly does it mean?

What I said above; just as kissing the ground or perhaps a dignitary (in some cultures) does not mean total approval of that person or his country either. If it did, then there could be scarcely little diplomacy at all, could there? If every handshake, hug, or kiss meant what you have to imply for your argument to succeed, we would never end any wars (by diplomatic means) or have any treaties. Did the pope shake hands with Castro when he visited Cuba? I assume that he did. I doubt that I could have done so myself, but then I am not a world leader, whose job requires such delicate gestures at times, for the sake of peace, unity, and understanding.

Which brings me to my third point; such an action blurs terribly lines of distinction which should be kept clear. Would you still defend the Holy Father if he had incensed the Koran? After all, it didn't occur at a Mass, so it might not mean the same thing here as it does in the liturgy. And fourth, the kiss has the potential of scandalizing both clueless and faithful. Why do such a thing? To what end? I say it's imprudent.

Incensing doesn't have any analogy outside of the liturgy (save for perhaps Satanic rituals?), whereas kissing does.

I don't think your analogies do justice to the confused nature of such an action. It's a terribly mixed metaphor, which is intrinsically confusing. We do not naturally know that kissing a book -- which is a traditional and meaning-laden gesture in only one context, the liturgy -- necessarily or even likely means something else when taken outside its only defining context. It might mean something else. But have you ever seen someone kiss a book in any other context besides the liturgy or at the very least in any context in which they not are venerating the book as sacred?

Well, I will kiss my own book when I finally see it in print . . . [laughing]. Seriously, though, it is conceivable that one could kiss a book in a variety of contexts, such as finding an ancient manuscript, or an author-signed copy of some significant literary piece, or the long-lost diary of a deceased loved one, etc. I agree that the liturgical analogy would probably first come to mind, for anyone familiar with Christian liturgy, but I have said all along that this particular gesture had to be understood in the context of Vatican II, Catholic teaching in general, and John Paul's writings. It would be wonderful if every single thing we did or said was perfectly understood by everyone, but this isn't possible. Man, I think even of my own life and the vast misunderstandings I have had to endure (i.e., the ones endured for the right reasons).

Even someone kissing a letter naturally means that it is near and dear to their heart. Is this what the Holy Father intended to express about the Koran?

We've already gone through what I think he meant.

Not one person in a million is going to think that just because the Holy Father shakes hands with Castro he implies that he agrees with Communism.

I wouldn't be so fast to conclude that. Look, e.g., what is written about the Concordats with the Nazis. Many people assume that all diplomacy (and, for that matter, ecumenism) is a manifestation of inherent corruption, compromise, or conspiracy.

On the other hand, not one in a million is going to see kissing the Koran according to your explanation.

Again, I think you vastly exaggerate. I agree that my explanation requires some analysis, thought, and "fine distinctions," but then I think that is how Catholicism is in general. It is a thinking man's religion, highly nuanced and multi-tiered, not a simpleton's, sloganistic religion, like fundamentalism, or Jehovah's Witnesses. This is part of its glory, in my opinion. How many of the "masses," e.g., understood the importance of homoousion or the debates over the will/wills of Christ, or about iconoclasm or the filioque? Not many, yet these were central issues of Ecumenical Councils. Ecumenism is complex and much misunderstood as well. It is somewhat of a "tricky business" (in the right sense). We see that from the fatuous objections to it, from otherwise very thoughtful and intelligent people (I think of R.C. Sproul and the ECT agreements in particular). See my paper: "ECT II" Document, With Commentary.

Such a gesture 1) solidifies the cluelessness of the clueless, 2) gives aid and comfort to the enemy, and 3) puts the faithful on the defensive and demoralizes them (speaking for myself, at least). This gesture most naturally implies the meaning given it in the only context in which it occurs, the liturgy. You say (and I agree) that it means something else here. But don't you see that you are arguing uphill by virtue of the established meaning of the action? And given that meaning, it seems highly unwise to me to do such a thing. And I find it very hard to defend an action that I see as so intrinsically unwise.

Okay; you have stated your case articulately. I remain unpersuaded. I think that the burden is on you at this point is to tell me what you think the Holy Father meant when he did this; what his intent was, and the prudential calculation he made. You argue that it is so obviously scandalous, etc. Very well, then. Are you determined to assert that the pope, the Head of the Church, the Vicar of Christ (and one of the greatest in history, in my amateur opinion) is so obtuse and "out of it" that he could perform an act that you and some others immediately find "intrinsically unwise," one which "gives aid and comfort to the enemy," and "demoralizes" the faithful, etc. - that he could perform this and not see what you see so clearly? The choices are few at this point (the inner logic of your claim confines you): either he was so dense that these factors never entered his mind, or he knew full well the scandal it would bring about, and did it anyway, or he is a dupe of the liberals, or one himself, determined to corrupt - indeed betray - the Church.

You say it is such a terrible thing, so tell me what you think was going through his mind when he did it? Are you prepared to maintain that the pope, who - I think it is indisputable - has attained a sublime level of spirituality, did this with scarcely any thought as to consequence; in fact, engaged in an act of wanton irresponsibility and outrageousness (as Assisi also is regarded by erstwhile critics)?

My view, on the other hand, is entirely different. Assuming, as I do, that the pope knows far more than I do, that he is led by the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of guiding the Church in a singular fashion, and that his record more than amply bears this out, I interpret the act within the backdrop of all else that he has done, and in light of Vatican II and Church teaching. I don't have a problem with this particular gesture (aside from agreeing that it would be helpful for him to explain it in more detail), but even if I did, I can't imagine bringing forth the accusations that you have brought to the table. I find them, frankly, rash and somewhat extreme, and they seem to me to be largely borne of frustration and other emotions (some of which you have admitted) - perhaps some apologetic "battle-weariness" (which I would fully understand, believe me).

My opinion is that the Holy Father knows (and knew) full well what he is doing, that he exercised due prudence, and that he obviously thought the gesture (like Assisi) was more than worth the misunderstanding that might arise from it (I have already discussed how Jesus was so misunderstood - this is no novel concept in Christianity). And even if I were perplexed and aggravated and "demoralized" by this - as you are - I would give the pope the benefit of the doubt as to prudence and propriety, because I trust him, and the God who leads him and grants him the necessary charisms to lead the Church. I would far more readily question my own understanding, rather than the pope's supposed terrible lack of judgment.

I find your scenario (irregardless of the feasibility of mine) utterly implausible - probably all the more so were you to "flesh it out" according to my challenge above. What it would lead someone to believe about the character of this pope stretches credulity to the breaking point, in my opinion. Or perhaps you will submit as an explanation that he might be senile? His recent writings do not support that conclusion. Quite the contrary! Parkinson's is not that sort of disease - what little I know about it.

True, I would find that substantially more strange if he had incensed the Koran (interesting hypothetical). If the pope incenses New York City on his next visit to the US, ask me again. :-) I guess we just have a different interpretation and reaction. I continue to maintain that the misunderstandings will occur no matter what, per my analogical examples. I do agree, however, that it would be helpful to explain these things in detail, so as to put to rest some of the murmurings and confusion. We do agree to that extent.

Great. I appreciate this.

As for prudence, that is a judgment call, and though it might be a close call in this case, I say the pope is in a better position to determine that than you or I. God sees absolutely everything and how it works together; the pope sees quite a bit more than the rest of us, in terms of earthly authority and spirituality. It's a relative thing in that sense . . .

Sure, it makes the Moslems happy to see something like that. But what does it actually communicate to them? How likely is it that they will be inclined to draw the necessary fine distinctions (with no further explanation)?

Every Muslim knows that Catholicism disagrees with their doctrine! That doesn't take much knowledge . . .

Actually it is precisely my fear that they will respond just like virtually everybody else on this planet. They take such gestures as evidence that Catholic doctrines and distinctives are breaking down. That is the standard modernist line and these actions by our highest authority do nothing to dispel that and much to affirm it. And as they say, actions speak louder than words. The Holy Father can write 500 encyclicals which the hoi polloi will never read, but suppose they see him kiss the Koran on television and they will assume that Sr. Mary Modernist is spot on when she asserts that the distinctions between religions are being leveled, even by the pope. And Dave, it is precisely these "little ones" whom the Holy Father must be careful not to scandalize. You and I can take it; they can't.

So (to extend your principle) we are to go back to refusing to ever associate with Protestants or to attend their services, or pray together, etc. (the usual status quo, pre-Vatican II), because all this implies indifferentism, and is misinterpreted, and exploited by the liberals for their own insidious ends? I think not. As [Internet apologist] Art Sippo has been eloquently arguing lately, in his debate about the infallibility of Vatican II, the Church has grown in its approach, and we cannot go back to the "fortress mentality" which reigned for hundreds of years, as an overreaction to the onslaught of Protestantism, the "Enlightenment," and modernism.

We are strong and confident enough to readily and gladly agree with true aspects of our opponents' beliefs, while continuing to strongly disagree with others. I, for one, am very happy that this change has occurred. It underlies and supports much of my own longstanding evangelistic and apologetic approach, and I think it is far more biblical (and effective) than the other "triumphalist" and fundamentally "hyper-defensive" perspective (think of, e.g., Paul on Mars Hill, or Jesus with the Roman Centurion).

These things will always be misunderstood by some, even many, and yes, even among the faithful. You and I know that Vatican II was a good thing, and that it brought about needed changes. It was inspired in large part by Cardinal Newman - one of my own personal spiritual heroes. But how many "men on the street" have the slightest inkling as to the nature of the spiritually-beneficial developments of Vatican II? Even otherwise orthodox and informed Catholics have silly and stupid, caricatured ideas of what the Council was about, as if it were responsible for the modernist crisis in the Church (our "traditionalist" friends). If they can't figure it out, do you expect Joe Public or the cafeteria or nominal Catholic to do so? Hardly! Yet - and this is a crucial point - one must have some comprehension of its thought to grasp the principles of legitimate ecumenism. And that brings me back to my constant claim: that Catholicism is almost never simple to understand - that this is not something unusual, or something which should alarm or surprise us.

Surely the Holy Father knows perfectly well that such an action will be used to promote the indifferentism that he is responsible to guard against.

But all ecumenism does that in small or corrupt or liberal or skeptical Protestant/Orthodox minds, as I have seen repeatedly. There is no easy way out. A certain mindset will never understand ecumenism and attempted unity/brotherhood - while not compromising principle.

But a great many weak souls, who are not trying to be obstinate at all, will misunderstand such nebulous actions out of their ignorance and because others capitalize on such events to mislead them. Why provide such aid and comfort to the enemy?

The early heretics provide a certain imperfect analogy. One could cite, e.g., earlier Fathers whose take on Christology more approximated the Monophysites than the Chalcedonians. The Church took a stand in 451 and was rejected by the many non-Chalcedonian strands of Christianity. Obviously, the Church thought it was worth it. Likewise, many Christians were turned off by Trent, and it hardened their resistance. They misunderstood it too, no doubt. In any event, it made them resolved to remain Protestants. And Vatican II alienated the Old Catholics (and, according to one recent correspondent, the Eastern Catholics also - not to mention the Orthodox) because it defined papal infallibility. Not direct analogies, I know, but I am trying to show that there are never easy solutions, where the masses are concerned. In a very real and tragic sense (but unavoidably), there are always inevitable "losses" whenever a stand is taken by the Church at all.

We are now "standing" for ecumenism with much more emphasis, per another Ecumenical Council. And there are casualties in that scenario. It's too bad. But what are we to do? Go back to the fortress (as argued above....)? Jesus lost many disciples, too, when He explained the Holy Eucharist in graphic detail (John 6). Was He, too, providing "aid and comfort to the enemy" since many of these souls may have subsequently been lost? The Judaizers were lost not much later, and so on with all heretics throughout history. I think you ask for the impossible. Explain more, yes (for that is always a good thing). Intrinsically imprudent, unwise, etc., etc.? Absolutely not!

You spoke of underlying principles which you are fighting for, which explained your vigor of argument. I appreciate and respect that, and I know that you have only the most honorable of motives. I would hope that the same applies to me, too. I see principles, also, behind all of these things, so that my argument is about far more than one gesture, which so offends you. Just as the Church fought vigorously over that one little "i" which made a major difference in the Nature of Christ . . .

And what of the scandal to Christians (not to mention Jews!!!)? With no explanation whatsoever from the Pope or Vatican, how can we draw the boundaries of what this action was supposed to mean with any precision? With no explanation you are left arguing a weak case, in my opinion, and I can't yet stomach defending it.

Short of a specific explanation (which I agree would be helpful), I still say that Vatican II and other teachings on ecumenism and comparative religion should suffice for someone who truly wants to know beyond the rumor-mongering or trivial level. I see a lot of parallelism with Mariology. One could find a thousand statements in Marian devotion which - isolated and taken out of context - sound blatantly idolatrous (e.g., the line "our sweetness, our hope" in the Hail Holy Queen). They must be understood in the overall context of a Mariology thoroughly grounded in a Christological milieu.

Likewise with ecumenism, very much so. Every conciliatory and "unitive" act must be understood within the prior assumption of theological and philosophical differences. These are presupposed throughout, whereas in indifferentism they are cast to the wind. True, the outsider can't always know this from observation, but truth is sometimes complex; what can I say? Catholicism requires thought. There is no way out of it. Catholicism isn't a simpleton's, sloganistic religion, like so many strains of evangelical Protestantism are. Everyone understands them! We, on the other hand, are often pilloried and slandered. You know which state of affairs more closely approximates that of our Lord Jesus Himself!

I submit that the pope knew full well the potential for scandal among some, but did a "prudential calculation" and thought it worth it, for the good that would come from it in the ecumenical/diplomatic sense. What I have a very hard time with is the idea (set forth by some "traditionalist"-leaning apologist friends lately) that the pope does something scandalous or flat-out stupid without apparently giving it much thought at all, as if he is an irresponsible old man, a loose cannon, so to speak, oblivious to circumstance and the perception of others. John Paul II is an extremely wise and holy man, and I don't believe for a second that he doesn't carefully consider everything that he does.

I agree with you here, generally speaking. I certainly don't believe he's a subversive or an idiot. Look, I have gone the mat for the Holy Father numerous times and will do so again. This action, however, (if indeed it took place) is baffling to me and I am unable to defend it.

Well, I've given it my best shot. If nothing else, maybe at least you will see how it possibly could be defended, whether or not I persuade you.

E.g., we hear calls all the time for the pope to boot out of the Church this or that dissident (as if the accusers knew better than he). The worst ones, such as Boff and Curran and Kung and Fox, have been chastened or removed, in various degrees. But some people want a wholesale discipline and house-cleaning. The pope doesn't do that. Why? Well, they say this proves he is a liberal, a wimp, an unfit pope, a dupe of the modernists (and the sedevacantist fringe element denies he is pope altogether), etc. I don't think it is nearly that simple. The Holy Father knows full well that to engage in such an action would mean - in all likelihood - a schism of American Catholics.

Now, is that a desirable result? Of course not! One could argue that it is the principled thing to do, so that it should be done, no matter what the cost. But one of the functions of the papacy is to be a shepherd of souls. We know from history that schism usually lasts for centuries. Many souls are lost as a result. Heresy, on the other hand, is usually short-lived, and often dies out (or greatly diminishes) in a generation or two, with the passing of its promulgators - as heresy has no life in and of itself; it survives only as a "leech" of orthodoxy. I say that the pope is operating on this principle.

I agree with you fully, here. I have had to reflect on this quite a bit in order to assuage my own anger as to "why they don't DO something?!!!" Of course, they DO do something, it's just not coming in and cracking skulls.

Good. Also a function of the pope's far superior vantage point and special charisms to guide the Church . . .

My sister-in-law has noted that Catholic ecclesiology reflects our distinctive view of the marriage bond. From a Catholic vantage point, even a bad marriage is better than a divorce. The Orthodox and Protestants, who tend not to share our views on the perpetuity of marriage, are much more inclined to accept schism and division as a matter of course. But history tells us that schism, like divorce, is a permanent thing, or very nearly so. Not to be induced lightly.

How true.

He is between a rock and a hard place with regard to the present crisis. But charity and prudence demand that he take the course which will cause the least damage to souls and to the Church. He didn't start the modernist revolution. It isn't his fault, but he is responsible to God for how he reacts to the crisis. Pope John Paul II teaches the truth forcefully. Discipline is another matter altogether, and it is not as readily amenable to absolutes and "he shoulda done this" (i.e., what the accuser would have done) types of judgments.

Agreed.

Luther judged the Church and the pope of his time in this fashion. People make those sorts of arguments with God, too. How does God regard that? He makes His views known in no uncertain terms at the end of the book of Job . . . So if people treat God in that fashion, then surely they will treat the earthly head of the Church in the same fashion. But that doesn't make it right or proper or pious. When popes have been rebuked by saints in the past (rightly so) it was due to far more weighty matters than being "scandalized" by the ecumenical gathering at Assisi, or a gesture of respect and conciliation towards Muslims. So the tacit assumption that we have the right to rebuke popes, therefore this is such an instance, falls flat, I think. This is not at all such an instance, in my opinion.

I'm just about convinced concerning Assisi, although I still need to gather some more materials about it. But I'm not with you on this Koran thing, if indeed it's true (and biblically qualified proof is hard to come by; we have only one witness so far).

I find it curious that you don't interpret the kiss on the same ground as you now understand Assisi. It seems to me that Assisi would be more troubling, if one assumes the premises you are applying here.

The pope also kisses the ground in America, I believe, and other countries when he enters them. Does that mean he sanctions abortion or the presidency of Clinton, with all that it represents? Clearly not. These are diplomatic gestures, born of charity and good will, not exhaustive doctrinal agreement.

Kissing the ground of a country already has an established meaning; it's a dramatic way to say that you're happy to be there. It has never meant agreeing with everything that goes on in the country. Nobody would ever naturally take it to mean that. Kissing a book also has an established meaning, taken from the liturgy. It means to venerate a book as God's very Word; worse yet, it's reserved only for the Gospels.

But I don't accept your analogy as a valid or plausible one. Why is it unreasonable or improper for me to make the analogy to kissing the ground (with all that that means and doesn't mean), while it is reasonable for you to make an analogy to kissing the gospels in the Mass? I would maintain that the more fitting or obvious analogy is to another country, since we are dealing with another religion, and indeed another supposed "revelation." Meeting with Muslims is nothing like a Mass at all.

Because, as I said, kissing the ground does not imply what you asserted that it does (viz. agreeing with everything that's taking place in the country).

I didn't assert that - I was arguing rhetorically at that point.

while kissing a book clearly does imply what I assert that it does (viz. venerating as sacred Scripture).

It simply can't if one knows anything about Catholic theology. I say the problem resides in the ignorance of theology and Catholic ecumenism, not in the pope's supposed imprudence.

So if meeting with Muslims is nothing like a Mass then would it have been ok for the Holy Father to incense the Koran while he was with them?

No, for the reasons I gave above - that is analogous only to the Mass and not diplomacy and charitable gestures. Again, I deny your analogies. I think mine fit better. :-)

That this alleged event took place outside of a liturgical context doesn't blunt this fact very much.

I think it does. But who is to decide these things? Must we judge the pope's actions in such a wholly subjective fashion? I think that in all such instances the benefit of the doubt must be given the pope - if nothing else, simply by virtue of his exalted office (and our own lowly position in the Church and overall scheme of things). But beyond that, John Paul II is not only just a pope; he is an extraordinary pope, who probably will be a saint one day, and quite possibly only the third pope to be proclaimed "Great." All the more reason to assume he has good reasons for what he does (or at least that the reason is not simplistic and trivial, in any event) . . .

Lots of people know what the action means in the liturgy and would understand the pope's action in that way. How many people will make that fine distinction between it taking place in a liturgy or outside of one? Not many.

But this gets back to my earlier point about so much in Catholicism being misunderstood. That includes the misperceptions of your average uneducated, "ignorant" Catholic in the pews. But I submit that those who understand the liturgy would be more likely to understand the Church's position on ecumenical gestures and agreements, and to have read Vatican II. I think they would be less likely to interpret the pope's action here in such a "hostile" or "judgmental" manner.

In other words, the situation would logically reduce to the analogical state of affairs I outlined above. One would have to say that the pope needs to do things to satisfy the most ignorant Catholic (or Protestant) out there, and I think that reduces to absurdity. One of the glories of the Church is that it is willing to do what is misunderstood. It doesn't flinch from something (as so many Protestants do) merely out of a consideration for how it will be received.

On the contrary, I submit that it is the faithful Catholic who is more likely scandalized by such an action. An ignorant Catholic will intrinsically misunderstand such an action as a sign of indifferentism and that's bad enough. But a faithful Catholic (like me) may very well be scandalized by such veneration given to a book which we know to contain false and even blasphemous teachings.

It is not "veneration" in the first place.

It's not??? What is it?

A kiss!

Veneration is "to feel or show deep respect for", especially in a religious context. That's not what the Holy Father meant when he allegedly kissed the "holy book" of another religion? Then what did he mean?

You tell me! That is part of your burden. I told you what I thought he meant. How far are you willing to take this accusation? I think it has far more implications than you at first imagined, if we were to take it a step further and scrutinize your theories as to the pope's possible, ostensible interior motives and reasoning.

Whatever approbation there is, is not towards the false teaching, per Catholic teaching.

So this gesture means nothing more than, "I agree with what is true in this book and disagree with is false"?

Basically, yes. What else could it possibly mean? Assuming this is what he meant, that would be scarcely more than Vatican II has already stated.

Dave, that is a tautology.

No, it is a truism (within the context of Catholic ecumenical theology). You are the one claiming that it might imply indifferentism in the minds of weak observers. But applying that result to the intrinsic nature of the act is as fraught with difficulties as the position that Vatican II is inherently modernist and heterodox.

And something as dramatic as the kiss of a book, a symbolic gesture borrowed from the liturgy, is a poor way of expressing such a tautology.

What can I say? I have made my arguments . . . I wouldn't have done it myself. Maybe that will make you feel better, too. :-) But it is still a leap to go from our own discomfort with something to the assertion that it compromises principle and scandalizes.

I find this to be a very anti-ecumenical attitude, as far as it goes, and it surprises me some, coming from you.

Ok Mr. Ecumenical ;-D, here's a hypothetical for ya.

In the eyes of some, this title would be a proof positive of my flaming liberalism! LOLOL

Would you be arguing just as strenuously if the Pope had kissed the Book of Mormon? How about the New World Translation of the Bible? Now the Mormons and JWs are waving pictures of it in your face; "See there, Dave, the Pope agrees that the Book of Mormon (or NWT) is a holy book too!" You argue that he was only affirming what is true in those books, not what is false.

In those cases, one is dealing with Christian heresies, which involve fundamental dishonesty and deception. Islam is another world religion, which doesn't involve inherent dishonesty in the very label and self-description it gives itself (i.e., Mormons and JW's claiming to be "Christians"). That is a major difference. And that is why I don't believe the pope would kiss those books. If he does, write to me, and I may change my tune!

"How do you know that, Dave? Don't you guys kiss the Gospels at the Mass? Why doesn't the Pope mean the same thing here? It sounds like you're backpedaling. And tell me exactly which things he meant to affirm and which he didn't" You reply that you can't say exactly what he affirms, but clearly he doesn't affirm those things contrary to Catholic doctrine. "Sure, right Dave. Your position is a tautology. He wouldn't have had to do anything at all to communicate your position. But he has made this new, unprecedented gesture. How do you know the Pope hasn't changed his mind about Mormonism [JW, etc.]?"

And why do some Catholics eat meat on Fridays now? And how can they call priests "father"? And how can the pope wear his regal regalia, when Christ was poor? And how can the Church be so wealthy, with starving people? And there is "one mediator." And Christ isn't killed at every Mass. Etc., etc. ad nauseum. I'm supposed to determine matters of principle based on how the ignorant will react? That would make me a politician, a used car salesman, or a sideshow barker, not a Christian apologist! Who cares what they think (in terms of ultimate decisions and the adoption of beliefs)? We make our case as intelligently and simply and charitably as we can - let the chips fall where they may. Christianity is not a game of PR. I constantly fought that in evangelical ranks. The lack of it in Catholicism was yet another thing which really attracted and impressed me.

Would you feel just as confident as before dialoguing with them about the deficiencies of their position, or would you feel as if you had lost considerable ground?

I would make the above argument. And it so happens that I know a bit about the JWs, having studied them intensely in the early 80s, in the course of (Protestant) counter-cult ministry research, so I have thought about related issues before.

Are you glad that the Holy Father took such an "ecumenical" gesture or do you wish he had never done it?

I trust that he thought it was of spiritual and (inter-religious) relational benefit, or else he wouldn't have done it. That is how I would put it. I don't wish he wouldn't have done it, due to this trust, and acknowledgment of his lofty office, even though I wouldn't have done it. But that's part of the point: who am I, anyway? That's one of the many problems I have with "traditionalists." Every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a picture of Pope St. Pius X in one hand, and a dog-eared Denzinger in the other, going around judging (nay, trashing) the pope or an Ecumenical Council, as if they were some sort of expert . . . This is self-importance elevated to the level of the profoundly ridiculous; almost grotesque or surreal. And they are blind to this obvious reality, which makes it all the more frightening.

One can do that in Protestantism, as everyone is their own pope, when it comes down to it. But to attempt that in Catholicism is patently and manifestly absurd. I have always said that "traditionalism" is a mixture of the pick-and-choose mentality of liberal "Catholic" modernism, and the private judgment of Protestantism. So the actual thing is a hybrid of the very elements it claims to detest! A tragi-comic irony, to be sure . . . Your view - to be totally honest - smacks of some of these things, in some of their aspects (at least in my analogically-oriented mind). I would simply say that you should be extremely slow to judge a pope. I don't think any of the saints who have done so throughout history would disagree with that for a second.

Should he go on to kiss Luther's 95 Theses? How about Calvin's Institutes? Surely there's a lot more truth in the Institutes than there is in the Koran.

Now this is the most interesting and challenging thing you have said yet, and your point is well-taken. I guess I would say the difference here would be the aspect of overt anti-Catholicism as the essence of these works - more so with the Institutes (whereas the Koran is only indirectly so - mostly out of sheer ignorance, rather than conscious, thought-out hostility). In other words, there are issues of relative culpability. But it raises an interesting point, since these are our Christian brethren, and closer to us in many, many ways. With the recent agreements with the Lutherans on justification, this is even more interesting to consider, so chalk up one for you! I will have to ponder this hypothetical some more.

Would you really be comfortable explaining that to James White [a leading Baptist professional anti-Catholic]?

White is a true sophist. He has been unwilling to engage in a rational debate beyond the first or second round with me, so this is a moot point. He can't even figure out the definition of "Christian" consistently, so do you really think he could grasp the subtleties of ecumenism? Not likely. Hardly even possible. And I don't waste time with people who aren't intellectually honest with themselves. But I wouldn't be the least ashamed to argue any of these points with anyone. I have provisional confidence in my own arguments until they are overthrown (as, e.g., in my conversion). Generally speaking, whatever I believe at any given moment, I am willing to defend against all comers, because (I would say) I am willing to go wherever truth leads. If any discussion leads me away from my present position, then I am elated and thankful, so that dialogue is more of an opportunity than a scary challenge to me. This is the Socratic (and I think, Christian) spirit I so revere.

Please, Dave, tell me honestly. Doesn't this kind of thing give you any cause for concern?

Only in the very slight sense which I have explained.

I don't think I'm being anti-ecumenical at all. It's one thing to very carefully and precisely express those things that we find valuable in, say, Islam, while providing a constructive critique of its weaknesses. That's ecumenical, again as defined by Vatican II. It's quite another to engage in an action that implies so much, with no definitions of its boundaries at all. That concerns me deeply.

But you act as if every charitable gesture has to be exhaustive in explanation all by itself. That is unreasonable and impossible. Again, you require far too much. The Church has already spoken on these matters, and anyone who truly desires to know what She has said, can go and find out for themselves.

As I said above, by actions such as these the clueless are made more clueless, the rebels get more ammo, and the faithful are scandalized or put even further on the defensive.

Well, I have responded.

And the Muslims? Tell me honestly, how many Muslims do you think are going to convert to Catholicism or even take a serious look at Catholicism because of this?

None, but that wasn't its purpose. I have thought for some time that there is a certain tension (but not contradiction) between apologetics (+ evangelism) and ecumenism. But again, that is not unexpected, since there are many such antinomies or paradoxes in Christianity itself. This is also a guiding philosophy of my discussion list. See: Apologetics and Ecumenism: Valid and Complementary Endeavors (particularly with regard to Orthodoxy).

Or are they just as likely as anybody to assume that the Catholic Church has changed her mind about Islam and embraces it without qualification?

Some people will always think that because they are unable or unwilling to make necessary (and obvious) distinctions. This is part of the rampant relativism and pathetic state of education of our age.

I see no benefit to this action whatsoever.

What if it (theoretically) stopped a war? Would that be a valuable end? Would you rather be a Crusader going in to do battle with Muslims, or a St. Francis of Assisi, who tried to talk to them, did miracles, and profoundly impressed Muslims in so doing? An easy choice for me . . .

At least at Assisi I can see some potential benefit, even if I disagree with the action.

Why?

This is simply troubling to me.

I wish it wasn't. I've tried hard to show you that I don't think it should be troubling . . .

We also find it difficult to defend the action when it is cited by other Christians precisely because it does not seem on the surface to square with the Holy Father's stated position on Islam. And it is hard, in my opinion, to walk this fine line between this action's standard liturgical meaning and what it was supposed to mean in this instance (which was.....what?????).

I have already answered, but I note your frustration. I just think you are reading far more into this act than is necessary. And that is how you should argue it to outsiders. Tell them that instead of seeking to find contradictories here, they should give the benefit of the doubt and think in terms of harmony with Catholic ecumenism in general. I find no difficulty doing that myself, I don't feel that I am playing word games, or rationalizing, or special pleading.

In fact, much the same occurs with the Bible. As you well know, many agnostics and others casually assume that the Bible contains contradictions (the OT "god" is evil," etc.). They assume that as if it were beyond all dispute, but we believe (know?) that it is perfectly able to be harmonized - by virtue of a deeper understanding of theology, exegesis, and hermeneutics. I say that with a deeper understanding of ecumenism, the current "difficulties" vanish. Explain it to the people who are "scandalized," yes. But inherently wrong or even imprudent? No. If the pope explained it exactly as I have done (I speak merely hypothetically), would that put the matter to rest for you?

According to your argument, it should be plain enough to anybody that if the action occurs outside of the liturgy it does not carry its standard liturgical meaning. So, as above, would you still defend him if he had incensed the Koran at this audience?

No, because my argument wasn't - strictly speaking - that liturgical gestures cease to have that connotation altogether when performed elsewhere, but that certain gestures (in this case, a kiss) have a wider "application" than just the liturgy, so that the analogy to the liturgy is not "exclusive." E.g., genuflecting (apart from the sign of the cross) is similar to curtseying or bowing before a king. There is overlap.

I would agree with you that it would be good for him to explain the action to the very people who are likely to misunderstand it, but even so I don't say the action itself was necessarily wrong or even imprudent.

I totally disagree. The opportunity for scandal -- serious scandal -- is enormous. Even an explanation would come across as lame, given the intrinsic symbolic nature of the action, again taken from the liturgy; that this (allegedly) occurred without an explanation is all the worse.

Well, my argument has already been given. I look forward to your counter-response. This is a stimulating dialogue.

I contend that Vatican II set the boundaries of ecumenism and if those boundaries are to be enlarged it should be done formally and officially, not willy-nilly. If it is true that he kissed the Koran as alleged then it is indefensible, in my opinion. I love him so much that it is painful to see these things, but I do think it is important for us to be willing to be "faithful opposition," as it were, even if the matter involves the Pope. We spend so much time arguing that popes are infallible, not impeccable, and delineating the boundaries of that infallibility but when it comes to the pope of our own time it's harder to keep that theoretical perspective; it's easy to try to justify everything he does and says, even if it really should not be justified.

My contention is that these actions are not sinful at all, but that they are vastly misunderstood. And I wonder why that is. I don't believe it is that difficult to figure out myself. You imply that Vatican II forbids ecumenical-type gestures towards the Muslims. How, then, do you explain Nostra Aetate 3, which states in part:

I did not say that the actions are necessarily intrinsically sinful. I say they are, in the main, scandalous because they seem on the surface to be against the stated position of the Church, as expressed by previous popes and an ecumenical Council.

But I have tried to show that the Council did clearly permit such activities, with now four quotes [see the other three below]. You asserted that this was not the case, so you must interpret the conciliar statements contrariwise, or else withdraw the claim, no? As to Popes Pius X and Pius XI, I contend that we are talking about apples and oranges.

I think your latter three quotes [below] went more to the heart of this matter. I do believe you've made the case; I need to read that document again in its entirety but I'm willing to retract the claim that Assisi went counter to Vatican II ecumenism. My problem, as I stated above, was that I focused too exclusively on the actual document on ecumenism which has as its exclusive focus relations between Christians.

Great. No problem.

Why is it not possible that the pope was simply acknowledging in a dramatic fashion, the good things we recognize in Islam, such as those above, and others listed in the same passage? We don't hold that Islam is evil through and through. We aren't Calvinists or fundamentalists! E.g., they oppose contraception and have fairly decent sexual ethics. They even value children, and produce a lot of them! That makes them very traditional in today's world, and we should rejoice in that. In many ways, they are kindred spirits with us, against modernity and the zeitgeist of death.

With respect to his actions, I do believe he stepped over a line at Assisi;

Then how do you refute the Aquinas-based material I sent you by Fr. Morselli?

The argument there is good, to the extent that it shows that an individual does not necessarily sin in participating in such an event.

. . . which is, of course, the tacit assumption of many who resent and decry the meeting (I'm not saying it's yours) . . .

However, St. Thomas was not a pope or an ecumenical council.

No, but he's a darn good witness to have on one's side, and since he has been proclaimed as the theologian par excellence by many popes, his word carries about as much authority as anyone can have short of the magisterium itself.

Vatican II set the boundaries of ecumenism; an event like Assisi is not encompassed in anything laid out by the Council.

That's not true. I don't know how you can claim that. The entire document Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) would mitigate against this assertion. I already cited a passage from it, regarding the Muslims. Here are three more statements:

The first statement you cited really did not address the question. But these do much more so. Ok. I see part of my problem now. I was zeroing in on "ecumenism" as defined by the Council in the document on ecumenism. Therein it only envisions common prayer with other Christians, not non-Christians.

Remember, at Assisi, there weren't common prayers. There were simultaneous prayers offered by those of different religions. This is a crucial distinction, and one which disintegrates much of the critique against the gathering.

Yes, this is indeed a crucial distinction and one which I did not know about prior to being hit with these charges about Assisi. I still need to find written documentation of this fact, but it goes a long, long way to assuaging my concerns about the event.

Good.

I am personally finding it very difficult to harmonize the pope's participation and worse, his promotion, of the Assisi event with, say, Pius XI's Mortalium Animos (26 Jan 1928):

What Pius XI is talking about (it seems to me) is indifferentism (itself condemned by Vatican II in no uncertain terms). This is indicated by phrases such as "common basis of the spiritual life," and "all without distinction . . . " But Catholic ecumenism is essentially different from that false view. It is based on a non-Feeneyite interpretation of "salvation outside the Church" (completely consistent with the Fathers, Augustine, and Aquinas) which you yourself have defended in the past. Have you now changed your opinion? First of all, this is prefaced by the remarks above, which refer to indifferentism. I deny that Assisi or any other legitimate ecumenical enterprise (such as with the Lutherans or Anglicans) - judged by their own clarifying words - reduce to indifferentism.

Assisi is less of a problem for me now that I have accumulated some additional info. I still need to find some corroborating documentation in order to be completely satisfied.

Fair enuff.

So there is no conflict or contradiction here. We heard the same criticism of the ECT documents in some quarters. I think it is a matter of understanding the distinctions properly, and of exercising greater objectivity. Secondly, what does talking to non-Christians have to do with Christianity per se, anyway? It only does if one assumes that all such efforts assume indifferentism or religious relativism from the outset. I believe that is what Pius XI is specifically referring to (and he is right, of course).

But indifferentism is certainly not Pope John Paul II's opinion.

Yes, true. And yet, the Holy Father does say some things that disturb me . . . There are a few others areas that have been pointed out to me. They can be explained, but it's not always easy, in my opinion, and I jolly well wish he hadn't said them. It makes my life as an apologist more difficult ;-D.

A "traditionalist" claimed in a discussion with me that the Holy Father "never" talked about the Catholic Church being the only way of salvation. I had no problem finding contrary words in a matter of a few minutes, in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope (I received no reply to that shocking "revelation"). I think the whole "traditionalist" mindset is a house of cards, built by straw men, upheld by thin air. It crumbles at the first assault from orthodox Catholicism.

True. It is a position of intellectual suicide.

Glad you think that! :-)

I should clarify this, though. It is intellectual suicide to attack the Second Vatican Council; to the extent to which they engage in that, it is the fatal flaw of so-called traditionalists. Such undermining of the Church's authority in solemn council can never be retracted and an authority so pilloried can never credibly be trusted again. They are sawing off the branch on which they sit.

Good. But do you not possibly imply the same sort of thing (in one aspect) in a very subtle way? One might say that you are undermining ecumenism by so severely attacking a gesture which obviously was intended as a manifestation of the ecumenism urged by Vatican II. I understand that this is not an airtight claim (I understand the qualifying distinctions you have advanced), but certainly your attack could (and would) be used by anti-ecumenists, as consistent with their own cause . . .

That there are actions being taken even by our Holy Father that strike me as odd, unwise, make me uncomfortable, etc. is not the same as questioning his authority or bad-mouthing him.

I know, and agree, but it is the rhetorical and serious level to which you are willing to take your charge which puts me off. I still await your own opinion as to what was in his mind. That will be key to further dialogue, as we have covered all the other bases pretty thoroughly, it seems to me.

For example, I think it was unwise to capitulate to rebels by allowing altar girls.

I would tend to agree with that (but - as with liturgical matters in general - I haven't studied it enough to have a truly educated opinion). I think that is along the lines of communion in the hand, or female readers - not intrinsically corruptions, but yet highly amenable to modernist co-opting and a certain subversive "anti-traditional" spirit. These are judgment calls, though. I wouldn't say that they involve absolutes of right and wrong. My own parish is completely traditional in all these resepcts, by the way. We don't even exchange the sign of peace (which is optional, as I understand it).

I think it was unwise of the Church to allow all the ridiculous architectural changes made to churches after Vatican II. I think it's unwise to allow any quarter to the gender-neutralizers of the liturgy. So on and on.

I fully agree with these two comments. I detest architectural mediocrity, which is one reason I attend a German Gothic cathedral - one of the most striking church buildings in the country - certainly the most beautiful in Detroit. Next time you are in town you must attend with us!

These things don't make me unfaithful to the Church or the Holy Father. They are simply my opinion. I remain obedient and I am very careful to whom I express these opinions.

I understand, and thanks for clarifying. It is the degree of your disagreement more so than the opinion itself which is alarming me. It requires, I think, an opinion of the inner motivations of the pope which I find implausible in the extreme.

But the fact remains, I am dismayed by some of the things I see going on, even within the ostensibly faithful echelons of the Church.

I hope I can allay some of that. Liberalism is a fact of life. But attributing any of that to the pope or Vatican II is the line where the "schismatic spirit" and loss of trust in God's protection (and possibly, indefectibility) start to begin, in my opinion. Some of the things you say are not very far from what "traditionalists" would say, which gives me some concern. I don't want to see any more of my friends go down that path. It has always been difficult to believe that the Church is what She claims to be, and to harmonize some of what goes on within it with true spirituality and orthodoxy. Your own frustrating situation at your parish has no doubt caused you to be more concerned about some of these "problems" than you might otherwise be. I go to my wonderful church and basically ignore the liberals (except in my writing). But we must always look at the larger picture - and take the long view of history. Read Chesterton or Thomas Howard, or Karl Adam! They will lift your spirits, guaranteed. I don't mean to "preach" - just trying to make you feel better if I can. I hope I have succeeded in some small measure.

Prohibition of meeting with non-Catholics is a prudential, disciplinary matter. It may have been wise during the 16th century, but hopefully the Church has become a little more confident, so that we don't have to fear being overcome by every non-Catholic argument. If we are to reach non-Catholics, we have to talk to them, truly respect them insofar as we can, and love them. We can hardly do so by an absolute refusal to engage in any common activities. Nothing in true ecumenism, therefore, is unbiblical (e.g., the Samaritan woman, the Roman centurion, the initial outreach to the Gentiles) or un-Catholic (the Donatists; the acknowledgment of Protestant baptism and Orthodox sacraments).

Again, in my opinion, this should have been made more clear in the Vatican IIdocuments or in subsequent papal teachings. There was clearly a break with Church tradition (small 't'), at least in terms of perennial practice. I do think, given 20/20 hindsight, that more should have been done to explain these changes and how they are properly harmonized with previous directives and teachings.

Claifying is a perennial task in the Church, because truth is complex, and complexities and nuances will be misunderstood, especially with a population "educated" into a (liberal) stupor with education the way it now is.

Again, it isn't an eternal dogma that Catholics can't talk to or fraternize with non-Catholics. How could we evangelize or teach about the fullness of the Church if this were an absolute? We couldn't say grace at a family reunion, or listen to an invocation at a commencement ceremony (as some anti-ecumenical Orthodox have indeed argued).The statement has to be taken in its context, both within the document itself, and historically, just as Vatican II has to be interpreted.

One could, perhaps, argue that strictly speaking the Assisi prayer service was not a "convention, meeting, or address" in the sense intended by Pius XI. Nevertheless, again the opportunity for scandal is enormous. Why walk such a fine line? In my opinion it was unwise.

I think I have adequately dealt with all this above.

If the Holy Father is going to shift the boundary markers then he should say so virtually ex cathedra, so that his intent and the grounds on which these things are harmonized with former teaching is absolutely clear.

It's not nearly so important as to necessitate an ex cathedra statement! You think this stuff is more important than Marian dogma!? And of course I deny that any change in essence has occurred. Sure, the boundaries of approach and openness have changed, but I see no inconsistency such as would require an understanding of these ecumenical actions and beliefs as corruptions rather than consistent developments of prior teaching. Granted, a rapid development of ecumenism has occurred in this century, but that in itself is not an unprecedented phenomenon, either.

Yes, I stated this too strongly. I think additional clarification is required. See comments on the next point.

Alright.

Furthermore, are not the pope's encyclicals on ecumenism (Ut Unum Sint, Orientale Lumen) - not to mention Vatican II itself - sufficient for explanation? If not, then the onus is on you to "prove" that they are "scandalously" unclear. I have all the respect in the world for you and for your reasoning abilities. If this task can be done, I have no doubt that you can do it. But I deny both the premises and the conclusion of your present reasoning, so that you would have to do quite a bit of work to cause me to change my present opinion.

No, in my opinion, they're not enough because they do not explain in an authoritative way how these changes in attitudes and actions are to be harmonized with previous conciliar and papal teaching. Please read that sentence again because therein lies my greatest difficulty. 99.9% of all the challenges we receive on Vatican II and the Holy Father's actions and encyclicals would never arise if only the Magisterium would be careful to tell us on exactly what ground certain breaks with, or develops of, traditional teaching and practice are made. E.g. "I'm going to Assisi to do X, Y, and Z. My venerable predecessor, Pius X said such and such. What I am going to do does no not conflict with what the blessed Pius said because so and so and so." That's all I ask and I don't think it's too much to ask.

I agree. I, too, don't know why this is done, but I trust that the Holy Father has adequate reasons.

It is enjoyable to have a juicy dialogue with you, where we actually disagree a bit. :-) Thanks for the food for thought.

I enjoy it too.

Good. I feared I was too harsh at some points, but maybe not (or you are just very gracious, putting up with me :-).

I think it is constructive for non-Catholics to see that we are not mindless automatons, and that we struggle to understand things (I am no different), even within a context of magisterial obedience. I think this exchange is quite helpful in that regard, and also (I hope) to further explain ecumenism and the alleged "scandalous" or "imprudential" acts and words of Pope John Paul II.

Now, with respect to this kissing the Koran business, let's just assume for the sake of argument that it's true. It's still based only on the testimony of one witness and I have no corroborating information.

This raises another important point. If the "act" was done only in the company of one, or a few, such that one isn't even sure if it even took place or not [note: I found the picture above later], then obviously it was not intended for "public consumption." As such, it seems to me that much of your argument about it causing scandal and stumbling to the "faithful" collapses, as it was something done in private in the first place.

Also, I'm interested in a couple of principles that are established here; first, the boundaries of legitimate ecumenism, second, the extent to which we will defend the pope no matter what he does. So while it may seem that I'm making a mountain out of a molehill I see some serious principles at stake here.

Yes, I grant that those are important and worthy concerns. I am not one who says one can never criticize a pope. I even have papers about that on my website. My point all along has been that such criticism must have an undeniably compelling basis, which I see as lacking in this instance. I have also written much about "bogus" and "authentic" ecumenism, so I am quite familiar with that concern, as well. That said, it is still somewhat shocking to me to confront an implication from a Catholic apologist (and all-around "good guy" :-) that the pope is, in effect, furthering the wrong kind of ecumenism (whether or not he intends it - but that is another issue I shall return to below).

See the closely-related discussion:

Are All Catholic Laymen and Non-Theologians Qualified to Freely and Frequently Criticize the Pope's Opinions and Prudential Judgment?

Main Index | Ecumenism | "Traditionalist" and Schismatic Catholics

Compiled and edited (mostly the chronological order) by Dave Armstrong on 10 October 1999, from dialogues with another Catholic apologist (August-September 1999)