Why can’t Christians get along, 500 years after the Reformation?

Some within the Catholic Church are also skeptical of Pope Francis’s aggressive outreach to Christians of other traditions. “I think he’s tried to follow a cautious line in relationships with other Christian groups,” said Father Russell McDougall, the rector of Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, “because he realizes that if he gets too far ahead of his flock, he’ll lose them.” While the pope has worked on reaching out to Protestants, his ecumenical energy has more often been directed toward Eastern Orthodox churches, which deserve “special consideration” based on their close heritage with the Roman Catholic Church, according to Vatican II documents. There, too, some are skeptical. In Israel and elsewhere, for example, “some Eastern Orthodox clergy … believe ecumenism is the work of the devil,” said McDougall.

The goal of ecumenical dialogue can be hazy. Tantur was opened by Notre Dame in the 1970s in the wake of Vatican II to “assist the search for Christian unity and interchurch harmony.” And yet, McDougall said, some in the Catholic Church still think “ecumenism means, ‘Enter into dialogue with others to show them Catholicism.’” He believes that, more than ever before, “Christians now … recognize that our own narratives that we tell our congregations for catechistic purposes have been simplistic.” But living out that recognition can be rocky. “There still is a reluctance on the part of some Christians to pray with other Christians at all,” McDougall said. “The Eucharist is still a tender point … For the most part, Catholics don’t invite Protestants to communion in their churches, and the Orthodox don’t invite anyone.”

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