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Vatican document is a monumental own goal

THE publication of ‘Normae de Gravioribus Delictis’ by the Vatican has rightly caused consternation in the implied equivalence of women’s ordination, concelebrating the eucharist with Protestants and the crime of paedophilia.

One might be inclined to accept no such equivalence and the resulting hurt was intended by this bizarre juxtaposition were it not for another little reported section of the document which seems to have slipped in under the radar and demonstrates that this was no aberration.

Article 3 of the document lists “the more grave delicts against the sanctity of the most Holy Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist”. Under this heading, and thus in the same category, are listed:

“The taking or retaining for a sacrilegious purpose or the throwing away of the consecrated species and the concelebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice with ministers of ecclesial communities” (The term “ecclesial communities” is that given to the Protestant churches by Pope Benedict. When head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he declared Protestant churches were not churches in the proper sense but rather merely “ecclesial communities”.

In plain English, this section is saying that concelebrating the eucharist with Protestants is equivalent to chucking the consecrated host in the bin. I am all for straight talk and honesty and believe wholeheartedly in not glossing over differences in the pursuit of Ecumenism.

The principle of speaking the truth in love is vital if we are to deepen the bonds of affection between brothers and sisters in Christ.

But there is no love in this document. It is vaguely reminiscent of the infamous occasion at the Oxford Union debate of November 1967 when Ian Paisley took out a communion wafer, held it up to the cameras televising the debate and openly mocked the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

Just as Paisley held no mandate from the vast majority of Protestants for this public act of desecration, I believe this Vatican statement is totally unrepresentative of the position of the vast majority of Roman Catholics. It is increasingly hard for those of us who believe ecumenism to be a gospel imperative for all Christians to understand why it is necessary to be so gratuitously offensive as in recent Vatican statements.

Yes, it is a canon law document, but when law leaves no space for love one has to question the law. And equally it could be argued it is an internal document, but if the Roman Catholic Church continues to insist that it is the only completely true expression of the Universal Church of Christ then surely it is of universal implication.

These are difficult days for all our churches and this is a time when we should be working together to build community and a sense of the concern of God for all creation.

It is hard to see last week’s developments as anything but a monumental own goal.

Rev Canon Stephen Neill

Modreeny Rectory


Co Tipperary


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