Talking out of Two Sides of Her Mouth

Now when conferences between denominations make headlines with unprecedented regularity, it would be surprising if no mention were made of the Roman Catholic Church. This massive group, totaling more than half a billion adherents, represents the majority of Christendom. All those interested in ecumenicity realize that without Rome’s inclusion the goal of a united Christendom can never be attained.

The problem, however, has always been whether Rome can be trusted. This stems not so much from inherent Protestant mistrust as from indications that Rome’s witness is far from consistent. Her doctrinal and organizational unity often appear more imaginary than real.

To this our attention is indirectly called by a recent editorial in Christian Century (March 30, 1960), entitled “Grounds for Liberty found within Roman Catholicism.” We quote in part:

With the compliments of the Department of Information of the World Council of Churches, responsible churchmen can now read a timely book entitled “Roman Catholicism and Religious Liberty.” Written by A. F. Carollo de Albomoz, a research associate for the study of religious liberty, it arrived in America in a year when the subject is being discussed almost compulsively. Since this is neither a tract of the kind which might be a Sunday visitor to Catholic parishes nor an anti-Catholic diatribe from radical Protestants or secularists, it is not easy nor docs it provide a simple outline for action. The author is interested in somehow breaking the stalemate in Catholic vs. non-Catholic discussion over the licitness of religious liberty…Chillingly Dr. de Albomoz recalls from past papal documents as impressive an array of pronouncements against religious liberty as any anti-Catholic organization in America could hope to assemble. But he matches this with at least as impressive a summary of alternative doctrinal viewpoints by theologians and members of the hierarchy who have not been disciplined, silenced, or successfully contradicted. As a matter of fact, he shows how Roman Catholicism can provide on its own terms for religious liberty….

On this basis the author would counsel against all mistrust, misstatement and suspicion. Further, he would urge dialogue based. on sincerity.

All this sounds good, indeed. There should never in any Christian discussion be room for misstatement. But as long as Rome knowingly tolerates these divergences of conviction on religious liberty within her bosom, all hopeful discussion with her is rendered impossible. Evangelicals cannot and may not forget the well-documented evidences of persecution in Colombia. Nor dare they take lightly the oppressions of their brethren in Spain and the disadvantages under which these must live and labor in Italy. Rome can and will have her own way, so long as she employs the double standard. When in power, she is able to use force against those she esteems her foes. When not in position of command, she may conveniently present a kindlier face. And when, as has too frequently happened in the past, she is challenged. by indisputable facts of persecution of Protestant minorities by Roman Catholic majorities in some areas, she can always blame the event on the laxity of state officials.

To say these things is not to sow seeds of suspicion. Nor is it misrepresenting Rome. Cheerfully we admit that there are undoubtedly many men of good will in that church, even among the hierarchy. But so long as Rome lets contradictory statements on religious liberty stand, she is guilty of throwing sand into the eyes of others. All we ask is that her theologians stop talking out of both sides of the church’s mouth. A clearcut statement of her position on this matter which so deeply concerns today’s world is not too much to ask of her.