Friday, November 25, 2005

Attending Protestant Services - Part II

Some time back, I was asked a question on a theology forum by a person married to a Protestant. She asked if her attendance at her husband's Protestant services was a sin, even if she did not participate in non-Catholic sacraments and continued to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation. Some apologists for the Society of St. Pius X told her that it was a sin. I disagreed. My reply can be read in an earlier blog, here:

Attending Protestant Services

When answering this question, I consulted with Peter Howard, the assistant to the Bishop of Colorado Springs. Mr. Howard's first answer to me focused on "active participation," not mere attendance, and so I asked a followup question which was much more clear about the distinction between mere attendance and "active participation." The December 2004 replies by Mr. Howard can be read here:

Participation in Protestant Services
Participation in Protestant Services -- PART II

Last month, Mr. Howard placed an editorialized version of his first response to me in the Colorado Springs Diocesan paper, the Catholic Herald, which sparked a debate on the matter within Colorado Springs Diocese, and it quickly came to be discussed in various Blogs and forums on the internet (see links below) as well as several articles in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

The Herald article by Peter Howard can be read here:

Why Not Attend New Life?
by Peter Howard, STL
October 7, 2005

In the subsequent issue of the Catholic Herald, there was a letter to the editor from a parish priest within the diocese, expressing disagreement with Peter Howard's article. Peter Howard's response to that letter can be read here:

Response to Letter to Editor Re: "Why not attend 'New Life'"
by Peter Howard, STL
October 21, 2005

Mr. Howard's reply seemed to upset some within the diocese.

Consequently, the Bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs wrote the following apology:

Local Catholic diocese believes in ecumenism

Recently, my assistant Peter Howard gave an interview to The Gazette regarding relations of Catholics with non-Catholics. The result of that interview was an article in Monday’s Gazette (“Protestant services not OK for Catholics,” Life). While I do not believe that it was intended, many people were offended.

While Howard is free to express his opinions as a Catholic layman, the interview was done without my knowledge or direction and does not represent my thinking on the subject. Nevertheless, I am deeply sorry for any hurt or insult that has been experienced, and I humbly ask that all men and women of good will accept my apology.

The Catholic church is irrevocably dedicated to the ecumenical movement, which found its modern impetus in the Second Vatican Council. That council urged all Catholics to engage in the work of ecumenism “in fidelity to the truth and with a spirit of good will.” I want nothing but good will to prevail in our community.

In all denominations there is a desire to retain members and help them grow in the faith they have professed. However, that concern for the spiritual well-being of our members must never express itself in ways that hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even more, it should be unthinkable that we demean the teachings or disciplines of denominations other than our own or engage in name-calling of any kind.

The many Christian denominations remain separated from each other to one degree or another. But all who have the name “Christian” rejoice in a unity that comes from our common faith in Jesus Christ. Even though we may not yet be sharing fully in worship with one another, there is so much we can and ought to be doing together. Not least among the ways that we can express our solidarity is by engaging in projects that benefit our fellow Christians and, indeed, all in the human family.

I want all to know that I remain steadfastly committed to the ecumenical endeavor begun four decades ago and I dedicate myself to the first and most fundamental dimension of ecumenical relations — mutual respect and friendship.

Bishop Michael J. Sheridan
Colorado Springs

The bishop followed up his letter with two articles on Ecumenism, published in the Catholic Herald (Bishop's Voice, pg. 2, Nov. 4, 2005, vol. 26, Number 12, and Bishop's Voice, pg. 2, Nov. 18, 2005, vol. 26, Number 13). You can read them here:

Answering Questions on Authentic Ecumenism (4 November 2005) by Bishop Michael Sheridan

Answering Questions on Authentic Ecumenism II (18 Novemberr 2005) by Bishop Michael Sheridan

Bishop Sheridan reiterated the exhortation of the Catholic Church towards dialogue with our non-Catholic Christian brethren. While he admits "there could be a number of good reasons for attending the worship services of a non-Catholic Christian denomination, participation connotes a deeper involvement. Here there are limits." He continues to describes some of those limits:
"As Catholics we may never enter directly into the sacramental rituals of other denominations. For example, we may not receive confirmation in a non-Catholic church, nor stand as sponsors for those to be confirmed. We may not partake of the eucharistic elements (bread and wine) at a Protestant service. We may serve as witnesses to marriage in a non-Catholic denomination, unless we are aware that the marriage would be held to be 'invalid' by the Catholic Church (e.g., when a Catholic marries in a non-Catholic church without dispensation). In other words, we may not 'participate' in such a way that we could be seen to be expressing faith in the particular non-Catholic ecclesial body or rite or in any way questioning or denying our Catholic faith. This could be not only a source of scandal, but also the occasion for the weakening of one's faith." (Most Rev. Michael J. Sheridan, Bishop of Colorado Springs, "The Bishop's Voice," Colorado Catholic Herald, Nov. 18, 2005, emphasis added)
I would like to thank Bishop Sheridan for clarifying his teaching on the matter. It appears very similar to what Peter Howard stated, but in words more encourging of ecumenical dialogue, while explicitly stating that there may be good reasons to attend the worship services of non-Catholic Christian denominations. Yet, as Bishop Sheridan asserted, we ought to remain cautious against weakening our faith and the scandalous appearance of questioning or denying our own Catholic faith.

Unfortunately, Peter Howard resigned from his position on 31 Oct 2005.

I personally want to thank Peter Howard for helping me with my question. I don't find his answer to be unorthodox, but may have been worded more clearly so as to be more encouraging toward ecumenism. However, I agree with him that if a Catholic is not well-catechized in his own faith, attempts at ecumenical dialogue and even mere attendance in non-Catholic services can be a danger to one's Catholic faith. I also agree with him that when one does attend Protestant services that they are to make every effort to avoid scandal, ensuring that what Catholics do and say does not countenance anything which contradicts Catholic teaching and disciplinary norms.

May God bless Peter Howard and his family. He has done much to promote orthodox Catholic teaching within the diocese. I thank him for his pious service in helping me and others in our diocese. May God continue to bless his studies, as he persues his S.T.D. at the Angelicum in Rome.

God bless,


See also:

Catholic author Amy Welborn's blog on the topic:

My Kind of Fight

Back to Colorado Springs
Catholic Answers Forums:

Protestant Services OK to attend?

Springs Bishop Apologizes for Protestant Comment

Faith Alone?

Great stuff from Steve Ray's book Crossing the Tiber:

By believing in Christ (Jn 3:16; Acts 16:31)?

By repentance (Acts 2:38; 2 Pet 3:9)?

By baptism (Jn 3:5; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet 3:21; Titus 3:5)?

By the work of the Spirit (Jn 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6)?

By declaring with our mouths (Lu 12:8; Rom 10:9)?

By coming to a knowledge of the Truth (1 Tim 2:4; Heb 10:26)?

By works (Rom 2:6, 7; James 2:21, 24-25)?

By grace (Acts 15:11; Eph 2:8)?

By his blood (Rom 5:9; Heb 9:22)?

By His righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Pet 1:1)?

By His cross (Eph 2:16; Col 2:14)?

“Can we cut any one of these out of the list and proclaim it alone as the means of salvation? Can we be saved without faith? without God’s grace? without repentance? without baptism? without the Spirit? These are all involved and necessary; not one of them can be dismissed as a means of obtaining eternal life. Neither can one be emphasized to the exclusion of another. They are all involved in salvation and entry into the Church. The Catholic Church does not divide these various elements of salvation up, overemphasizing some while ignoring others; rather she holds them all in their fullness“ (Crossing the Tiber, p. 100).