Rorate Caeli

“The Council and the Eclipse of God” Part XI “How the Council jettisoned true Catholic Evangelisation for shallow Ecumenism” by Don Pietro Leone


In the first section on the relations between the Church and the non-Catholic Christians Don Pietro examined Ecumenism in theory; in the second section which we publish to-day, he examines it in practice. He shows how the Council jettisoned Evangelisation and justified indifferentist religious and liturgical assemblies by hetericizing obscurantism, using the terms ‘Ecumenism’ ‘Christian’ and ‘Christian unity’in two different senses, one Catholic and the other not; by historical falsification; and by an appeal to a shallow, sentimental, surrogate Ecumenical love over that one immutable Truth capable of saving man from eternal death, which is our Holy Catholic Faith.                                                                                                            F.R.


Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras - December 4, 1965

The Council and The Eclipse of God


Don Pietro Leone 

Part XI

A. Ecumenism in Practice

October 13, 1962  at THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL - Cardinal Agostino Bea, standing at right, presents the schismatic and non-Catholic  observers  to  Pope John XXIII.

A.   Ecumenism in Practice


Before the Council, non-Catholic Christians were viewed as mistaken, deprived of graces, in danger of perdition, and thus in need of evangelization and conversion; but with the Council they are treated as equals (or almost as equals) of Catholics, as their friends, and thus no longer in need of evangelization.


In this section we shall examine:


1.     The Practice of Ecumenism in General; 

2.     The Practice of Ecumenism by Communicatio in Sacris;

3.     The Spirit of Ecumenism.



1.     The Practice of Ecumenism in General


i) ‘Without doubt, the differences that exist in varying degrees between them [‘the communities that became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church’] and the Catholic Church – whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning structures of the church – do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles’ (UR 3);


ii) ‘The term ‘ecumenical movement’ indicates the initiatives and activities… to promote christian unity’… [These consist in] ‘every effort to avoid expressions, judgments and actions which are not truthful or fair’ in regard to non-Catholics; ‘dialogue’ in presenting respective teachings; collaboration in serving ‘the common good of humanity’; and common prayer  (UR 4). Examples of serving ‘the common good of humanity’ are given in Ad Gentes (15) in terms of the ‘social cultural, technical, and religious’ domain on the missions, and in UR 12 in terms of relieving ills such as famine and natural disasters, illiteracy and poverty, and lack of housing. Ecumenical actions aim to ‘promote justice and truth, concord and collaboration, as well as the spirit of love and unity…’ (UR 4);


iii) … as the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, into the unity of the one and only church… This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church… However it is evident that the work of preparing and reconciling those individuals who wish for full catholic communion is of its nature distinct from ecumenical action’ (UR 4).


In texts (i), (ii) & (iii) we observe an equivocation in the use of the term ‘Christian’. In other words we find the term used in two senses. This in its turn gives two senses to the term ‘Christian unity’ and to ‘ecumenism’ (and its cognate terms) as its motivating force. The first sense of ‘Christian’ is the full sense in which a man may be Christian; the second sense is the merely nominal sense in which a man may be Christian, when, that is to say, he is Christian by name alone.


What is it to be Christian in the full sense of the term? It is to be joined to Christ truly by valid baptism; it is to believe in Christ as He is in reality; it is to live the Christian life fully, that is to say in subjection to the Pope and with recourse to all the sacraments. ‘Christian’ in the full sense of the term, then, means nothing other than Catholic. According to this first sense of the term ‘Christian’, ‘Christian unity’ means Catholic unity - that Catholic unity which we have described in chapter 1, and the ecumenical movement means that movement which promotes Catholic unity.


According to the second sense of ‘Christian’ by contrast, the merely nominal sense, Christian unity is simply the unity of all those who call themselves Christian: whether they are baptized or not, whether they are subject to the Pope or not, whether they possess and live the entire truth about Christ, or whether they do not. It is a unity based on the lowest common denominator, which is merely their name. The ecumenical movement, according to this second sense of ‘Christian’, is, then, the movement that promotes unity amongst merely nominal Christians.


Now the terms ‘Christian’, ‘Christian unity’, and ‘ecumenism’ are understood in the full Catholic sense in text (i) when the Council speaks of ‘obstacles to full ecclesiastical communion’ between the separated communities and the Church which the ‘ecumenical movement is striving to overcome.’ It is expressed equally in the first phrases of text (iii) when the Council states that when such ‘obstacles to perfect ecclesial communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered in a common celebration of the Eucharist into the unity of the one and only Church.’


The final phrase of text (iii), however, contradicts the phrases that come before - the phrases which we have just cited - in stating that ‘the work of preparing and reconciling those who wish for full catholic communion is of its nature different from the ecumenical movement.’  In the first part of text (iii), then, the Council tells us that Ecumenism aims to bring separated Christians into full union with the Church; in the second part it tells us that the work indispensable for that goal (that is to say the preparation and reconciliation of such Christians for union) is not Ecumenism at all.


It is as if the Council had said: ‘It is the job of carrier-pigeon-carers to let pigeons out of cages, but it is evident that it is not their job to open cage-doors.’ We can only conclude that the term ‘ecumenical’ is here being used in two different senses: in the earlier part of text (iii) it is being used in a Catholic sense; in the latter part it is being used in a non-Catholic sense.


This latter sense of ‘Ecumenism’ which relates to the merely nominal sense of ‘Christian’ and ‘Christian unity’, is expressed in text (ii) as what we may summarize as the friendly association between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians for humanitarian goals, for discussing common beliefs, for common prayer, or simply for its own sake.  Since neither valid baptism, nor the whole Faith, nor indeed any particular article of the Faith, may here be taken for granted, we can see that ecumenical action of the type described is something of the purely natural order, and the lowest common denominator, the name of ‘Christian’, even though it is presented as Christian belief, becomes, in effect, little more than good will tinged with Deism and some form of respect towards the figure of Christ. Unfortunately it is Ecumenism in this second sense that is promoted almost exclusively in the document, and has been so in the years subsequent to the Council to the detriment of Ecumenism in the Catholic sense, which is better termed as ‘evangelization’.


The obscurantism which we have been examining in the equivocations above is heralded in by the very title of the document on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio, meaning literally the ‘Re-integration of Unity’.  But re-integration is the process of bringing back some thing(s) or person(s) into unity; it is impossible to bring unity into unity. The novel and questionable concept suggests some novel and questionable process, which is precisely what Ecumenism is.


We shall proceed to examine in greater detail two of the elements to be found in these texts, namely that of Communicatio in Sacris and that of the spirit of Ecumenism.



2.     The Practice of Ecumenism by Communicatio in Sacris


The ‘common prayer’ mentioned in UR 4 is elaborated later in the document as follows: ‘… in prayer services ‘for unity’ and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable, that Catholics should join in prayer with members of other Christian churches and communities. Yet worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of unity among Christians. There are two main principles upon which the practice of such common worship depends: first that of the unity which ought to be expressed; and second, that of the sharing in the means of grace.’ (UR 8).


The Council here addresses the question of what is known as communicatio religiosa seu in sacris which is the joint participation of Catholics and non-Catholics in the exercise of religion or cult, which includes prayer. In order to evaluate this text properly, we shall first present Catholic teaching on:


a)     The Gatherings of Catholics and non-Catholics;

b)    Communicatio in sacris positiva;

c)     Communicatio in sacris negativa;

d)    Common prayer between Catholics and non-Catholics.



a)    The Gatherings of Catholics and non-Catholics


We begin, then, by examining Church teaching on the wider issue of Catholic attendance at gatherings of non-Catholic Christians and of other religions. This had been explicitly prohibited by Pope Pius XI in the following words [1]: ‘The Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their [the ‘Panchristian’ inter-denominational] assemblies, nor is it in any way lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises.’ Similarly he prohibits: ‘attending and promoting gatherings of Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, or Catholics and members of other religions, with a view to finding a common basis for spiritual life.

A modern-day example of Commicatio in sacris positiva : The Protestant minister of Ansbach, with raised arms. At his side is Catholic Bishop Friedhelm Hofman of Wuerburg, capital of Lower Franconia in Germany, hands joined, in recollection.  The event took place at the Franciscan Monastery of Kreuzberg. (2010)

b)    Communicatio in sacris positiva


This term signifies the participation of Catholics in the worship offered by heretics and infidels. The previous Canon Law had expressed the constant of teaching of the Church on active participation of Catholics as follows: ‘It is forbidden for the faithful in any way at all actively to assist, or to partake in, acts of non-Catholic religion or cult’ [2]. The reason for the prohibition was that such an action often constitutes a denial of the Faith; but even if it does not, it represents a danger of the perversion (that is of the contamination) of the Faith of the participant; it can easily give rise to scandal for others; it includes at least some approval of the heretical or pagan cult. Merely passive attendance, by contrast, was permitted if there was a sufficient receiving for doing so, and if there was no danger of the perversion of the Faith or of scandal.


A modern-day  example of Communicatio in sacris negativa – November 11, 2000-  John Paul II, together with the Monophysite Armenian Patriarch Karekin II, fourth from left, mutual participation at a iturgical ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica.

c)     Communicatio in sacris negativa


This term signifies the participation of non-Catholics in Catholic worship. One should here again distinguish between passive participation, such as attendance at the Holy Mass, which is licit; and active participation, as by receiving Holy Communion, which is illicit. The Church has always forbidden active participation, for the obvious reason that it is appropriate that only baptized Catholics should participate in liturgical actions intimately touching the very heart of the Faith, and that only baptized Catholics in the state of Grace should be entitled to accede to the sacraments.


A modern-day  example of Common prayer : Te Deum Ecuménico 2009 in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago in Chile, featuring clergy of different Christian denominations.

d)    Common prayer 


Canon Mahoney states that the Holy See in its pronouncements up to 1957 regards common prayer as wrong in itself [3]: ‘because prayer pre-supposes or expresses belief, and cannot rightly be recited in common except by those professing the same faith’.




We see that the Catholic attitude up till the Council was negative towards gatherings of Catholics and non-Catholics and towards their active participation in each others’ cult. The Council teaching, by contrast, represents a break with Tradition in this regard. It does not impose any limits to communicatio in sacris, except for specifying that it should not be used ‘indiscriminately’; indeed it adopts a positive view to such practices, describing prayer services for unity as ‘desirable’; and presenting the communicatio likewise as desirable if it expresses ‘unity’ or if it amounts to a ‘sharing in the means of grace.’ Here the term ‘sharing in the means of grace’ suggests sacramental communion, giving the impression that sacramental communion is equally ‘allowable and desirable’ as common prayer. The most unfortunate consequence of this text is that it can be used to justify non-Catholics receiving Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass, an abuse of which all too many examples have been seen in recent years.


We see in synthesis that the Council attaches but little importance to the Faith: it is unconcerned that it might be denied or perverted, unconcerned that Catholics and non-Catholics might perform acts of each others’ Faith, dishonoring or desecrating the cult of God and indeed the very Person of Our Blessed Lord Himself: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Rather, in direct contradiction of Tradition, it actively promotes promiscuous gatherings of Catholics and non-Catholics, putting the true Religion on the same level as the false Religions, putting ‘unity’ over Faith, love over knowledge, and the order of the Good over the order of the True.


Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, December 4,1965.

The consequences of this text, for common prayer in particular, were not slow in coming: in the wake of the Council, Pope Paul VI was to preside over an ecumenical prayer service on 4th December 1965 for the more than 100 Council observers and guests in the Basilica of St. Paul-Without-the-Walls; on the following day he was to attend an inter-confessional prayer meeting where members of all the religious confessions present proclaimed Scriptural passages.




3.     The Spirit of Ecumenism


[In dealings with non-Catholic Christians one must avoid] ‘… expressions, judgments and actions which are not truthful and fair…’ (UR 4); [one must act with] ‘…respect and affection…’ (UR 3); [and with a contrite awareness of past Catholic guilt]: ‘large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church – for which, often enough, people on both sides were to blame… sins of separation’ (UR3); ‘… sins against unity. Thus in humble prayer we beg pardon of God and of our separated sisters and brothers…’ (UR 7).


The excessive value lent to non-Catholic Christians outlined in section A leads to such self-demeaning conduct towards them as described in the present section B. The Catholic Church lowers Herself to their level: Evangelization is abandoned in favor of Ecumenical ‘dialogue’ between ‘brothers and sisters’, in other words between equals; such dialogue is to be governed by principles of ‘respect and affection’, where ‘expressions… which are not truthful and fair’ (presumably scientific, precise terminology such as ‘Orthodox’, Protestant, ‘schismatic’, ‘heretic’, ‘material’,’ formal’ - see our comments at the end of section A above)  are jettisoned; it is alleged that, for ‘sins of separation’, ‘often enough’ both sides were to blame [4]. Indeed the Catholic Church even lowers Herself to a level inferior to that of the other Christians, humbly begging pardon of separated brothers and sisters for ‘sins against unity’.

The late great Michael Davies ( 1936-2004) as a young man. He was a lecturer, debater, columnist, and author of over 30 books and monographs on the changes in the Catholic church since the Second Vatican Council, primarily concerning the liturgy.

Michael Davies observes that Father Hans Küng had suggested that Pope John XXIII included in his opening speech an act of contrition for the ‘Catholic part’ in the ‘sin of division.’ But the Pope had not followed his advice. On the advent of the second session, by contrast, Protestants had demanded such an apology from Pope Paul, and had been granted it. In his opening speech he declares: ‘if we are in any way to blame for that separation, we humbly beg God’s forgiveness. And we beg pardon too of our brethren who feel themselves to have been injured by us. For our part, we willingly forgive the injuries which the Catholic Church has suffered, and forget the grief endured during the long series of dissensions and separations’.


As Michael Davies rightly remarks, there was corruption among the Catholic clergy at the time of the ‘Reformation’, but the reason why the heretics and schismatics left the Church was not this, but their heterodoxy. ‘There is, therefore no basis whatsoever for an apology by the Catholic Church for the sin of schism when this sin was entirely on the Protestant side. No Catholic, by definition, can ever be in schism or guilty of the sin of schism’ [5].


One should add that in any case ‘sins of separation’ or of ‘disunity’ cannot be imputed to the Church Who is Holy and Immaculate (as we have explained at the beginning of the essay); nor did She show Herself hostile to dissidents, but only defined and decried their separation by anathemata and excommunications, which, far from being sins, in reality constitute acts of mercy, as calls to the heretic to return to the one and only salvific sheep-fold.



Conclusion to Section A and B


 We conclude sections A & B with a brief, general critique of Ecumenism in the areas of:


       a)    Ecclesiology [6];

       b)    Soteriology [7];

       c)    Metaphysics [8].



a)       Ecclesiology


Sections A and B have been concerned with questions of Ecclesiology. In our brief overview at the end of Section A, we indicated how the status of non-Catholic Christians was illicitly elevated by inadequate or false doctrines, as well as by imprecise and tendentious terminology. In Section B we saw how the Council proposed to translate such theories into practice: both by secular and by spiritual collaboration that presents as genuine ‘Christian unity’ that which in reality is merely nominally so. Thereby the substantial disunity between Catholics and non-Catholics is obscured and ignored, and Indifferentism promoted.



b)       Soteriology


Despite pretention to ‘Christian unity’ in section B, we found only an appearance of it: in the form of a thinly masked humanitarianism and Deism. With the introduction of a new way of viewing and treating non-Catholic Christians, that is to say ‘Ecumenism’ as opposed to Evangelization, the Council weakens the Church’s impetus for Evangelization, and colors what remains of that impetus with novel, ecumenical principles.


In its tendency to substitute Ecumenism for Evangelization, the Council militates against the very goal of the Church, namely the salvation and sanctification of souls, which should be the final end to be sought in relations with non-Catholic Christians, as indeed in all that one does. Seeking this end requires that a Catholic should do his best by prayer, example, words, and deeds that non- Catholic Christians should attain to genuine Christian unity with the one, true Church. Pope Pius XII states: ‘We ask each and every one of them to correspond to the interior movements of Grace, and to seek to withdraw from that state in which they cannot be sure of salvation… Therefore may they enter into Catholic unity… in the one organic Body of Jesus Christ’ [9].


c)     Metaphysics


In the present age we observe scepticism towards, and a gradual abandonment of, objective Reality, Truth, Faith and Reason on the one side and objective Good and rational love on the other. Objectivity yields to subjectivism, to love of the senses: sensuality, sensibility, sentimentality, sympathia.


We see this clearly in the shift from Evangelization to Ecumenism. Ecumenism is presented, as we have seen, as the promotion of a ‘spirit of love’, but love is blind and must be based on Reality, on Truth, on the knowledge of the Truth. Reality and Truth for the Christian are that he is in this world to reach Heaven: this is his ultimate Good, this is the ultimate end which his love in its ultimate sense must serve. The love in question is rational love, love as a virtue with its orientation towards objective reality: to the objective True and the objective Good; it is the supernatural love which is Charity, oriented to the salvation and sanctification of souls. But Ecumenism identifies it with love as a passion, with the love of the senses, of the feelings orientated solely towards the neighbor’s this-worldly well-being [10].


The root metaphysical error of Ecumenism is that the love characteristic of it is not based on Truth, on Reality. This is certainly the most remarkable instance of the false principle which we designated in the Introduction as ‘subjectivism’ and which we here define more precisely as ‘antirealist subjectivism’ namely the denial of the correct principle that: ‘The Order of the True is prior to the Order of the Good’ [11]


Pope Paul VI at the WCC headquarters in Geneva, 1969, greeted by Dr Eugene Carson Blake, WCC general secretary and other church dignitaries. ‘Thereby the substantial disunity between Catholics and non-Catholics is obscured and ignored, and Indifferentism promoted.

The Council implements this false metaphysical principle by another false principle, that is the principle of degree, illicitly proposing as the basis for union with non-Catholic Christians partial communion, elements of sanctification and truth, and the hierarchy of truths.   


In fact, the Ecumenical enterprise clearly manifests all six of the false metaphysical principles that we have outlined in the Introduction:


1.     Scepticism about the Faith, otherwise how could we put ourselves on the same level with non- Catholic Christians?


2.     Scepticism about the expression of the Faith, passing over in silence all defined dogmas, and all definitions including those expressing the heretical or schismatic status of non-Catholics;


3.     Naturalism, silencing the supernatural dimension of the Catholic Church, as we have shown in the first chapter, which encompasses all that distinguishes Her from the other Christians;


4.     Antirealist subjectivism, as we have just argued;


5.     The principle of degree, as we have also just argued;


6.     Finally the principle of flux in the never-ending dialogue with non-Catholics.


There is much more that could be said of Ecumenism, but this should suffice for the purposes of the present book [12]. We quote in conclusion the words of St. John Chrysostom: ‘If you see the cause of religion suffering anywhere, do not prize concord above truth, but make a noble stand even unto death’ [13].



[1] Mortalium Animos, 1928

[2] Haud licitum est fidelibus quovis modo active assistere seu partem habere in sacris acatholicis  CIC c. 1258

[3] in ‘Priests’ Problems’

[4] similarly Pope Paul, in his opening speech to the Second Session of the Council, had stated: ‘If any blame might be imputed to us for such a separation, we humbly ask pardon of God of it, as also of our Brothers who felt offended by Us.’ 

[5] MD pjc, p.201

[6] regarding the relation of non-Catholic Christians to the Catholic Church

[7] regarding salvation

[8] regarding the ultimate principles of being and thought

[9] Mystici Corporis 103, quoting from Mortalium Animos of Pope Pius XI

[10] A concrete example of this is that in pursuit of Ecumenism, Catholics are encouraged to lead ‘holier lives’ (UR 7), but are not told to encourage non-Catholics to lead holier lives as well (that is by promoting their return to full union with the Catholic Church)

[11] This latter principle entails the further principles: ‘Knowledge has logical priority over love’, and (on the specifically supernatural level): ‘Faith has logical priority over Charity’ where the priority is applied on the level of the operation of the faculties oriented to the True and the Good respectively

[12] we have written more fully on this in our essay ‘Ecumenism’ in Rorate Caeli

[13] Homily 22 from the commentary on Romans 12