Religious 'Bigotry' or 'Doctrinal Differences'?

By McNickle, Colin | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 15, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Religious 'Bigotry' or 'Doctrinal Differences'?


McNickle, Colin, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Has bigotry been excused as "religious truth" with Pope Benedict's "restating" of key sections of his 2000 text known as Dominus Iesus?

Many Protestants think so. Not surprisingly, Catholic apologians don't. But, surprisingly, a noted rabbi doesn't either.

First, though, the background.

Tuesday last the Vatican restated the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church. That is, and as The Associated Press reported it, "other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation."

Which, of course, offends many good and God-fearing Protestants and Jews, some of whom argue that such a position is not just arrogant egotisticalism but about as far as you can get from the ecumenicalism that Catholic leaders say they still embrace.

"Outrageous!" said one caller, deeply religious and equally troubled. "How dare they!" said another. Letter writer Karen Peto of West Newton was appalled. "I was taught, like many others, to be respectful of other peoples' religious beliefs and not berate them," she said. "The pope overstepped his boundaries."

And, as would be expected, some editorial page cartoonists had a field day.

The Hartford Courant's Bob Englehart depicted Jesus quoting Matthew 18:20 -- "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them." He then depicted Pope Benedict offering a "correction" -- "Where two or three Catholics are gathered ... ."

Pat Bagley at the Salt Lake Tribune drew Benedict with his arms crossed and back turned outside the Pearly Gates. Says St. Peter, on his cell phone to God, "He claims to be your bouncer."

It's bigotry, pure and simple -- the Dominus Iesus, that is, not the critics -- right?

No it's not, insists Bill Donohue, a former LaRoche College professor and president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. He's a self-described "big mouth" who relies on an extensive e-mail address book to flame critics perceived as anti- Catholic bigots.

(In the interests of full disclosure, Mr. Donohue and I went a few national rounds in February 2006 over a Donald Collins commentary that appeared on the Trib's op-ed page.)

So, I e-mailed Donohue: "(H)ow is Benedict's restating the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church not the same kind of bigotry that you regularly decry?"

First he referred me to a statement in support of the pope's position by his friend Rabbi Irwin Kula (more on that later). But I pressed Donohue for his position. Not a polemic, mind you, but a scholarly response.

"Jesus did not found many churches," he wrote. "He founded only one. The root cause of the Protestant is 'protest' and what exactly is it that Protestants are protesting save the Catholic Church from which they broke away?"

Donohue says he has many evangelical friends, some of whom maintain that his religion is a "false" religion. "That is not bigotry -- it is a statement of their sincerely held beliefs; they are not meant to be derogatory.

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