Pact with Catholics Alarms Evangelicals

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - A document whose aim was to foster greater cooperation between Protestant evangelicals and Roman Catholics is instead causing friction among evangelicals, some of whom think the declaration undermines their basic Protestant beliefs.

"Evangelicals and Catholics Together," issued as an unofficial document almost a year ago, called on evangelicals and Catholics to recognize each other as Christians and work together on common issues, such as abortion and pornography.

"Instead of getting evangelicals and Catholics (talking) across ecumenical boundaries, what you've had (is) intramural evangelical discussion about how we ought to talk" to Catholics, said Michael Cromartie, director of the Evangelical Studies Project of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

The declaration was signed by such prominent evangelical leaders as Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. Catholic signers included Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, director of the Institute on Religion and Public Life in New York, theologian Michael Novak, a winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, Archbishop Francis Stafford of Denver and Jesuit Fr. Avery Dulles of Fordham University.

Introducing the document last March, Neuhaus contended that not since the 16th century have Protestants and Catholics "joined in a declaration so clear in respect to their common faith and common responsibility."

While calling the document unofficial, Neuhaus said he had "been in contact with appropriate parties at the Holy See and they have given their strongest encouragement" for the project. Neuhaus declined to say whom he had contacted at the Vatican.

The document calls the evangelical and Catholic communities the most "evangelistically assertive and most rapidly growing religious bodies in the world today."

It admits, however, that the "relationship between these communities is marked more by conflict than by cooperation, more by animosity than by love, more by suspicion than by trust, more by propaganda and ignorance than by respect for the truth."

In January, some Protestant evangelical signers, including Colson and Bright, met with other Protestant leaders who said they wished the document never was drafted in the first place. …