Pope Francis on Reformation Day

Pope Francis is commemorating the start of the Reformation with a visit to Sweden. He gave an advance interview about some of the issues. RNS provided excerpts here, and a complete PDF of the interview is here. I will return to these interviews later.

CRUX got an early start cheerleading – with an AP article: “Sweden’s Catholic community has grown to about 113,000, a small minority in a country of 10 million people, but the biggest it’s been since the Reformation.” More importantly, “the Lutheran church [formerly the state religion] lost 740,000 or 11 percent of its members between 2005 and 2015.” In other words, “nones” are making enormous progress, swamping the success of the Catholic Church.

I’ve previously noted that about 25% of Americans are “nones,” unaffiliated with any church. In Europe, the percentage is even higher. In Latin America, “nones” are also surging. (I’ll have more to say about Latin America in the future.) We seem to have a trend toward rationality, though that is not clear. After WWII and the Soviet’s acquisition of The Bomb, there was a surge in religiosity. These were the halcyon days of Billy Graham, who travelled the world preaching, You better come to Jesus before those godless Commies blow it up!!! – to huge crowds, with many lining up to be saved. It is not clear whether we have a religious pendulum swinging to a more normal level, or whether there is a solid trend toward rationality. Time will tell.

At any rate, on October 31 Pope Francis arrived in Sweden and had a photo-op with the royal couple (here). CRUX reported that he “spoke in unprecedented terms of both sides in the Reformation divide professing and upholding ‘the true faith.’” Of course he didn’t explain what he meant, and it was immediately apparent that he thought one faith was considerably truer than the other. While Pope Francis spoke of “a new opportunity to accept a common path,” he did not avail himself of that opportunity.

CRUX noted: “The Catholic Church has long recognized the validity of Lutheran baptism, but strong differences remain over Communion, despite both Churches professing the reality of Jesus’s presence in the Eucharist.” Francis did nothing to resolve those differences. The Catholic Church insists that only its ordained priests are capable of miraculously transforming bread into the actual body of Christ, and wine into Christ’s actual blood. This is the central sacrament of the Church. Catholics cannot obtain this sacrament from non-Catholic clergy, who are only capable of inauthentic forms of the Eucharist lacking the essential miraculous transformations. While Catholics and non-Catholics can share a good time and exchange pleasantries and photo-ops, they cannot share Eucharists. Since a proper Eucharist is essential to salvation …. you get the non-ecumenical picture.

I’ll discuss the earlier interview in the second part.