Dear Mr. Pope,
I read an article in the paper today regarding your recent statement reasserting the primacy of the Catholic Church and claiming that all other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches. From one Catholic to another, I may as well be the one the one to tell you - that's a bunch of nonsense.
Although we may claim to trace the lineage of our bishops back to Peter, we don’t necessarily have direct access to heaven. It’s this exact sort of rhetoric that causes people to hate Catholics. After, the priest-sexual-abuse scandal, the last thing we need is more animosity.
Your claim that the Catholic Church is "the only means to salvation" must have come as quite a shock to many good and decent people - including Jesus and his mother. I'm sure you have heard, but they were Jews. Not exactly the type of people you seem to be including in your "Church".
After I read the article I spent some time looking through the Gospels as well as most of the New Testament. I couldn't find any mention of Jesus asserting the primacy of the Catholic Church anywhere. In fact, I don't think he even mentioned it. (As an aside, he never said anything about homosexuality either, but that's a subject for a different letter).
Rather, I got the distinct impression that Jesus wasn't a big fan of organized religion. He seemed to spend a great deal of time challenging the leaders of the day, pointing out their hypocrisy and holding them to a high standard. Or in his words, a new covenant - that being one of self sacrificial love and service to others as well as a faithful devotion to God. Which in my estimation is different from blindly following an elected leader and his archaic proclamations.
You went on to say that "Christ established here on earth only one church". Surely you can't be serious? A scholar such as yourself must know that Jesus didn't set out to establish a new "church" as much as reform the existing one. He did create a quite a following though, and eventually a number of faith communities sprang up in the wake of his death and resurrection. However, it wasn’t until the 4th Century when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and took up the sword for the Holy Roman Empire that the Catholic Church really came into prominence. Sadly, that may have also been one of the worst things to ever happen to the legacy of Jesus. It’s pretty tough to carry the cross when you’re also wielding a sword.
I know you’re not alone though. There are lots of folks, of all religious varieties, who claim to know the true path to salvation. “If you simply believe what I believe you’ll have a guaranteed place in heaven”, they say. While that may prove to be true, it seems to me that the world could do with a little more humility. Particularly on the part of Christians. If we spent less time talking about Jesus and more time acting like him we may actually begin to experience the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Meanwhile, I’ll be praying for you.
Together, humbly, in Christ,