Pope Benedict's Ad Limina address to the bishops of Brazil on September 10 contained some challenging comments.
"a growing influence of new elements of society, which a few decades ago were practically foreign. This causes a consistent abandonment by many Catholics of the ecclesial life and even of the Church, while witnessed in the religious picture of Brazil is the rapid expansion of Evangelical and neo-Pentecostal communities." (Sherry's note: It is helpful that the Pope uses language that these groups use to describe themselves rather than the term "sect".)
Diagnosis: Why are Catholics leaving for evangelical and neo-Pentecostal communities?
"a sign of the widespread thirst for God among your people."
"a sign of an evangelization, at the personal level, which at times is superficial; . . . those who are baptized and who are not sufficiently evangelized"
Prescription: What should we do?
1) Go out and evangelize (Note: the Holy Father is not talking about just sitting in our parishes waiting for them to come to us.)
"the Catholic Church in Brazil commit herself to a new evangelization that spares no efforts in the search for lapsed Catholics, as well as for persons who know little or nothing of the evangelical message"
"leading them to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, living and active in his Church. " (Note the language of personal encounter, "living" active". If it weren't coming from the lips of an 80+ Bavarian-spent-the-last-30-years-of-his-life-in-the-Vatican Pope . . . But I guess we really can't accuse Pope Benedict of being Protestant.)
2) Develop ecumenical relationships with these new groups:
"Moreover, with the growth of new groups that call themselves followers of Christ, though divided in different communities and confessions, all the more necessary, on the part of Catholic pastors, is the commitment to establish bridges of contact through a healthy ecumenical dialogue in truth."
a. "division between Christians is in opposition to the will of the Lord that "all be one" (John 17:21).
b. "lack of unity is cause of scandal that ends by undermining the credibility of the Christian message"
c. Christians need to work together to counter "a growing negative influence of intellectual and moral relativism in people's life."
a. "an erroneous view of ecumenism, which induces to a certain doctrinal indifference that attempts to level, in an a-critical Ireneism, all "opinions" in a sort of ecclesiological relativism."
b. It's complicated: "the incessant multiplication of new Christian groups, some of them using an aggressive proselytism, which shows how the landscape of ecumenism continues to be very differentiated and confused."
In that context -- as I affirmed in 2007 in the Sé Cathedral in São Paulo, in the unforgettable meeting that I had with you, Brazilian bishops -- "indispensable is a good historical and doctrinal formation, which will allow the necessary discernment and help to understand the specific identity of each one of the communities, the elements that divide and those that help in the path of the construction of unity. The great common realm of collaboration should be the defense of the fundamental moral values, transmitted by biblical tradition, against their destruction in a relativist and consumerist culture; more than that, faith in God the Creator and in Jesus Christ, his incarnate Son"....
Esteemed brothers, the dialogue between Christians is an imperative of the present time and an irreversible option of the Church. However, as Vatican Council II reminds, at the heart of all efforts for unity must be prayer, conversion and sanctification of life (cf. "Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 8). It is the Lord who gives unity, this is not a creation of men, it is up to pastors to obey the Lord's will, promoting concrete initiatives, free of any conformist reductionism, but carried out with sincerity and realism, with patience and perseverance which spring from faith in the providential action of the Holy Spirit.