Update: Knoxville bishop says anti-Catholic tracts "reprehensible"

11:37 AM, Mar 5, 2010   |    comments
In "The Death Cookie", caricatures of the pope and the devil make a pact to take over the world with eucharistic wafers.
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Bishop Richard Stika statement on anti-Catholic tracts

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville includes 47 parishes and 36 counties in East Tennessee, including Holy Cross Parish in Pigeon Forge. As bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, I wish first to state my deep respect and love for my Protestant brothers and sisters, with whom we acknowledge and worship but one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I also wish to acknowledge the many Christian denominations, including the many Baptist churches in East Tennessee, with whom we pray and work in solidarity, according to the truths of the Gospel, in order to promote a culture of life. This culture of life is based on a Christian anthropology that recognizes man and woman as images of God, an essential truth for the formation of a correct vision of society. I am thinking also of our shared efforts in promoting and protecting the sanctity and dignity of every person in the womb and of the holy institution of marriage and the family as our Heavenly Creator designed them to be. At this moment, however, I am greatly saddened by the reprehensible acts of prejudice and hatred of a few souls who, out of ignorance of Catholic teachings, have promoted the distribution of anti-Catholic tracts.

These tracts contain outright lies and blatant exaggerations.

The rationale one Baptist pastor gave in support of distributing these reprehensible, discriminatory, and bigoted tracts was that he was trying to point out the primary difference his church has with Catholics: the belief that a person does not and cannot work his or her way to salvation. Unfortunately, this pastor does not have a correct understanding of what the Catholic faith teaches in this regard.

In Catholic theology, the term justification means the cleansing of a person's sin and the communication- by grace-of "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:22) through baptism. Additionally, Catholics take very seriously the Sacred Scripture, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24).

Perhaps some Christians misinterpret both Paul and James, thus concluding that their statements about faith and works contradict each other. This is simply not true. There are differences in emphasis but no contradictions in teaching if one understands both properly. Paul and James agree that both "faith" and "works" are essential to Christian life.

Jesus himself makes this crystal clear in his description of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). From his judgment seat, the Lord will welcome into his eternal kingdom those who fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned-in other words, those who saw Christ in the suffering and acted in response, inspired by the love of God. Those who did not perform these "works" of love will "go off to eternal punishment" (25:46).

Catholics take the "works" cited above very seriously. As an example, empowered by the grace of Jesus Christ, Catholic Charities of East Tennessee Inc. addresses the unmet needs of the most vulnerable of our region by providing shelter, nourishment, counseling, and education in order to foster human dignity.

Catholic Charities of East Tennessee delivers 17 services through 24 programs throughout the region. This agency's services are provided regardless of religious affiliation, race, or ability to pay: fewer than 5 percent of the more than 20,000 clients served annually are Catholic.

Regarding the reprehensible leaflet titled "The Death Cookie": The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence asserts that in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is literally and wholly present-body and blood, soul and divinity-under the appearances of bread and wine. Some Christians attack this doctrine as "unbiblical," but Catholics believe that the Bible is forthright in declaring it (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and 11:23-29 and, most forcefully, John 6:32-71).

Catholics recognize that many of our Christian brothers and sisters do not share our belief in the Real Presence.

Even though we may not share the same doctrinal belief, we are thankful that our Christian brothers and sisters of different faiths deeply respect the Lord's Supper and what it represents. Even the Southern Baptist Convention states, "The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming."

As bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, I pray that all Christian pastors will develop a spirituality of ecumenism, with a willingness to explore with other Christians the common beliefs of our Christianity-primarily our belief in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ-rather than focus on our differences.

The leaflets produced by Chick Publications and distributed locally are hateful, discriminatory, and full of prejudice and bigotry.

Jesus warns that each of us will be judged by the same standard with which we judge others. If we are harsh or judgmental in our analysis of others, we will face harsh analysis. Those who are gentle and gracious toward others will be treated gently and graciously. Perhaps we should remember the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Matthew 7:12).

Calling upon the goals and beliefs his church shares with Baptists, Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville Bishop Richard Stika is calling anti-Catholic tracts distributed by a Pigeon Forge church "reprehensible" and containing "outright lies and blatant exaggerations."

The tracts drew public attention after a member of Conner Heights Baptist Church distributed them at Pigeon Forge High School. Despite admitting he knew little about the Catholic Faith, Conner Heighs Baptist Pastor Jonathan Hatcher felt confident that publisher Chick Publications was spreading the gospel.

Bishop Stika said the characterization of Catholicism is simply inaccurate--and "hateful, discriminatory, and full of prejudice and bigotry."

In a written statement, Stika clarified some differences in doctrinal belief between Catholicism and what many Baptist churches believe. But ultimately, he stressed the similarity between the faiths and common goals.

"As bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, I pray that all Christian pastors will develop a spirituality of ecumenism, with a willingness to explore with other Christians the common beliefs of our Christianity-primarily our belief in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ-rather than focus on our differences."

You can read Stika's full statement in the sidebar to the right on this story, on wbir.com.

Previous: Baptist pastor stands by anti-Catholic booklets passed out at local high school

A Pigeon Forge baptist church is drawing attention after one of its members passed out anti-Catholic literature at school.

One of the teens who received the tract at Pigeon Forge High School attends Holy Cross Catholic Church just down the street.

"This girl came up to her and said, 'This will make you very mad,'" said Holy Cross Catholic Church Pastor Father Jay Flaherty.

One of the booklets is titled "The Death Cookie".

"It says that our eucharist is of the devil," Father Flaherty said.

In it, cartoon caricatures of the devil and the pope make an agrement to take over the world with a eucharistic wafer.

"It irritates me that in today's age, with the tolerance we're learning, that this stuff still exists," Father Flaherty said. "The reason they do this is they believe what these things say. They're trying to save Catholic souls. They feel and believe we are devil worshippers and that are souls are lost because we don't see the Christ that they see. It's just ignorance."

On the back of the tracts, a stamp reads "Compliments of Conner Heights Baptist Church."

The church's pastor stands by the literature, saying it helps spread the Gospel, which he says he's called to do.

"It's what saved my life. Why would I not want to share it if I believe it's the right way to go?" said Conner Heights Pastor Jonathan Hatcher.

Pastor Hatcher says he's not trying to target Catholics specifically, just the belief that the eucharist will save one's soul.

In fact, he says he doesn't even really know much about the Catholic faith.

"I'm obviously not schooled in the Catholic religion, I've not read the Catholic canons. I study the King James Bible and that's what I preach from, what I study from," Pastor Hatcher said.

When asked if he's concerned about passing out literature targetting a religion about which he admits he doesn't know much, Pastor Hatcher says he trusts the publishers of the material.

"The people who distribute these tracts, or put them on the market, say they are schooled in it," Pastor Hatcher said. "Our goal is not to spread not to start violence, not to spread hatred, but to share the Gospel."

However, not all baptist leaders say the tracts spread the Gospel.

First Baptist Church Pigeon Forge Student Pastor David Huskey says the literature is divisive and hopes the theological conflict can be worked out, especially since the two churches are neighbors.

"One way we can honor God is to spend less time focusing on our differences and pointing people to how great God is," Huskey said. "My prayer is that this [conflict] doesn't give people outside the church another reason to say, 'That's why I don't go to church'."

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