THE papal encyclical issued by the Vatican yesterday forbidding Roman Catholics and Protestants from taking Communion together will produce mixed reactions throughout the world. Its stipulation that only those in full communion with Rome can take part in the Catholic Eucharist will discourage those who believe the future should see a growth in ecumenism based on the principle of co–operation and tolerance among different branches of the Christian faith. On the other hand it will strengthen those who see existing differences as points of principle which cannot be varied without offending against the fundamentals of their faith. There is a third viewpoint which may be taken by many of those who profess no faith themselves but are nonetheless interested in how the various religions present themselves to the world. Does the Vatican understand how remote, rigid and uncharitable it often seems to others? It was only three years ago that an encyclical warned non–Catholics that their churches suffered from “defects” and were not ”proper churches”. The Pope later said that the words had been misinterpreted and were not “arrogant” as had been alleged. But the damage had already been done. When Dr George Carey, then Archbishop of Canterbury, paid a farewell visit to the Vatican last year the Pope emphasised progress on the “journey of reconciliation”. But successive papal encyclicals give the impression that if there is to be progress on this journey it must be on a one–way route determined by the Catholic Church from which there can be no deviation.


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