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During my college days in the early 1990s, neither the Internet nor cell phones were part of daily life. For all practical and economic purposes, for an average guy like me, they simply didn’t exist — and I got along just fine.

They were the good days, now gone and never to return again, I’m afraid. But days like the one I had yesterday make every bit of today’s digital luggage worth its mental weight in gold. I started the day early, behind a rickety wooden desk in an upper room in a remote town of southern Italy (I’m on vacation, so to speak.) I scrawled via keyboard a few simple thoughts about a Vatican document on “Ecclesiology” I assumed would spur mixed reactions and a lot of confusion.

Within minutes of the posting of my article, while still sitting behind the same rickety desk, preparing to dash off by foot to touch, feel and smell the ocean I so love, you and I were back in touch with hundreds of e-mails — now into the thousands — pouring into my inbox from all over the world. Yes, there are mixed reactions about the Vatican document, but because the good days of digital freedom are now days gone by, we can now talk through the confusion. So today, that’s what we’ll do.

If you haven’t read Wednesday’s article, I suggest you do this first before going below to the reader reactions and my responses.

God bless, Father Jonathan
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I just wanted to say thank you for your excellent break down of the document. Reading your article was very helpful and with a few other denominations and religions in my unit over here in Ali Air Base in Iraq (we have one girl who is Muslim and a couple of Protestants) it helped make sense. So I just wanted to say thank you and good job, great article! — Matt (Iraq)

RESPONSE: Matt, and thank you for your willingness to serve our country and the Iraqi people, even at the risk of your own life. Please greet your colleagues on my behalf.

What a shame that you, and so many others, waste their valuable intellect and time on such nonsense. Religion has always been the single most divisive factor in society. It provides fanatics their "justification" for killing all those who choose to think of God in any way but their own. Now, to add to the mess, the Catholic Church is dragging up the same old nonsense I had pumped into my head as a child when we were required to learn everything in the Baltimore Catechism or [risk] the wrath of the nuns and priests who had such absolute power over us. Of course, we were taught that only Catholics had the true faith, but that others might not go to hell if they led good lives, and, through no fault of their own, weren't Catholics. What unbridled arrogance!

We are never going to make any meaningful progress towards world peace until we get this horrible phenomenon — religion — out of our systems and start getting along with each other as human beings. People with your intelligence and communication skills could do great good if they directed their efforts towards the real problems, not fussing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. — Wayne A. (Crofton, BC, Canada)

RESPONSE: Well, Wayne, I would love to sit down over a cup of coffee and discuss all of this with you. Who knows, maybe some day we’ll have a chance. As you say, people in the past (and present) have certainly abused the name of God to carry out their selfish motives. As I see it, it is precisely their selfish motives, however, and not true belief in God, that leads to such divisiveness and violence. If religion weren’t around to be their scapegoat, they would use something else.

My friend of over 30 years called me last night and was upset about a radio show that discussed the document released by the Pope. A caller to the radio station said he thought the Pope believed that non-Catholics would go to H - - -. My friend was raised Baptist, attends Evangelical and Christian-Free Churches, and I have been a life-long Catholic. I felt shocked and confused when she turned to me with this information and said that I'd never heard of the Pope suggesting that. It has been heavy on my mind today and I googled "Pope" and found your article this afternoon. It was a tremendous relief to achieve a broader understanding. I will share it with my friend, a Christian of deep faith. Although I am Catholic, I find joy in discovering common denominators of Christians of all faiths. — Lynn S. (New Hope, MN)

RESPONSE: Lynn, my hats off to the founders of “Google.” I wonder if my article was filtered out in Google “China.” Any Chinese viewera listening in?

I happen to agree with the Pope. I am not a Catholic, but you could say a lapsed Evangelical. The Protestant world is a chaotic mess ... doctrinally speaking. One can find a “church” that conforms to just about any belief you want to abide by. Don't like confessing you sin to God, follow Bob George. Don't like predestination ... follow John Hagee. Don't like free will ... join a Reformed Church. Don't like the Trinity ... join the Jehovah's Witnesses. I could go on and on. Personally, I am leaning towards Eastern Orthodoxy after going through a bout of not believing going to church or belonging to a church is essential (it is.) Even more, the sins of the Catholic Church (I am speaking mostly about the Inquisition) I am beginning to see, was simply to result of having to foresight to imagine the chaos we Protestant Christians are living in today. — Andrew H. (Pasadena, CA)

RESPONSE: Andrew, an interesting note, for sure! Your experience of internal division in the Christian community is not uncommon; it is the consequence of human weakness. That said, there are many mainline Protestant and Evangelical Christians who are exemplary followers of the teachings of Jesus. The Inquisition (in reality, “Inquisitions”) is a complicated topic which has been made even more complicated by legends and historical manipulations of all types. But even so, it must be said that while the initial intentions and objectives may have been good (as you suggest), the period as a whole represents a black spot in the history of the Catholic Church, a period which, thankfully, is now in the past.

I am a Protestant who first read the "sound bite" interpretation of the Pope's article and was misled.I was going to ask one of my Catholic friends what the actual reason was that allows Catholics to enter heaven and not me, to better understand their beliefs. Then I read your article all I can say is "Right ON!" Glad you and the Pope are willing to put forth your opinion in a constructive way. — Trevor K. (Kelowna, BC, Canada)

RESPONSE: Trevor, thanks so much for the note, and for not stopping at the headlines!

You may fool others, but as a former Romanist who has been saved by the grace that is in Christ alone and exists in the Truth of the Scriptures and is completely outside the false teachings of Romanism, I can see behind the rhetoric.

"[Jesus] is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:11-12 (NIV).

Salvation, as indicated by Peter, is in Christ Jesus alone, apart from any church.

This is the message carried by the godly reformers that the Romanist bishops in full communion with the pope tortured and beheaded during the Inquisition. […]

After reading your article, it is evident that it is the case of the deceived (Benedict) leading the deceived (Jonathan, et al). — Mark G. (Folsom, PA)

RESPONSE: Mark, I don’t think I can answer here in a few lines all of your concerns, but I at least wanted other readers to see your point of view.

I read the mainstream reports of the Pope's comments regarding the Catholic Church being the "one true church.” As a Lutheran, (my father is a retired minister) I found these articles disturbing. However, I thought there must be another side to the reports.

Once again, you shed a common sense light on the situation. I especially connected with your statement about how we have reached a point where one cannot state that they are right without being labeled a bigot.

Keep up the good fight. More and more we need people like you who can break down the nonsense being made of things in the sensationalistic media. — Chris

RESPONSE: Thanks so much, Chris. On these pages I don’t try to be an apologist (there is room for that, I think, in other venues). I just try to analyze with you the big news stories of the day from an ethical, spiritual and moral perspective, giving principles that can help us make sound judgments. When it comes to specifically religious issues like this one, I find this approach also works. I explain the issues, keeping in mind the barriers to true understanding (prejudice, false premises, etc.).

I am Jewish and I am comforted by the return of Catholic confidence in the church. No, I will not convert to Catholicism, despite the exhortations of the Tridentate Mass. No, I do not believe Jesus is God. But YES, like Catholics I do reject liberal relativism that says every religion is as good as every other. Yes, I do believe in the Logos of the Universe. Yes, I do recognize if we did not each think our own religions were best, we could not embrace them.

An authentic, even if heated, dialogue between religions of Logos, that tolerate what they conceive as the other's theological errors is what will save us from hateful and intolerant religions of mindless faith and death worship. Yes, I think Catholics are wrong and if honest, which is precisely what Pope Benedict is urging, Catholics utterly must think I am wrong. But I respect without limit the Catholic commitment to REASON, as do Catholics respect the Jewish commitment to REASON.

Catholics long ago rejected the use the sword to convert or kill us. Not so Islam. There are only 12 million Jewish people left alive in the world. If Catholics refuse to embrace in their own Catholicism with confidence, Catholics can never help promote a culture of Life, including the lives of Jews like me. Catholicism proudly opposes the cultures and religions of suicide, despair and intolerance that would gladly kill every last one of the mere 12 million Jewish people left alive. — Jim C.

RESPONSE: Jim, I’m so glad I found your note. Your reference to reason, as the foundation for peace, is absolutely correct. Your attitude, I believe, is the best explanation why firm adhesion to religion belief never has to be, and never should be, a motive for war or violence. I should also add that many Muslims (sadly, not all) would agree with you and me on the excellent points you have made.

I’m studying at a Seminary on the north shore of Boston and appreciated your assessment of the document released under the approval of Pope Benedict XVI. I am not Catholic, and can’t really argue or debate your points, but I can agree that the way forward is not through amalgamating all differences into an undefined, intellectual song. The only way to truly attempt efficacious inter-denominational conversation is through bringing our respective faith-traditions — along with all the ensuing theology — right into the conferences room. Real cross-denominational unity can NEVER be accomplished by checking our difference at the door. We might just forget that “right” and “wrong” exist if we lose the responsibility to converse openly about what they are. Anyway, thanks for being a voice of reason amongst the loudness of those speaking just to make a point — no matter how unfounded it is. Blessings to you as well, — Ryan

RESPONSE: Keep up with your studies, Ryan. A man I greatly respect once told me that to study a little science and a little theology will turn one away from God, but lots of science and lots of theology will make you fall in love with him forever.

Either we are Christians or we are not. Either we believe in Jesus or we don't. There are no half breeds in the Kingdom. There is no caste system of denominations. There is no proper or improper Body of Christ. There are only those who believe or don't believe. You can whitewash, spin and glamorize your leader's comments all you want but the bottom line is that neither he nor you believe that non-Romans are Christians since we don't see the word Christian in the same context. You believe that you have to accept the authority of the Pope to be a Christian. […] — Harold K.H. (Jacksonville, FL)

RESPONSE: Harold, it doesn’t sound like you’re going to believe me, but I don’t think you have to be Roman Catholic to be a Christian, and neither does the Pope.

Thank you for your explanation of the most recent document released by the Vatican defining the Church.

I am a veteran Protestant Pastor (40+ years) who has a deep love for the Roman Catholic Church and a connection with the Benedictine community. I was troubled by the blunt words of Pope Benedict XVI. Your explanation is a good one; it helped me understand his words better than before. In my opinion, you are at your very best as a "bridge" between Roman Catholic and Protestant believers as we struggle to understand one another. Thank you for caring enough to explain! — Larry H.

RESPONSE: Pastor Larry, I think being a bridge, in this case, means never watering down one’s faith and beliefs, but always expressing them with reason and love. The fact you could write to me in this way, is evidence to all who read this blog, that this is precisely what you are doing. Thank you.

I'm an Episcopalian — your article was very helpful to me. And I'm an ex-English teacher — second to last paragraph should say "... better than he [does]" to not detract from your cogency. — Dick G.

RESPONSE: Dick, you teach better than my old English teacher (did.) Was that right? Thanks!

As a theologian who works at a very high level in ecumenical relations in the UK I see the reissue of this (ossified) document as a very disappointing step from the current Pope. It shows how little understanding he has of other theological positions and how bigoted are some of his close advisers. It is regrettable that the actual regime of Rome does not have discernment of reading the times. It is regrettable that you yourself consider others that are not Catholics of a lesser worth. What an arrogant position you endorse!

RESPONSE: Sir or Madam, I think my and your worth are equally priceless because we were made in the image and likeness of God. Ecumenical relations without this firm conviction will go nowhere. I assume you agree. Thank you for your work.

Just read your article on "Dominus Iesus." Nicely articulated! — Peace, +ANDREI Archbishop of Ottawa and All Canada Ukrainian Orthodox Church in America

RESPONSE: Your Excellency (did I say that correctly?), I’m honored you would write. Thank you!

I’m always amazed at how many non-Catholics and non-Christians follow your writings. Perhaps we Catholics are quieter, but I want you to know that we read you too! My friends and I used to talk weekly about the gossip in our town and even (sadly) in our parish. Instead, now we discuss your columns! Thank you. We are now proud to be Catholic once again. — Sandy

RESPONSE: It is interesting, Sandy, how diverse of a group we are! Pass on my greetings to your group of Catholic friends, and to your Pastor as well.

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