Mohler: Pope Benedict's convictions underscore Catholic-Protestant divide
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is one of more than 60 panelists who post responses on the Internet to religious questions posed at least once a week. The forum, known as "On Faith," is hosted by Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham and Washington Post writer Sally Quinn.
Pope Benedict, visiting the United States for the first time since his election as pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church three years ago, was to be in Washington April 15-16, including a visit with President Bush at the White House, and in New York April 18-20.
Commenting on the pope's statements last July that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church, Mohler said Benedict's declaration was not unexpected and even reflects his concern for the souls of non-Catholics.
"The secular press and a good many non-Catholic church leaders expressed outrage and offense at the Pope's comments -- assuming that such teachings were simply out of place in the modern world," Mohler wrote on the Washington Post/Newsweek forum. "But Benedict was restating the tradition and teachings of his church -- and he did so because he cared for those he believes are outside the blessings of grace he is certain are given to those in the communion of his church -- and to that communion alone."
Mohler even expressed appreciation that the pope would care about Protestants like himself.
"I actually appreciated the Pope's concern," Mohler wrote. "If he is right, we are endangering our souls and the souls of our church members. Yet, I am convinced that he is not right -- not right on the papacy, not right on the sacraments, not right on the priesthood, not right on the Gospel, not right in understanding the church."
Mohler cited the pope's statements in a 2006 speech at Regensburg, Germany, and at his baptism of a prominent Muslim convert this past Easter as examples of Benedict's strong advocacy of Roman Catholic doctrine.
Such statements and actions "were perfectly in keeping with Catholic doctrine since Vatican II," Mohler wrote. "Evangelicals can admire his boldness without appreciating his inclusivism."
Before his election as pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a staunch defender of the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and it should not surprise anyone that he has continued along the same theological trajectory since his election as pontiff, Mohler wrote.
Still, Mohler said Protestants should appreciate the fact that Benedict stands for some theological absolutes in a world that often capitulates to secularism and postmodernism.
"The Roman Catholic Church believes that evangelicals are in spiritual danger for obstinately and disobediently excluding ourselves from submission to its universal claims and its papacy," Mohler wrote. "Evangelicals are concerned that Catholics are in spiritual danger for their submission to these very claims. We both understand what is at stake.
"The divide between evangelical Christians and the Roman Catholic Church remains -- as this Pope well understands. And, in so many ways, this is a Pope we can understand. In this strange world, that is no small achievement."
David Roach is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Baptist Press correspondent. R. Albert Mohler Jr.'s entire article on the Washington Post/Newsweek forum is available at http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith.