by Father Kilian McDonnell OSB
"I believe I am led by the Spirit to confess the sins that Roman Catholics have committed against Classical Pentecostals."
Confession of Sins
On March 12th Pope John Paul II humbly confessed the sins that the Catholics have committed during the last millennium. I have no authority to speak for the Catholic Church; I speak in a private capacity. But I believe I am led by the Spirit to confess the sins that Roman Catholics have committed against Classical Pentecostals. In making this confession, I, and all the Catholics who care to join me, seek nothing in return except forgiveness.
Roman Catholics believe that the church is the body of Christ. The church is holy in the Word it preaches, the sacraments it celebrates, the grace of the Spirit by which it lives, the lives of its saints. This holy church has sinful members, from the highest office in the church to the humblest believer. As Vatican II said, the church is "always in need of being purified, and incessantly pursues the path of penance and renewal." (Vatican II, Constitution on the Church, 8). The church is the holy penitent.
I confess the sin of arrogance with which Catholics have treated Pentecostals, leading to intolerance, discrimination, and exclusion. We have employed methods of evangelization not in keeping with the Gospel, using the state to harass and oppress Pentecostals. When we were in the majority, we deprived Pentecostals of their civil rights; when we were in the minority, we demanded our full rights as citizens. In this way the dignity of the human person was violated, and the rights of those who believe in Christ have been trampled on.
I confess that many Catholics have identified all Pentecostal churches as "sects," thus demeaning them. Vatican II, speaking of other Christian churches and communities, decreed "that some, even very many, of the most significant elements or endowments which go to build up and give life to the Church herself can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic church," adding that these other churches "can truly engender a life of grace" (Decree on Ecumenism, 3). Many Catholics have failed to recognize the true ecclesial and sanctifying elements in Pentecostal churches. We have labeled them "enthusiasts" and have not received with gratitude the gifts and spirituality they offer. According to the principle "truth is defended only with truth itself" (Decree on Religious Liberty, 1), I confess that Catholics have lived in culpable ignorance of what Pentecostals believe, and have misrepresented them, promoting Pentecostal stereotypes.
Pope John Paul II in 1992, speaking of movements of transformation in Latin America, attributed their success, in part, to "the lack of the strong sense of God" in Catholic pastoral agents, priests and lay leaders. For the scandal in Catholic lives, especially in the lives of priests, lives that do not reflect the absolute holiness of God shining through his Son, Jesus Christ, I ask for forgiveness.
"For all past errors, for acts of infidelity, inconsistency, and slowness to act" (John Paul II, "The Coming Third Millennium," 33) I, and all Catholics who wish to join me, ask forgiveness of the Pentecostals. I ask Classical Pentecostals to pray that Catholics will turn to God, believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and "walk in the Spirit" to the glory of the Father.
16-18 March 2000
Society of Pentecostal Studies
Rev. Kilian McDonnell OSB
Saint John's Abbey
Collegeville, MN 56321-2015