I wrote this as a comment in another forum, but it has application in talking about my recent posts about Peter Leithart.
I recall an article written with some distress by the late John Richard Neuhaus in his “Public Square” column entitled Setback in Rome, regarding Rome having squelched some aspect of “progress” regarding the “Joint Declaration” with the Lutherans. And I recall writing somewhere that there will always be “setback in Rome”. Here’s that bold ecumenist, Neuhaus:
These developments received considerable play in the general media with stories about an “historic agreement” on the chief doctrine that had separated Lutherans and Catholics for almost five hundred years. The reality is somewhat more complicated than that.
Rome did officially “receive” JD in the sense that it affirmed that very significant progress had been made in removing past misunderstandings, and in moving toward full agreement on what it means to say that the sinner is justified by faith. However, many of the Catholics and Lutherans involved in producing JD are saying—mainly off the record, for the present—that the Roman response is, in the most important respects, a rejection of the declaration. JD proposed that, with the new understandings achieved by the dialogue, the mutual condemnations of the sixteenth century no longer apply, and remaining differences over the doctrine of justification are not church-dividing. The Roman statement does not accept that proposal.
It would be an understatement to say that the theologians involved in the dialogue, both Lutheran and Catholic, were taken aback by the Roman response. During the process, Rome had indicated problems with aspects of the declaration and, almost up to the last minute, revisions were made to take those concerns into account. The participants in the dialogue thought they had been assured that JD would be approved by Rome. Certainly that was the understanding that informed the LWF’s approval of the declaration. In the immediate aftermath of the statement by CDF and CCU, the mood among dialogue participants was bitter and despondent. One Lutheran pioneer of the dialogue declared that the theologians, both Lutheran and Catholic, had been “betrayed” by Rome. For decades to come, he predicted, it would be impossible to reestablish confidence in any theological dialogue with the Catholic Church.
The reasons for this are many. First, any “agreement” with Rome is no good except that you swallow the whole Roman ball of wax. I wrote about it in this blog post, and more recently, you will see what I mean in this post from the Anglican Contiuum blog,“Baitticum and Switchorum”, regarding the Roman initiative “Anglicanorum Coetibus” which offers Anglicans the opportunity, sort of, to become Roman Catholics while retaining their identity as Anglicans. Except, as this Anglican writer noted (and has written extensively about), no matter what overtures are made, you accept Rome on Rome’s terms. If Rome leads you to think you can make nice with Rome on any terms other than Rome’s, it is offering you a bait and switch. [But that's ok, because dishonesty in the service of Mother Rome is acceptable.]
The Reformation occurred within a specific historical era, with very sharp doctrinal lines being drawn. Even Martin Luther was clear about that. It’s not like “we've got liturgical errors, they've got liturgical errors”, and so our errors are just a wash. In the midst of it were genuine doctrinal disputes. Someone was right, someone was wrong. And from a Scriptural point of view (not just “my interpretation” but the broad interpretation of the entire Protestant world, as well as the Orthdox world), Rome is wrong on a number of things.
Further to that, Rome didn't make an attempt to explain its own doctrines as “correct”. It asserted authority. It said, “We're in authority, and what we say, goes”. That's a bogus way to do business.
Accepting Rome on Rome’s terms is no good at all in the historical situation of the ongoing Reformation. Rome has not made a single doctrinal concession since the time of the Reformation, and in fact, in the Vatican I era, it entrenched its own bankrupt position.
Vatican II put a pretty face on, but its situation, vis-à-vis the truth of the gospel, has gotten worse, not better. But Leithart seems to be rushing full steam ahead, unaware of these types of warnings, and worse, he’s in a position to suck believers down with him.
In reality, I do not believe we should be negotiating with Roman Catholics in any way. Looking for “areas of agreement” is not in any way going to solve the problem addressed by the Reformation. I recognize that some Reformed Protestants know Roman Catholics, and we should not fail to interact with them in the world – at work, in our neighborhoods, in the voting booth. But we should never cease to understand that not only is the official “Roman Catholic Church” officially an apostate, but it is dogmatically committed to its own position. One might appreciate Leithart’s efforts to be friendly, but it seems to me that any efforts to try to somehow “find agreement” with Rome, while still trying to retain some semblance of a Reformational posture, is naive at best.