In the last line of the Gospel Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Sixty-three years ago our Dogmatic Theology professor, Father Kevin O’Doherty, asked me if those words meant that Protestants were working with us, but I didn’t know how to answer the question. Let me explain.
Sixty-three years ago in 1950 Vatican II was still twelve years in the future, and our professors were intolerant of liberal suggestions from us seminarians. (Looking back on it now my belief is that knowing how severe the Curia was in punishing liberal notions, our professors were trying to protect us from getting into trouble with Rome.)
When any exam question from Father O’Doherty’s called for us to give the proof for a specific church teaching, he demanded that we write out the decrees from church councils that supported the thesis. We also had to write the church’s catalogue numbers for those decrees.
But, getting back to that evening, it was the only time in flour years that I caught Father O’Doherty off guard. He had been engaged in private soul searching, and he hadn’t been able to get back into his tough priest mask. I had been surprised when he referred to the Protestants as our fellow Christians, rather than as heretics.
Not knowing how to answer his question, I stood there until he said, “Alright, Thomas, you can go back to your studies.”
The memory of that night has me feeling how blessed we have been with Vatican II. I particularly like one sentence from its Decree on Ecumenism: “Very many of the elements which give life to the Church itself can exist outside its visible boundaries; such as the written Word of God, the life of grace; Faith, Hope, and charity: with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit.”