In addition to the Biblical, intellectual, philosophical and historical reasons for becoming Catholic, a number of practical, “nature of the institution” considerations have also attracted me to Catholicism.
38. A global, unified Church with special means for communication and evaluation. The world-wide system of episcopal government conforms to the vision of Jesus that the Church be one. Most Protestant denominations have national organizations that are related internationally only through voluntary umbrella organizations that have no actual authority (See John 17:20-24). This world-wide perspective was brilliantly demonstrated at the Second Vatican Council through the presence of so many nationalities among the bishops. This same gift is demonstrated in the periodic synods which are called to consider major issues in the life of the Church. No other church body has similar structure with such catholicity.
Since working in the Catholic Church it has become increasingly clear to me that the hierarchical nature of the Church is a key to its unity. Catholic Christianity makes up about half of all Christians of the world. The other half is divided up into about 25,000 different denominations. I am convinced that the hierarchical structuring of authority provides a principle of unity that Jesus desires for His Church. A Church organization that understands itself to be democratic at its very roots contains the principle of division in self-assertiveness. Limited democratic government can exist within the hierarchical system, such as elections within religious orders and the election of the Pope by the Cardinals or another limited representative body. Christianity at its roots is not democratic but is headed up by Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
39. An openness to respectful dialogue and discussion. The globality of the Church combined with her diversity promotes an opportunity for respectful dialogue and discussion. I believe that this derives from the diversity within the Church as well as its long and complex history. These factors established that there are many manners of expressing the true, the good, and the beautiful. I have found the opposite to be true in particular Protestant groups which either tend to be founded on a dominant theological theme or a common ethnic heritage. Denominational identity can be tied to certain distinctives which are much narrower than the biblical or historical expressions of the faith. An example of this would be the insistence of Baptist churches on the necessity of immersion baptism of adults. This ignores the Old Testament references to cleansing by sprinkling and pouring as well as the diversity of means of baptism present in the Didache as well as the diversity present in the Great Tradition of the Church.
40. Global unity moderates aberrant local cultural influences. The world-wide nature of Catholic decision-making processes helps to overcome the danger of localized cultural influences. For the revisions of the draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Vatican solicited feedback from all the bishops of the world in an extensive process. The diversity of opinions coming from Europe and North America, Latin America, Africa, the Eastern Rites, and the Catholic Churches of the Far East helps to build a teaching and tradition that is truly universal. Doctrines developed in such a manner are less likely to be trapped by one particular cultural perspective, but can genuinely be applied to the one, universal Church of Christ. This diversity within the unity of the entire Church can allow for a sensitivity to legitimate enculturation while clearly identifying eternal values of the faith. To arrive at truth, a creative tension is always necessary. An example of this would be the way in which the feminist tendencies in the United States were tempered in the English translation of the Catechism.
41. Clarity and simplicity in official church documents. Related to this world-wide perspective with its continual dialogue with particular local cultures and multiplicity of languages comes a clarity and simplicity in the official Church teachings that makes the documents eminently readable and understandable. Teachings for the universal Church cannot be couched in the style of any one culture but must be and generally are clearly understandable in cross-cultural setting. Our experience with the new Catechism of the Catholic Church has again demonstrated clarity.
42. Concern for the unity of the entire Church. The initiatives of the Popes since John XXIII in reaching out to the “separated brethren” of all types has been moving to me. The persistent openness and hopefulness of the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” reminds all Christians of Jesus’ high priestly prayer for the unity of His Church, His body.[i] The humility of the II Vatican Council and of the Holy Father to take initiatives in relation to the Orthodox Church was compelling. This ecumenical desire for real organic bodily unity is shared with the many protestant church bodies and is an inspiration to all. Yet it is not to be done in depreciation of the substance of the Catholic tradition.
Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false conciliatory
approach which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its
assumed genuine meaning.[ii]
So often, ecumenical overtures within Protestantism ignore substantial theological differences. Within Catholicism the desire is to move toward unity without compromising essentials.
43. Quality of leadership. The quality of leadership in the Twentieth Century Roman Catholic Church, beginning with Pope Leo XIII is a compelling reason to become Catholic. Pius XII and John XXIII were both extremely able and visionary. The spiritual qualities, the holiness of all these men have been exceptional. Furthermore, the courage, the faith, the vision, and the intellectual competence of John Paul II has been outstanding.
44. John Paul II an exceptional philosopher, theologian and Christian leader. John Paul II brings an exceptional level of excellence to the Papacy because of his profound foundation in philosophy. His philosophy of personalism is particularly rich in helping to highlight the importance of basic human rights and freedoms within the context of a hierarchically structured church. He is able to maintain the importance of objective divine revelation in a system of life which is remarkably sensitive to the individual person. Hence, the Church under his leadership speaks forcefully in defense of fundamental personal rights and freedoms to all those living under conditions of oppression. He demonstrates a truly remarkable range of abilities all the way from popularity with youth to the ability to conduct hard-nosed criticism of powerful, hostile regimes while looking out for the good of the entire Church.
45. The 1983 Code of Canon Law. The Code is an exceptional strength of the Catholic Church that should not go unnoticed. Providing a remarkable systematic legal foundation for the Church, it is, in and of itself, a theological document, harmonized with and clearly based upon the official statements of the Church. The most recent code (1983) is also a profoundly pastoral document, demonstrating a great awareness for the actual living out of its truth. As the last document of the Second Vatican Council, it presents a maturity and depth that is exceptional.
46. The Roman affirmation of the importance of the visible, institutional Church. Some would laugh at the affirmation of Louis XIV when he asserted that “the Catholic Church is as visible as the Kingdom of France.” But the Protestant doctrine of the invisible (true) Church is not well-grounded biblically. The Church is also described as the “bride of Christ.” As D.T. Niles pointed out, “Invisible brides are of no use.” While there are invisible aspects to the Church of Jesus Christ, the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” Church is visible and functions as a spiritual reality within this world.