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Storm Warning: Chapter 6

Lumen Gentium

Christian imperialism

Mary Jo Leddy recalls a “shocking” incident which she desribes as “one of the worst moments of my life.” It occurred at what she calls a “great interfaith service” in Edmonton during the papal visit in 1984. While she and Anglican Primate Ted Scott listened in stunned disbelief, she says, Pope John Paul II addressed an audience of Christians, Muslims and Jews, speaking “on the liight of Christ and how this was the light of the world, the only light.”

He spoke on the way of salvation and redemption as if he were preaching in the Catholic Church . . . It was Christian imperialism, and blatantly so.

Scott commented that the Pope’s statements seemed unrepresentative of “the view of the Church since Vatican II.” As Leddy tells it, she struggled to overcome the Pope’s ‘Christian imperialism’ by explaining to CBC listeners “the teaching of Vatican II. . . on the questions of non-Christian and other Christian churches.”1 Leddy was scandalized because the Holy Father proclaimed the Gospel at an ‘interfaith’ service that had been “worked on by a whole year” in an Archdiocese “known for its ecumenical, grass roots theological dialogue.”2 She claims, in effect, that the Pope trampled upon the work of the Archdiocese and ignored conciliar teaching.

One of the worst moments of Leddy’s life: a closer look

Service-coverThe Evening Prayer Service was held at St. Joseph’s (Catholic) Cathedral in Edmonton on 16 September, 1984. Archbishop Joseph MacNeil explained that it had not been advertised as either an ecumenical or interfaith service and that those invited “understood that it was a prayer service based on scripture.”3

Among the 1,100 people who attended the service were about nine representatives from non-Christian religions. Two rabbis and a Muslim jointed fifteen Christian clergy in the sanctuary.4 Leddy’s embarassed outrage at the Holy Father’s homily is an example of the absurdity of the ‘pluralism’ advanced in politically correct circles. For fear of ofending nine non-Christians present, Leddy expected perhaps 1000 Christians gathered on a Sunday in a Catholic cathedral with the Vicar of Christ to profess something less than their faith. There is not a shred of evidence that the non-Christian guests expected such a thing. Leddy would not dare to make a comparable demand of 1,000 non-Christians.

Of their own accord, the nine non-Christians who accepted the invitation to the Basilica joined what they knew would be a Christian prayer service where they would be overwhelmingly outnumbered. That is not the conduct of wilting violets. They were not hapless viticms of circumstance in need of protection by self-appointed thought police. Gratitude for their presence is in order; condescending hypersensitivity is not.

The service planned by the Archdiocese of Edmonton included the praying of Psalms 103 and 141, the Lord’s Prayer and the Magnificat. The reading was from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. And the service opened with a “Celebration of Light:”


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As daylight begins to fade, the Christian community is invited to come together to praise the Father. . . We ask Christ our light to bring our praise to the Father.5

The rubrics called for the lighting of the Paschal Candle by the Pope, and the sharing of light from the candle while he sang the opening words: “Jesus Christ is the light of the world.” After the response (“A light no darkness can extinguish”) came the hymn, Radiant Light:


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O radiant light, O Sun divine
Of God the Father’s deathless face,
O Image of the Light sublime
That fills the heavenly dwelling place. . .6

Leddy is thus dishonest when she attacks the Holy Father’s homily as “Christian imperialism” that spoiled the service planned by the Archdiocese. She is also inconsistent in attacking the Holy Father while ignoring the distinctly Christian nature and setting of the service prepared by the Archdiocese. Perhaps she will have more to say after the Archbishop of Edmonton is safely dead.7

However, such inconsistency is of less interest than her principal charge. She does not merely think that the Pope took insufficient notice of non-Christians present. She attempts to convince the reader (via Anglican Primate Ted Scott) that the Pope’s address was unrepresentative of Council teaching: specifically, the teaching in Nostra Aetate. To test this accusation one need only examine the words of the Second Vatican Council.

The Council: Christ the light of humanity

One should begin with the doctrine stated in the first sentence of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, from which the document takes its Latin name: “Lumen gentium cum sit Christus . . . – Christ being the light of humanity. . .”

This teaching was repeated tirelessly by the Council. Jesus Christ is the “Alpha and Omega,”8 “the image of the invisible God [in whom] all things come into being . . . before all creatures [and in whom] all things hold together . . . [who] rules heaven and earth.”9

The life of Christ is of importance not only to Christians, but to the whole human family. Vatican II noted the traditional teaching about the salvation of those in invincible ignorance,10 but it proclaimed Jesus as the “true mediator between God and men” sent for the salvation of all,11 “the key, the centre and the purpose of the whole of man’s history,”12 “the joy of all hearts, and the fulfilment of all aspirations,”13 “nor is there any other name under heaven given among men by which they can be saved.”14

The inimitable and supreme role of Jesus Christ in the redemption of the entire human race was thus explicilty affirmed by Vatican II.15 That apostolic doctrine is the cornerstone upon which the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity rests16 and an indispensable part of the Council’s declaration on Catholic relations with non-Christian relgions.17 The authors’ denunciation of Blessed Pope John Paul for so-called “Christian imperialism” at odds with Council teaching deliberately omits reference to these and similar Conciliar statements.

With respect to Nostra Aetate, it will suffice to place side-by-side the Holy Father’s ‘objectionable’ statements with relevant parts of the decree. In this case, it will be up to the reader to distinguish one from the other. The sources of the excerpts are identified at the end of the chapter.

God. . . acts through the community of people whom he predestines to be his own. [This occurs] first in the history of the Jewish people. Through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and in particular through Moses, God called a people to belong to him in a special way. [Source A]

The Church . . . acknowledges that in God’s plan of salvation the beginning of her faith and election is to be found in the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. [Source B]

Christ out of infinite love freely underwent suffering and death because of the sins of all men, so that all might attain salvation. it is the duty of the Church . . . in her preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s universal love and the source of all grace. [Source C]

[The New Covenant was established with] the Blood of Jesus, the Blood of the Lamb of God, the Blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant, our Saviour’s Blood, which is the price of our redemption and the most eloquent expression possible of the love of God for the world. [Source D]

Christ . . . is the way, the truth and the life. In him . . . men find the fullness of their religious life. [Source E]

Christ . . . we proclaim as the supreme manifestation of God. The presence of God is embodied in its fullness in Jesus of Nazareth. [Source F]

The Pope’s last words that night echoed the first words of the service planned by the Archdiocese, and the very first words of the Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church:18

[We praise God] in union with Jesus Christ, who remains forever the light of the world, and who offers us the light of life. 19

A fair-minded critic concerned about non-Christian sensitivities would have noted that the Pople “later went out of his way to make amends” for any unintended slight.20 An honest critic who had quoted Anglican Archbishop Scott a the Edmonton service would have referred to one of his later remarks: “The Pope provided real encouragement and support to the Canadian ecumenical movement.”21

The authors of In the Eye of the Catholic Storm do neither. Instead, Leddy’s studiously incomplete description of “the worst moment” of her life is merely a foil for their central premise: that the Catholic Church is not the true Church.22

Source A: Address of Blessed Pope John Paul II (see note 5)

Source B: Vatican Council II (1965) Nostrae Aetate, 4

Source C: Vatican Council II (1965) Nostrae Aetate, 4

Source D: Address of Blessed Pope John Paul II (see note 5)

Source E: Vatican Council II (1965) Nostrae Aetate, 2

Source F: Address of Blessed Pope John Paul II (see note 5)


1. Leddy, p. 140, 141

2. Leddy, p. 140

3. Argan, Glen, “Pope cools heat by noting ‘divine dimension.'” Western Catholic Reporter, 24 September, 1984, p. 13

4. From the records of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton Chancery Office Archives. Letter from the Archivist, dated 3 September, 1992.

5. Archdiocese of Edmonton booklet, His Holiness Pope John Paul II – Evening Prayer Service. Edmonton, 1984: Celebration of Light

6. Ibid, Radiant Light

7. Leddy, p. 123

8. Vatican Council II (1966) Gaudium et Spes, 45

9. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 7. See also Lumen Gentium, 7; Gaudium et Spes, 22.

10. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 16

11. Vatican Council II (1966) Ad Gentes Divinitus, 3

12. Vatican Council II (1966) Gaudium et Spes, 10

13. Ibid, 45

14. Ibid, 10

15. Vatican Council II (1963) Sacrosanctum Concilium, 6; (1964) Lumen Gentium, 17; Unitatis Redintegratio, 2; (1965) Christus Dominus, 2; Gravissiumum Educationis, Preface; Dei Verbum, 7; Aposotolicam Actuositatem, 2; Dignitatis Humanae, 1; Ad Gentes Divinitus, 5; Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2

16. Vatican Council II (1965) Ad Gentes Divinitus, 2, 3, 10

17. Vatican Council II (1965) Nostra Aetate, 2

18. Vatican Council II (1964) Lumen Gentium, 1

19. Address of Pope John Paul II at St. Joseph’s Basilica, Edmonton, 16 September, 1984. Printed in the Canadian Catholic Review, October, 1984.

20. McKay, Shona, “A bold new endoresement of stronger interchurch links.” MacLeans, 1 October, 1984, p. 46

21. Ibid

22. De Roo, p. 142

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