A pastoral letter from a Roman Catholic cardinal kicked up a flurry of feeling last week over the sensitive subject of Protestant-Catholic relations. Chicago's Cardinal Archbishop, Samuel Stritch, 66, sent out a carefully worded communication to all Roman Catholic churches in Illinois. Its gist: Catholics should not participate, even as observers, in the Assembly of the World Council of Churches at Evanston, Ill., Aug. 15-31.
"There are men outside the church," wrote the cardinal, "professing the Christian name, who deplore the divisions which exist among them. They talk about setting up and establishing a Christian unity, or, as they sometimes say, a unity of Christian action . . . They gather in international organizations; they hold congresses, conventions and assemblies . . .
"The Catholic Church does not . . .
enter into any organization in which the delegates of many sects sit down in council or conference as equals to discuss the nature of the Church of Christ or the nature of her unity ... or to formulate a program of united Christian action. She does not allow her children to engage in any activity . . . based on the false assumption that Roman Catholics, too, are still searching for the truth of Christ." "Negative & Defensive." The cardinal's letter raised some Protestant eyebrows. It seemed to leaders of the World Council to be a reversal of earlier positions assumed by European Catholics and the Vatican itself. "For the absence of a bitter or aggressive spirit from the [cardinal's] letter, we may all be thankful," said World Council Secretary W. A. Visser 't Hooft in a prepared reply. But he expressed surprise that Stritch had not referred "to the official instruction issued by the Vatican on Dec. 20, 1949, which . . . left the door open for certain conversations between Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics ... in ecumenical gatherings, if the necessary ecclesiastical authorization had been given." Catholics themselves, said Visser 't Hooft, had hailed the Vatican directive as an opportunity for the church "to depart from a negative and defensive position ... It was on the basis of this instruction from the Vatican that a small group of Roman Catholic observers . . . attended the World Council's Faith and Order Conference in Lund, Sweden, in 1952."
A Step Backward. From Editor Peter Day of the high Episcopal weekly, the Living Church, came a tarter comment: "It is unfortunate that the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the U.S. is so exceedingly gingerly about contacts with their fellow Christians." More outspoken was the Christian Century, which this week discussed the Stritch letter in an editorial titled "The Gulf."
"This pastoral letter ... is a document of great importance . . . We do not recall another Roman Church document addressed primarily to Americans which equals this in its aggressive declaration of the papal claims," said the Century. Perhaps, it added, it indicates that the Vatican is beginning to "view with alarm the growing strength of the ecumenical movement. There was no such cracking of the disciplinary whip at the time of the Amsterdam Assembly  . . . The Roman Catholic Bishop of Geneva went out of his way to express his good will . . . and the Catholic bishops in Holland approved prayers for its success . . .