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ANTI-CATHOLIC "FRIEND"
Can You Risk Not Knowing the Truth?


A Response to Jimmy Swaggert Ministries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

October 10, 1988
To Whom It May Concern,

After writing my letter, someone asked me, "Do you really think Jimmy Swaggert is worth it?" My propensity is to believe that everyone is worth trying to enlighten to the truth and salvation. The pragmatic part of me fears that it will be to no avail. The mindsets and worldviews that separate us are too different. The issues are considered differently and even the way the Scriptures are viewed is dissimilar. In any case, my perspective is one that would seek to defend and accurately explicate Catholic truths. I have endeavored to maintain sound reasoning and to render an interpretation of the Word of God in communion with antiquity. There is a real difference between this approach and his which centers upon a personal experience of the Holy Spirit and contemporary fundamentalism.

Reviewing my letter, the one item which necessarily requires more weight is in reference to the charges often made against Catholics regarding good works and merit. So often we have been accused of Pelagianism, thinking that we could earn our salvation, apart from Christ. However, we know full well that it is totally God's gift. The Catholic Christian would answer back that whenever he performs an act of charity like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting those imprisoned (both in a prison and in a nursing home), it is really Jesus living and working in us. It is meritorious because Christ is doing it. Without the Lord, all our acts become petty and meaningless.

I wrote this letter quickly, without recourse to any scholarly books, using catechetical materials which I had learned by heart in my academic training. As such, there may be some minor errors, but I am confident that it is essentially accurate.

Perhaps, if the continued distribution of anti-Catholic propaganda is unavoidable, such responses as the one I have made, may be valuable to others? There may be better materials out right now; I know there are several fine books. However, I feel that between the printed media and television, we are saturated with negative materials regarding our faith. All of us need to seek legitimate dialogue with those who are open to the ecumenical spirit. However, we should also be prepared for good old-fashioned apologetics against those who hate us so much, that they would even distort the truth in the attempt to destroy the Church. We are losing people by the thousands. We need to act now in educating our people about the Church and in letting them know that Christ continues to love and to heal them in this two-thousand year old family of faith.

With every good blessing,
Fr. Joseph A. Jenkins


Dear Mr. Swaggert,

The Question

You begin your tract entitled, "A Letter To My Catholic Friends," with a question: Can a Roman Catholic be born again and saved while remaining affiliated with the Catholic Church? (p. 2).  This is indeed an important question. The acceptance of an evangelical interpretation of salvation over the classical understanding might already connote an ideological dissension from the special community established directly by Jesus. Of course, though with the slant that the Catholic Church (with a large "C") would in your appreciation be considered a diabolical institution, you would insist that Full-Gospel Christians evacuate it before forfeiting their immortal souls. I know that there is very little chance to mollify your position in this regard; your anti-Catholicism is infamous. However, even if your mind should be closed to any further intellectual inquiry; I would like to offer my own brief and I trust honest appraisal of your insights into the faith which has brought me to Jesus Christ. I take you for your word when you say that you love Catholics. If it was not for that, I would have no respect at all for you. As a simple man of faith, I must also confess to caring for you with a Christian love which even seeks out the betterment of those who hurt and offend our sensibilities.

Communications Vacuum

You feel yourself entrusted by God with a special burden to the Catholic people. Indeed, in the midst of a vacuum among the Catholic leadership to reach out in the electronic media, you have opted to fill this need. Throughout the world, even in nations possessing Catholic majorities, you evangelize with impunity in regards to pre-existing religious loyalties. It has been my hope that this would shake Catholics to be more aware of their spiritual commitments and less preoccupied by concerns, however important, in the social agenda. Of course, as you have discovered, the great perils in a ministry such as yours is that more faith might be placed in the evangelist than in the message, Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Your recent involvement with scandal has illustrated this dilemma. The recourse which you have taken, and it has been quite wondrously incredible, has been to publicly repent and to continue the ministry. The only thing which has marred this course, has been your excommunication from your own ecclesial community.

You say that you are compelled to speak the truth out of  love for Catholics (p. 3).  However, now that your denomination has disowned you, what checks remain in place to insure fidelity to the Gospel? Private revelation has historically been detailed as the significant theology of fragmentation. One church breaks into two, the two into four, etc. This is a negative witness in the cause of Christian unity. How can we trust that your truth or your interpretation of the truth is the one and only?

Greatest Enemy

You are quite correct when you write that the one who would treat us dishonestly is our greatest foe (p. 3).  Of course, you will later make the connection, though it is hidden here in elusive language, that this enemy is the Roman Catholic Church. However, other evangelists, suffering under serious clandestine sins, have made similar misrepresentations of Catholic faith, a strategy which, if deliberate, is diabolical.  If you have been in such a bondage, and not in the freedom of Christ's Father, then I praise God for your recent repentance and conversion. Of course, God's grace can turn around our minds as well as our hearts and souls.  Otherwise, the conversion is incomplete. The dark subliminal forces which control the lives of many today, also blurs their reasoning toward the truth.  Turning toward your situation, you say yourself that you are no expert in Catholic teaching. If so, how can you so fervently and unreservedly criticize it? The testimony of Catholics who failed to explore the depths of their heritage or the confused rambling of priests and religious who were ill-prepared for the roles they accepted, is not sufficient.

Certainty of Salvation

You rejoice in those who are born-again, and certainly, I also thank God for the opportunities people have to reaffirm their faith in Jesus Christ. However, a point of traditional clash between Catholics and Protestants emerges over the question of salvation. You state that all persons are immediately saved who accept God's conditions for salvation and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior (p. 7).  This analysis of the datum of Scripture and tradition only goes back five centuries. Martin Luther was a man who experienced serious distress over his salvation. He could not imagine how his stern God could possibly save a wretch like himself. He consequently opted for a view that all remain unworthy but that somehow justification is imputed upon us by God since Christ has carried all the weight of our sins. Once we accept Jesus, we are saved. What about the person who later rejects Jesus or who falls into some kind of immorality? The usual Protestant answer, now leaning more towards the Calvinists then the Lutherans, is that such a person really did not have faith to begin with. Otherwise, if such a person died, you might have wicked people among the "saved". According to this view, were you even a Christian when you wrote your tract in 1983? The Catholic view approaches the question with a more dynamic interpretation of human nature. We believe in such a thing as a real faith turning bad. Just as there can be a conversion (toward God); there can also be reversion (away from God). Maybe this is why sacraments like reconciliation and Eucharist are so important in the life of the Catholic? Reaching the goal of our eternal destiny is seen as more of a process than as a one-shot deal. Salvation is thus not absolutely assured although we live in the most optimistic hope of it. Salvation is also understood, not merely as an intensely personal experience, but as a reality which joins one to the Catholic community. This communal emphasis (revolving around the sacraments) is in stark contrast to the inordinate stress upon the individual offered in your reckoning.

Baptism

Allowing the Holy Spirit to flood one's heart and life, being temples of the Holy Spirit, has long been a theme in Catholic baptismal and confirmation theology. I am uncertain, given your interpretation of being born-again, whether or not you would require an act of baptism with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I would hope so, considering that Christ said that unless you be born-again by water and the Spirit, you can have no part of him. We recognize such baptisms in other ecclesial communities and in dire necessity, those without the forms in baptism by blood (martyrdom for the faith) or by desire (wishing but unable to receive the rite). The latter one would seem to be the closest to your line of reasoning. However, I can speak more accurately about the theology of my own faith than yours.

Swaggert vs. Catholic Tradition

You are correct that a Christian who elects to remain in an environment of error will threaten his spiritual growth (p. 10). However, I believe that you take too much for granted in your own theological presuppositions and tradition. Yes, that word "tradition" also applies to your camp. The thought which is your Protestant inheritance, your manner of worship, the wisdom of past religious leaders, and even your own work are becoming the tradition out of which you and your members work. The Catholic Church would argue that the same community which composed and agreed upon the books now called the bible (though divinely inspired) from both oral and written sources, still continues to be lead by the Spirit of God twenty centuries later. The traditions we cling to find their life in the Scriptures.

Open and Honest

The supposition that Catholics are so closed-minded that they would conclude that the Church is impeccable is false (p. 13).
We believe no such thing. The essentials of faith are vigilantly guarded; however, the Church does indeed grow and struggle in human history. The Church which is holy as the Mystical Body of Christ; is also sinful to the extent that men and women are still pilgrims who have not reached the promised shore. We make mistakes. We learn from our follies. We move forward. But, we judge critically and honestly the views of others. Perhaps, before you would criticize the communities of others, you would look much closer to home?

I accept gratefully your statement that you love anyone and everyone who loves and follows Jesus (p. 13). Catholics struggle to do the same for both our friends and for those who cast themselves as our enemies.

Were You There?

You state that the Catholic Church views herself as the one which possess a traceable Apostolic succession (p. 15).  This is true, with the addendum that we acknowledge the antiquity of the Orthodox Christians, too. Although the Catholic Church will refer to itself as the true church, it officially recognizes the baptisms of other communities as efficacious, meaning that there is some degree of ecclesial reality present there. As for Catholics, were you and yours there when the Lord's Supper was secretly celebrated in homes and in catacombs? Were you and yours there when the empire collapsed and the Church struggled to hold society together? Were you and yours there when Christians fought to save Europe from the heathens? Were you and yours there when the monasteries kept learning alive for the eventual revival of civilization? Were you and yours there when a Saint Francis of Assisi sought out the poor and preached peace? Were you and yours there when a Saint Thomas More chose his fidelity to Christ's Church over any mere human institution? Your thinking betrays a failure to honestly review history and the glories of the Church. Instead, you would more readily review its dark sides. However, if the Church has experienced foibles, so have you. You go on to speak about Peter and the Papacy. Interestingly, in reference to the Orthodox, just briefly mentioned, they are divided from the Catholic Church, not by the question of the reality of the Papacy as the Bishop of Rome and "first among equals"; but by concern over the depth of his authority.

Only God Can Forgive Sins

You remark that the Catholic Church holds that only she can forgive and absolve men's sins, and does so through her priests (p. 15).  Again, while touching the truth, this is not an entirely precise statement either. Only Christ can forgive sins! This is one of the reasons why the Jewish elders plotted against Jesus, because he claimed such authority. Their words of condemnation, that only God can forgive sin would become the words of affirmation in the counciliar debates declaring him both human and divine in nature. This is the true faith of the evangelists and the early Church.

Reconciliation

As for the sacrament or mystery of reconciliation today, it is essentially a recognition that sin which afflicts us, both as individuals and communities, needs to be reconciled on both of these levels as well. Sin and its consequences touch us all. When we are not everything that we should be, our witness and solidarity to others is distorted and broken. In the tragedy of scandal in your own life, you surely realize this fact. In response, you humbly asked God's pardon and the forgiveness of your family and friends. After all, as a man of God, more is expected of you. Coincidentally, in the early days of the Church, this mystery of Christ's forgiveness was also sometimes celebrated in a public fashion, although the more scandalous sins were usually told in privacy to the priest. He would support the penitent in offering his life once again to the Lord.

How It Came About

In the first days after Christ's resurrection and ascension to the Father, baptism was stressed as the one of the three great sacraments of initiation (into the Church family) and of reconciliation (to God); the other two being holy communion and confirmation. However, as the Lord delayed his second coming, the problem arose of those who were baptized and then later fell away. Lewd conduct and betrayal of faith to the pagan authorities was an especially painful happening. This testimony came down to us through Patristic writings, some even pre-dating parts of the bible. Many put off their baptism until their deathbeds, for fear of not being steadfast and saved. The infant Church realized the problem and discerned that God would want to offer the apostate at least one more chance for reconciliation. Consequently, second penance evolved. However, again people would delay this return, not only because they were hesitant to commit themselves to Christ in a perfect way, but because the penances for this second chance could be severe and last several years. Moral decline and apathy in faith, as expressions of our sinful nature, moved the Church to further examine the power of Christ to forgive in the community. Recalling that Christ said to forgive seventy times seven times (infinitely), and the power of the "keys" given to Peter, the Church instituted more frequent reconciliation. The sluggishness of the Church to actualize in a more positive way the needs of this awareness, was as said before, related to the fact that early on, many thought the Eschaton was immanent. In addition, the cliquish numbers, small and held together by persecution, tended to be more faithful than the larger numbers which would flood the Church after its recognition (not founding) by the state.

No Magical Powers, Christ's Power

Today, the Church views confession as Christ's special way of forgiving us through the instrumentality of the priest within that Church community which is both nurtured by our holiness and damaged by our sins. The saving action of Jesus is made available through the priest's absolution. The Church, both individually and corporately, is asking Christ to forgive and heal. Left to himself, the priest has no magical powers and may be no better or worse than other men; although, God willing, they like yourself, should always strive for chastity (both for the Western Catholic celibates and for those married among the Eastern Catholics). Ambition, lust, greed, intellectual dishonesty, etc. can be monstrous forces in the corruption of our witness. The sacrament, in a special way, helps us with a guide to see that to which we might be blind, or held in bondage, or even afraid to see.

Other Ways of Forgiveness

The Church, by no means, views the sacrament of confession as the only way to receive God's forgiveness. A simple act of sorrow and contrition, as you made on television, may also suffice. However, the sacrament of reconciliation is seen as a special help for us who are Catholics. Just as the words of Christ come to us through the Scriptures and through his preachers; so too can his caring and healing ministry come to us through these men we call priests, symbols of Christ's presence among us.

Confession - Therapeutic

Indeed, Dr. Scott Peck (a Presbyterian), in his book, The Road Less Traveled, admits that the confessional is a very therapeutic sacrament, too. Not only is it a graced encounter for Catholics, but the mere act of confessing to another fills a deep psychological need for purging the soul of what is vile and guilt crushing.

The Papacy  

In regard to the Papacy, historically, he was first called the Vicar (Substituting Representative) of Peter and only later, the Vicar of Christ. This latter term described how our Lord would use the office of Peter to hold the Church together in a visible representative of Christ. It does not mean to imply that he possesses all of Christ's authority and power as you suggest (p. 16). He has legal and moral jurisdiction as well as what we would perceive as the obligation to exercise certain spiritual prerogatives; if it were more so, as you claim that we hold, he could be an utter dictator and even walk on water at a whim. If it were less so, he would be too weak to do the job God has given him. Such is not the case.

Catholic Unity

Despite the limitations of Peter personally, he revealed definitively at the Council of Jerusalem that his position held swaying power. The early Church would often call upon the Bishop of Rome to intercede and aid them. This became even more pronounced when other sources of authority receded from the picture. The See of Peter, considered unique from the beginning, would grow in prestige and power as subsequent generations passed. Today, although lacking any real material power, the See of Rome stands as the hub of the wheel of Catholic unity.

Infallibility

Infallibility, believed long before it was proclaimed during the last century, was only opposed by those who saw it as politically non-expedient (as it was in certain German states). The Pope cannot predict the weather with certainty or make up new doctrines with impunity. If a Pope teaches what the Catholic Church knows to be heresy, certain early Church authorities state that he would stop being Pope. The ramifications of this are incredible. For instance, the news media is constantly harping upon the feminists' agenda in regards to abortion. They think that the Pope could change the Church's prohibition as easily as he could allow meat on Fridays (which it modified after Vatican II) and priests to marry (which they did up until the eleventh and twelfth centuries). These are mere cases of discipline. The prohibition against abortion is a doctrinal matter. The Scriptural prohibitions and the link of a moral issue (killing a human person) to a systematic statement (the Word became Flesh) are also involved. Every child is a reflection of the Christ-child. Every abortion is an attack against the child born in Bethlehem, not to mention the unborn John the Baptist who leapt in his mother's womb when Mary visited Elizabeth. If the Pope got up tomorrow morning and said that abortion was okay, he would loose his authority. If the Pope taught that Jesus was not God, or that he did not really rise from the dead (as an Anglican bishop recently did), he would cease to be Pope. Fortunately, even when men less than ideal held the office, the Holy Spirit has guided and preserved the Church from serious departure from its Gospel mission. Only in faith and morals, in line with the tradition which helps us to interpret the Scriptures and our Christian identity, and when the Pope speaks from the chair of Peter is "infallibility" operative. It is rarely used. Indeed, the more common infallibility refers to the protection of the Holy Spirit upon the Church when its people and bishops are in unanimity on some subject of faith. This would make the creed infallible for instance. The universal acceptance of the Scriptures as the Word of God would be another instance. Perhaps, to your chagrin, this would also include the validity and utility of the Mass. Even what the holy days commemorate would fall under this infallibility. Thus Christmas (the Incarnation) and Easter (the Resurrection) would be examples, too.

Jesus Our Mediator

As you continue on page 16 of your letter, you make some serious oversimplifications. You state with the careful word "suggests" that Catholic tradition holds that prayer to Mary is more efficacious than the mediation between Christ and his Father (p. 16).  You making a conflict where none exists.  This is not only erroneous, it is heresy and no Catholic true to the Gospel believes it. Sometimes the affectionate term, "mediatrix" might be used, however, it cannot be defined in any way that would take away from the exclusive mediation of Christ to the Father on our behalf. Mary is very special to us, but she is not God. She loves us and we give her respect and honor as Christ's mother. If we are made into the adopted sons and daughters of God in regeneration and initiation, becoming new Christs, then she becomes our mother as well.

Collapse the Trinity?

As for the confusion of the Father with the Son, I have never heard of such a ridiculous thing. It must be a very localized "tendency" if at all. Catholic theology has always made the distinction that our prayer, worship, and service is to the Father, thru the Son, in the Holy Spirit. To collapse the Trinity is another heresy. It is unfortunate that poor instruction and deficient Scripture study should lead to such problems. It cannot be taken as representative of Catholicism. After all, in the denomination to which you once belonged, I recall a fellow minister of yours who was more interested in amusement parks and emotionalism than in solid study and sound doctrine.

Sacramental Real Presence

Although you will probably disagree with me no matter how I speak about the Eucharist; I must take exception to your simplification of this mystery (p. 16). You state that Catholics hold that the bread and wine become Christ's "physical" flesh and blood. Okay, we do believe that the risen body of Jesus is made present. However, I suspect that you mean "physical" in a crude and heretical fashion. The totality of Christ is made present-- his divinity and intact humanity-- however, if the species were indeed transformed into Christ's visible and tangible flesh and blood, we would be chewing on a man's flesh and gorging ourselves on his blood like cannibals. The teaching is that this is a "sacrament" wherein what is missing (the physical or empirical attributes of Christ) is substituted by the accidents (taste, touch, smell, appearance) of bread and wine from the community. The underlining substance or reality of the bread and wine is transformed and becomes Jesus Christ, sacramentally present. Although it looks and tastes like bread and wine, we see the truth about it with eyes of faith. When Jesus explained this coming living memorial to some of his listeners, a few found it too much for them and they left. In the Last Supper, the breaking of the bread on the road to Emmaus, the multiplication stories, and in other Scriptures, we find further supports for the Mass and for our appreciation of the Eucharist. Ancient Romans so misunderstood it that they actually accused the early Christians of cannibalism. Paul in one of his letters even narrates another tradition regarding the Last Supper, according to the form of liturgy which he had been taught to celebrate. The oldest testimony extent regarding the core of the Mass, the words of institution, are in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians "The Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it, and said, 'This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Cor. 11:23-27, written 57 AD). Similarly, the differences in the other versions of the words of institution are attributed by world class Scripture scholars to the fact that the evangelists used the liturgical forms customary in their own communities, forms which were similar and yet varied somewhat from place to place. This most ancient of beliefs regarding the Eucharist was never even questioned until the time of the Reformation. "This -- my body. This -- my blood." These words, closer to the original, since there was no "to be" verb in the language of origin, make the connection even closer. Christ would never leave his friends orphaned. In this living memorial of his Paschal Mystery he would nurture and feed his people in a very real and yet sacramental fashion, until he would come to take us all home.

Celibacy - Discipline, Not Doctrine

Your assertion that tradition decrees mandatory celibacy for priests is true, although this tradition is not as old as the previous one up through the eleventh entury, which made it optional. In the West, because of the growth of the monastic model and problems with scandal, the Church discerned that its priests could best and single-heartedly serve Christ if they remained celibate. However, as I said before, this is not constitutive doctrine but a discipline. Eastern Rite Catholics, also in union with Rome, are allowed in Europe to get married. There are married priests in the Catholic Church!

Catholic To The Core

It is on page 17 that I am tempted to forget that a few pages ago you said you love Catholics. You cannot treat us as if our faith is something extraneous to us. For the true faithful, the Church touches the deepest core of our identity. If you hate the Church, you hate many of us. I know that the presence of our Lord in the Church has always been a great source of strength and encouragement for me. You denounce Catholic traditions as anti-biblical and as an offense against God (p. 17).  You further talk about Catholics burning people at the stake, by the "tens of thousands," as if it happened last Tuesday (p. 17).  Not long ago? Who are you trying to kid? You know as well as I do that during those days, long ago, when religious officials tolerated the executions by the civil authorities of those who shook the accepted religious notions which were a part of the culture, that it was an unfortunate activity carried out by Protestants and Catholics alike. If you and yours were not involved, it was because "not long ago" your so-called (or former church) was not even in existence. Europe was divided under the maxim, whatever the prince, so too the rest of the kingdom. This was the bounty given to us all by the reformation. The reasoning for such punishments in those ancient days was that the person who caused spiritual death in others was seen as culpable as the one who enacted a physical murder.

The Word of God

Problems with the bible, and let us be fair, they only came about with the invention of the printing press, revolved around the canonical numbers of books set in the early centuries and revoked by reformers, and the interpretation (including translation) of the Scriptures. Because of the difficulty in acquiring texts, the Church had long since relied upon its art, stained glass, liturgies, and homilies for the Word of God to be promulgated. Change of habits for an institution already over a millennium in age were difficult. Because of the danger of personal interpretation, especially in regard to the naive, the Scriptures were not often advocated for reading unless commentaries and spiritual guides were available. The way your communities splinter, you must surely have some personal awareness of this problem. The accusation that Catholics were prohinited from reading Scripture is a gross distortion of the truth.

Priests and the Scriptures

If these inaccuracies were not enough, you then assert that the priest's breviary or prayer book is simply an censored or edited bible, and that even the the ministers of the Church are not encouraged to study Scripture (p. 17).  Here my consternation reaches new heights in regards to the credibility of a so-called messenger of the Gospel. The Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer book to sanctify the parts of the day with praise, petition, and thanksgiving. It uses the psalms, arguably the original prayer book of Jesus, and offers readings of edification from the Scriptures and of holy men and women in the Church's legacy. It does not replace the bible, nor was it ever meant to do such a thing! The breviary, meditative prayer, the liturgy, spiritual reading, and most importantly, the Scriptures fill the life of the man who participates in Christ's priesthood. If anything, the lectionary of the Word of God at Mass forces the priest to preach on most all the bible, and not only over certain well-worn passages that Protestants are keen to repeat ad nauseam. The fact that there are such people who fail in their responsibilities is no excuse to condemn a whole order of the faithful who put aside all else to follow Jesus Christ and to serve his people. With no wife or children of his own, the People of God become most dear to him as his sacred responsibility. You short-change these courageous men and do them a great dishonor.

Human and Divine Meet

You attack the credibility of the Church by saying that its doctrines are based upon fictional folklore and made-up human traditions instead of upon God's Holy Word (pp. 17-18).  Given a two-thousand year history, there are bound to be some apocryphal elements to Catholic culture, but the doctrines are safe and solid.  What will they say about you in time? Not only do all faiths have legends, so do nations like the United States. What else is a character like Paul Bunyan? However, even if the imagery is less than realistic, the legends have a message for us, as a people about our rugged American identity, or as a Church, that God has always been marvelously at work in our midst, making even the impossible, possible. Apocryphal? Certainly the bible takes center stage, but other literature, some of it pre-dating parts of the bible, helps us to understand our roots and even to aid us in the proper interpretation of the Scriptures. Sure, we also have some human traditions mingled with the divine. This was what the incarnation was all about. Guided by the Spirit, the human and the divine meet in the Catholic Church, in us as individuals, and among us as a corporate body of believers. However, to say that such things have no basis in the Word of God is another falsehood. Indeed, it comes after such a long list of errors that I must wonder about whether you are intentionally dishonest or just incompetent in religious matters? In the parts of the Mass, in our prayer, in the official documents of the Church, the Scriptures are our life's blood. I would rather place my trust in the Word of God as evoked in the believing community of God than in mere empty and false human rhetoric. 

Calling the Kettle Black

Considering your personal history, you have some nerve in accusing Catholics of vile immorality and intellectual laziness.  We all have to be careful not to play the part of the Pharisee.  Relics and cultural traditions are not to be a poor reflection upon the immense depth of Catholic wisdom. These things are the signs of affection which show that our faith reaches both into our minds and into our hearts. Sentimentality for the Catholic is not viewed in crocodile tears to coerce the viewers of the electronic media to dig deeper into their pockets; for the Catholic it is an intimate expression of his love of God and neighbor.

The Church Christ Founded

Dear friend, if that is what you really are, how can you maintain that the framework and structural organization of the Catholic Church is not remotely Christian (p. 18).  Historically, most mainline traditions agree, the Catholic Church has existed from the beginning. It is the true faith from which all those who have dissented or from those most appropriately called pretenders originated. Its claims are true. The Scriptures verify not only the sacraments of God's love but also the structure of the Church body. The episcopoi (bishops or elders) succeeded the Apostles themselves. To aid them in their work, especially as the Church grew, they selected others to celebrate the sacraments in their place, while they retained jurisdiction over all. These men were called the presbyters (priests). In addition to help with the work of proclamation and to assist the poor (remember the Hellenic widows) some men were chosen as representatives of the episcopoi, the deacons. This structure, in addition to various ministries involving holy men and women, comes down to us from the most embryonic period in the Church's past. All believers, yourself included, should be open to a legitimate historical record and the honest will of God.

Pope Jimmy I

If you had not been forced by your own community to branch out on your own, you would probably have done so eventually, anyway. Such a direction can be seen in your approach to Catholicism.  You make the dogmatic statement that the Catholic faith is not Christian and that it is not the Church of Christ (pp. 18-19).  Where do you get your certainty, obviously not from the Word of God or history? You get it from yourself, and yourself alone. If there is any spirit helping you in this matter, I assure you that it is not the Holy Spirit.  Is it frightening to have all the checks removed, to be one's own church?  You are now only accountable to God and to your followers.  The latter might be deceived, but nothing can be hidden from God.  I pray that when the fire of God's love judges me, that there might be some polished gold beneath, and not simply ashes.   I believe my Pope is specially protected by the Holy Spirit, what about your papal status?

Christ the Firm Foundation

You quote the text Matthew 16:18-19 regarding Christ calling Peter the rock of his Church without any consideration for the continuing belief of the Church on this point (pp. 20-21). Would God allow his Church to err on such a basic reality for a couple thousand years? No. The fact that this rock in Greek may mean "chip" or really better, "little stone" says nothing about how it might have been translated from the original Aramaic which Jesus normally spoke. In addition, the Rock of the Catholic Church, despite your deception, has always been Jesus Christ. Remember, Peter as vicar is only seen as a steward of Christ's people until he returns again. Indeed, "little stone" would be a welcome title for the successors of Peter who also call themselves, "the Servant of the Servants of God". It is out of this whole appreciation, grandiose in a way quite different than as you might imagine, that we can speak of the Bishop of Rome being given special charge of the "Keys to the Kingdom". The Church interprets this role of making the Kingdom accessible to others as a continuing role of the Church, and not just to Peter personally. The judgment of time shows that the Church has been right all along.

Cheap Shot Against the Papacy

The Popes of the Church assume an office of leadership for a short while and then they go to God, passing on the obligation to another. They amass no personal fortune in their slavery on the behalf of the Church and mankind. Can you say the same? Christians are not immune to the contest between between Mammon and Christ in their lives. Nevertheless, you mock the popularity of the current Pope and the respect he receives from the Catholic faithful (p. 24).

Papal Authority - Your Exaggeration

When you say that the apostle Peter never claimed the power to save or damn others, you infer that the Pope attempts to take to himself such authority (p. 24).  The Pope cannot control our consciences or mandate as if his fellows were robots to blindly follow Jesus. He leads, but it remains up to each of us whether we will accept or reject Jesus Christ. When the Pope canonizes a man or woman as a saint, this is simply a recognition that such a person is with God and that their life stands for us as a witness of what it means to be a Christian and that their new life is one in which they continue to love us and pray with us. The Holy Father shepherds the flock of Christ and aids them in finding salvation in Christ.  The Pope does not say who is damned. Your biblical quotes, out of context, and interpreted more from your personal tastes than from a critical mastery of the texts, are too jumbled to review in their entirety. 

Married and Single Priests

Be careful not to become like those who rejected or subverted Christ's message of old.  Because they were blind, and yet claimed to see, their sin remained.  It is at this point that you tell us that because Peter had a wife he could not possibly be a Pope (p. 26).  There is no big deal about Peter being married, and no secret to Catholics, either.  The Church even has art depicting him and his wife! Who is your source for this lopsided stuff? I can tell you right off, he is no Catholic. Popes were both married and unmarried in the early Church. Priests had this option all the way up through the first thousand years of the Church's history. They were allowed to get married. Indeed, there were canonical regulations regarding the maintenance of the families of priests and bishops. This is nothing novel! So what? The rule requiring celibacy (due to problems of scandal, the need for more devoted clergy, etc.) are simply a matter of discipline -- not doctrine! It could be changed tomorrow! As for Eastern Rite Catholics, they have always had married priests!

Peter Followed Christ to the Cross

There is nothing helpful or of major value in your document. Even the facts are faulty.  You state without reservation that there is no biblical, literary, or historical finding that Peter ever journeyed to Rome (p. 27).  Of course, you have yet to cite one ancient historical document besides the Scriptures. The testimony is beyond a doubt that Peter went to Rome and was ultimately crucified upon an inverted cross. Recent excavation has uncovered what looks to be his tomb. Paul of course would be beheaded by the empire. I have great difficulty that a so-called learned man of God could be so in error.

Unbroken Line of Popes

You interpret the text regarding the power of "losing and binding" in such a strict way that you think it applies to demonic powers and not to sin; with whom do you think our sins put us in league? You continue to misrepresent the Church regarding the forgiveness that comes only through Christ, as if we do not believe this as doctrine. As for the unbroken reign of the Popes, during the first three hundred years there are lists extent and in places of minor uncertainty regarding particular figures, we have the testimony of second, third, and fourth century authorities. The only reason for some minor irregularities in the names is because an underground, persecuted Church is more concerned about its survival than its paperwork. However, what is surprising is the long list of names, even from the first centuries, of which we are quite certain. Nor as you infer, can the Pope make any new doctrines or change commandments -- this includes the one regarding adultery (in thought, word and deed). As for his right to speak, we can all speak for God when we echo what he has revealed to us. Also, millions of people will not be lost over any such foolishness that kissing the Pope's ring could possibly save us. The Church has never taught such a silly thing (p. 30)! Who feeds you this garbage about us? You go on to ask if Peter was the first Pope, who was the second one? It is a challenge paid for by the lists of the early martyred Popes. Now, instead of you giving thanks for men of such courage and faith, you deride them and make them invisible. Linus, Cletus, and Clement would follow Peter. Indeed, a letter is extent from Clement, written about the year 95 AD in which he attempted to restore peace to a community torn by unrest in regard to the presbyteral authority. Could it be similar to the unrest you sow? Irenaeus would identify him as the Bishop of Rome and therefore, the Pope. However, this is not taken to mean that other, helper bishops, like our auxiliaries today, did not exist. Indeed, at one point there is mention of seven bishops there. You would even take away the glorious death of Peter on an inverted cross in 64 AD at the command of Nero, upon which he would follow in the footsteps of the Master. Although all salvation truth finds its source and cannot be contradicted in the Scriptures, the history and therefore the tradition of the Church continued afterwards. It is interesting that you would be willing to accept the history (perhaps) of your faith in your lifetime, but little else before since it is not black and white in the bible.

Development of Doctrine

Despite what your Dr. Lorraine Boettner says about the title "Pope" arising only in 607 AD, the fact is that the prestige and influence of the see of Peter and Paul has always set it apart from the others. Whether or not the Bishop of Rome was called the Pope or not matters little, either then or now. It is the reality and not the title that is important. As for early Popes appreciating the extent of their power, this awareness, as with our understanding of all doctrine, matures in human history. John Cardinal Newman would explain this in his treatise on the development of Christian doctrine, something every educated Christian minister has read. Of course, this does not mean the distortion or repudiation of divine truths. Revelation is given in the Word of God, in time it grows and blossoms.

Being Unmarried - A Normal Alternative

In speaking about priests, you consistently harp about the issue of being unmarried. Is it a sin to remain single and chaste? Jesus did not get married and have intercourse with women, did this erode the effectiveness of his priesthood? Certainly you cannot be a fan of that blasphemous film, "The Last Temptation of Christ," in which our precious Lord is made to look like a bi-sexual, wimpish fool? Seriously, both the single state and the married are natural options; it is only when people engage in unlawful sexual practices that perversion is encountered. As a confessor of souls, I urge people to live chaste and holy lives, to repent from sin; I also beg them to bring their "accomplices" in sin to Christ's mercy and salvation.  It is my trust that you have done similar things in your struggle as a pastor and as a Christian man.  

Juvenile Views of Priesthood and Confession

Did your explanation of priesthood and confession find its source in the ramblings of a confused child?  Or, maybe ir emerged from an adult who never allowed his faith to mature?  I have already explained that Christ is the one high priest in whom the priest in a sacramental fashion represents for the community. In him, it is Christ forgiving sins. To convict the priest and penitent of sinning by participation in the rite is blasphemous (p. 32). If you would only do more translation work regarding the presbyters of the bible and allow for literature besides the bible, the whole picture might become evident. Indeed, if you would only more critically study your bible, problems might be more readily resolved between us. If one were to exclude everything but the bible, then even the reading of your pamphlet would be worth condemnation. Your twisting of Paul's words regarding this issue on page 33 is a disgrace I never thought I would see. Put the passages of the Scriptures in their proper context, and paraphrase them accurately!

Ironic Conjecture Regarding Immorality

Ah, and what about the irony on the top of page 34? You assert that priestly celibacy is itself the cause for the scandal of child abuse and other forms of sexual perversion.  Most priests I have known remain faithful to their promise of chastity and fidelity. Most cases of abuse arise within the dynamic of marriage.  Married men can also suffer from lust in their hearts.  Along with Rev. Bakker, you know firsthand the weakness of the flesh.  Rather than casting stones at others, we should pray and support  one another in our various states of life.  Nevertheless, pamphlets like this one continue to be released.  The world would be a better place if more people had a healthy devotion to Mary as a perpetual Virgin, instead of concentrating on despoiling such young women.   

The Question of "Father"

Finally, regarding the priesthood, you criticize the title, "Father," quoting from Matthew 23:9 (p. 34). Did you never call your male parent, "Father"? A priest in a special way is a spiritual father to many. His responsibility is not divided between a family of his flesh and blood and that of the Church. The People of God are those in whom he loves and serves Jesus. From the early morning mass to the late night sick call, he is there and he is a part of them.

Christ Died Once and For All

I wish you could get your facts straight! Each celebration of the Mass is not a NEW sacrifice of Christ (p. 34).  Once again, this is not the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church! It is heresy and has been condemned over and over again! Christ died once and for all as a perfect and acceptable sacrifice to the Father. Let me give you a quick and grammar school explanation of what you are confused about. The Mass, which Christ asked us at his Last Supper to do in memory of him, was connected even in the Scriptures with his coming ordeal and the cross. By the way, this command of Christ institutes both the Mass and the priesthood. This connection between the Last Supper and the Cross continues in the Mass today. However, Christ cannot be put to death again; as risen, he is now beyond suffering and death forever. This is unalterable Catholic doctrine and elementary Christology. The Mass is seen as a living memorial, making present what it signifies in a sacramental fashion. To use a modern analogy, it is like a time machine, suddenly the one thing which was missing at Calvary, our union to Christ and our submission to the Father, is provided. The veil of the years are torn aside and we are there. We experience the sacrifice behind the signs of the sacrament in an unbloody fashion; however, it is the very one and same experience which Christ endured once and for all. It can be a deep theological concept. What is interesting is that even the Christians of the Scriptures, without any sophisticated philosophical categories, could come to appreciate this deep mystery. It is at the core of the gift of faith. If you cannot see evidence in history or Scripture supporting it, then you are too resistant to convince about anything. Your words on page 36 regarding this are dangerous for their persuasive disregard of the truth. I am a good bible student as well as a reasonable historian; I see evidence in the bible as well as in other literature, some contemporary to it. Have you never read these? Just as an academic exercise, are you familiar with The Apostolical Traditions by Hippolytus? If not, I would sight it as but one more example of your lack of reliable data. He offers us in the earliest centuries one of the first written records of Christian practices as well as a liturgical prayer (used at Mass).

The Mass - Christian Worship From the Beginning

The apostles celebrated the Mass in union with a regular meal. This agape (love feast) was ultimately shortened due to a lack of sharing and the difficulty of feeding a growing community. This "eighth day" (Sunday) celebration took on additional importance when the Jews believing in Christ were exiled from the synagogues (Saturday).

Sin and Grace

Catholic doctrine does not say that one becomes saved through confession (p. 35). I believe I explained earlier the Catholic position here regarding hope. Being in "a state of grace" or filled with God's presence is different. Let me offer an illustration.  A man is filled with faith as his Lord and savior.  He is baptized (born-again), becoming a Christian with all his sins forgiven. However, even as a good man, he might occasionally commit little or venial sins. His general direction still tends toward God, although small sins have the tendency to expand into larger ones. Simple acts of contrition would suffice to cast off the yoke of these transgressions. However, when he begins to plot infidelity and later in its commission, he sins mortally, committing sins of a more serious nature. Vice supplants virtue and iniquity displaces grace. Only he and God can read his soul with perfect accuracy to say whether he has made a fundamental option toward or away from God. However, there are hints. Is he dishonest? Is he manipulative? Is he selfish? If more and more of these answers are contrary to God's will, then a state of grace may indeed be lost and an actual hatred for God and neighbor could be nurtured. What do you think would have happened to such a soul if the man died from a heart attack while commiting a serious transgression like reading pornography or indecent
voyeurism? Note that for Catholics, the regeneration of baptism is not repeated with subsequent baptisms, even after serious sin. It has a permanent character and in this sense is similar to the Protestant notion "once saved" then "always saved". However, Catholics hold that a good faith can sour and one can renege on the gift of salvation.

Repetition and Belief

It is at this point that your letter begins to repeat itself, I suppose with the expectation that if you repeat something long enough, no matter how ridiculous, someone will start to believe it:  that Catholics see Mary's intercession as more efficacious than Christ's (p. 38); that there is a confusion of the Son (our Redeemer) with the Father (p.38); that  Mary could replace Jesus as our Mediator (p. 38); and that veneration of Mary displaces the adoration which belongs to God alone (pp. 38-39).

Mary: The Fruit of a Holy Home

How dare you imply that there is no evidence regarding the parents of Mary when history and common sense offers us valuable data (p. 39)? St. Ann is the name of her mother which comes down to us. Tradition is divided over the name of her husband, although some sources give the name, Joachim. The Church in which I celebrate is named after St. Ann.  [NOTE: And I subsequently worked at St. Mary's Church.]  I take your blemishing of her memory as an insult against this entire community! Do you suppose that Mary had no parents at all? Do you suppose a flower as holy as Mary could have not been nurtured in a saintly home?

Truth About Mary

Your ignorance of Catholic theology regarding Mary is appalling for one who would seek to be critical of it. You state that the first Christians rendered no Marian worship, no prayers to her (including the "Hail Mary'), and knew nothing of the dogma of her Immaculate Conception (p. 39).  The first part of the "Hail Mary' is voiced by an angel.  The Church quickly respondes with the second verse.  The teaching of her sinlessness might have only existed in a most embryonic state, but such would reach a unanimous consensus over the course of centuries.  All these things find their roots in the early Church community. First, neither the ancient Church nor the contemporary one worship Mary in the same way as God; she is a creature, although elevated, and any misplaced worship to her would be tantamount to idolatry! We venerate her as holy and special and as someone who makes Christ especially present for us. We treat her with respect and love. Do you do the same towards the mother of your Savior? Second, the teaching regarding her immaculate conception and perpetual sinlessness are the same. This does not violate the reality that Christ is the only Savior of all, including Mary. The only difference is that Mary would be his first disciple, the first touched by the saving and forgiving power of the cross. For that which we receive in baptism, after the fact of Christ's Paschal Mystery, now reaches backward in time to the very conception of Mary, so that she may from the beginning be a pure and pleasing vessel through which the Lord might enter into the world. She was free and yet she chose to avoid sin in her personal life. This may seem impossible for us who enter the world already tainted by sin, and yet what is impossible for man is feasible for God. This is how the Church sees the problem of her need for Christ reconciled. It is the ancient and eastern appreciation which even makes the Mass, not to mention, the other sacraments possible. The power of Christ cannot be locked into any particular time of human history. It reaches out from first century Palestine and becomes present in our midst today. Third, Mary, as the queen of the saints, is a most perfect window, allowing the light of her son to shine through without any obstruction. Consequently, any prayer directed toward her is presented to the Lord. Indeed, some have said that this window to the divine helps to make the Lord more present to our hearts; her being magnifies (gives glory) to God. Fourth, to say that there is no Ave Maria even in the beginning is to neglect the significance of the angel's words to Mary or of those of the person in the crowd who would one day say a blessing for the breasts that nursed Christ and the womb which brought him forth. Do you recall Christ's response in Luke 11: 28? "Rather," he replied, "blest are they who hear the word of God and keep it." This was no cut down of his mother. It was a veneration of her that excelled the physical reality of her motherhood; before she accepted him into her womb, she had already acknowledged him in her heart and mind. Now, we have the opportunity to be like her, handmaids to God and his will for us. You are quick to point out texts, that would seem to belittle this, but the truth is too clear to be diminished.

Catholics Really Believe in Life After Death

You spend one third of your document on closing comments. To make sure that you attack everything in sight you make some running remarks. You condemn Purgatory as a second chance after death; although it simply represents the final purging from sin necessary in those who have already been gifted (not earned) heaven (pp.41-43). Only those who have not been totally perfected in Christ endure this final weaning from sin and cleansing. If someone hates God and has damned himself, no amount of prayers will save him. I will not quote 2nd Maccabees, realizing that your tradition censored it out of the bible. We pray for these dead because we acknowledge our solidarity to one another. It is the response God wants of us to show our fraternity.

The Saints Reflect Christ

You use dishonestly the style of saying, "I could speak of...," and then speaking your mind all the same. You would discount the prayers of the saints and thus impute a disbelief in Christ's resurrection, that he and all who believe in him, are alive! Easter is the great feast which reminds us that love is stronger than death. Those who have gone before us, continue to love us in that one great love of God. Like the answer of a child in a church regarding saints, she looked at the stained-glass, and responded, that saints are those who let the light shine through. This is the kernel of this mystery. That as new Christs, the saints are totally and completely dedicated to Christ. The Light of Christ, and no other, shines through them to us. We even find examples of this in this life with certain special people who are so filled with the presence of Christ that we feel the divine very near. We ask their prayers and help above just as we would ask a friend who is still in pilgrimage with us here below.

Saints are canonized, not with any right or ability of the Church to vote anyone out of heaven, but to offer up good and holy men and women as examples to us of different ways in following in the footsteps of Christ (p. 44).

Valuable Traditions

As for the ancient traditions, I already mentioned that celibacy as mandatory for Western priests only goes back to the eleventh century; you give the date as 1079 under Pope Gregory (p. 44). This and eating meat on Friday are simply disciplines. As for the manner of going to confession, such things are admittedly variable. Even today, there is both the confessional booth, face to face, individual practices, and community penance services. It is the fact of this sacrament and not the manner that is at question. There the early Church and even the bible do speak.

The Church did not simply decide out of air in 1870 at the first Vatican Council that the Pope was infallible. Again, you are repeating yourself (p. 45). God help us, some of the things you say are so ill-conceived! Jumping to the subject of Mary again, you claim that the teaching of Mary's assumption only goes back to 1950 under Pope Pius XII. The whole Church was polled regarding that issue and it was found to conclusively believe it. In regards to the bishops this is a visible example of their unity or collegiality; in regards to the laity, it is what is called the affirmation of the "sensus fidelium" of the Church. The teaching was ancient, although only recently defined. The Orthodox believe it as well, calling it the Dormition of the Theotokos, although they have not issued any kind of official pronouncement. You lie when you say that it was not Catholic teaching prior to 1950. There are even ancient icons which display it. The only controversy regarding tradition was whether or not she died or not. She was held to be preserved from corruption. It was the witnessed experience of the early Church, which had not even formulated the canon of the Scriptures for several centuries yet, that we have preserved and protected. Alongside this, you criticize the teaching of her Immaculate Conception once again, defined on December 8, 1854.

The Value of Art

As for graven images, there is always the danger that the simple will give too much attention to the statue and to little to the figure it signifies. However, the use of Deuteronomy as you have it was not the way the Jewish community of Jesus' time interpreted it. Early Christians, especially in a pagan culture would be careful to either destroy or appropriate statues in order to give them a Christian significance. They should lead us to prayer and not be a hindrance to it. The Orthodox developed icons as sort of a compromise between overly realistic figures and none at all. They would almost even designate icons as being a focus for venerating Christ present in the community. I can see no easy resolution of this issue with Fundamentalists. The Puritanical mind set will never appreciate the ability of art, like words, to help raise one's mind and heart to heavenly matters. As for candles and incense, the candle is an ancient symbol for Jesus, burning himself up to give us light (truth) and warmth (healing). The smoke of incense is connected with our prayers which we also raise up to heaven (pp. 46-47). Your inordinate stress upon the written word might allow some room for the poetic, then why not for the artistic as well?

Look in the Mirror - You Are the Cult

Dear friend, the Catholic Church is 850 million and counting, [NOTE: a billion now] reaching the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In comparison, you are nothing. When your days are through, you and your cult, will disappear like so many others before. You and your personal and often fraudulent interpretation of the Gospel claims not merely parallel authority, but even worse, seeks to be in competition to the Word of God. We are no contempoary cult, but the Church of Jesus Christ (p. 48).

More Deceit

Over and over again you repeat your untruths. The timelessness of the maturing truths of the Church stand in contradiction to your opinion that they are fickle and change yearly (p. 49). Quite frankly, most dissenters are upset because the Church is so staunch in upholding the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Wholly Holy Catholic Bible

Your haranguing becomes virtually impossible to endure in the final pages of your letter. You say the Catholic Church has no authority and that the bible was never delivered to it (p. 50). And, I say to you that the churches written to in the Scriptures were indeed one and the same with the Catholic Church of today. We are in communion with them just as the various local churches were in communion with each other then. It was members from this one faith that we have the various letters and Gospels of our New Testament. One Catholic evangelist recently joked, "It was a pity that we Catholics did not get a copyright on our book!" There is truth to this. It was even the Church which would decide which materials to include in the bible. Indeed, some of the literature of tradition, and therefore not viewed as inspired by God, was the Didache (which almost made it), the Revelation of Peter, and the Shepherd of Hermas. It was only with the Synod of Rome in 382 AD (West) and the Synod of Carthage in 397 (East) that the present canon was set.

You Discount Holiness

After this interlude regarding the bible, you return to your objections to the Popes, Bishops, Priests, and Apostolic Succession; you mention confession for the third or forth time; and you reject the value of tradition. You discount the holiness and wonders of the Church to criticize what you consider to be iniquity and unthinking superstition (p. 52). And yet, is your camp any better off by accepting a fundamentalist approach to the bible, neglecting the various literary styles, use of hyperbole, myth, and poetic license? Are your members better off shaking in the ecstasy of only God knows what kind of spirits moving them? Are you and they any less sinners? Can you say this?

Gift's From God's Church

You say that the bible does not rest with any denomination; to an extent this is true (p. 52). The Catholic Church has offered it to the world, not to be distorted, but to be raised up as the standard of our faith and as the Word of God. However, when you extend this argument to the "keys" or authority of the Church, you fall straight on your face (p. 53). You would seek to steal these keys from Peter and take unto yourself the special authority to wield the Scriptures. You will not take advise from your own leadership or from any one else's. You denigrate and mock the first of all Christian communities, the Roman Catholic Church. You decry her as the anti-Christ, and thus jeopardize your soul by aiding the atheists and bigots of the world in their two-thousand year quest to destroy the Church founded by Jesus. I am fearful of what will become of those who folow you.  Will their ignorance save them?  Will it save you?

Incompatibility with Catholicism

You acknowledged that many of your Catholic friends would be angered by this message and never turn to your television program again (p. 55).  Maybe this is for the best?  You make clear that you view it as impossible for the Catholic Christian priest, nun, or layman to be both loyal to you and to remain in the Catholic tradition. Here is honesty at long last.  I promise that in Christian love and charity, I will continue to pray for you. Sincerely Yours in Christ,

A Catholic Friend



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Revised on August  3, 1998.