History of Catholic Ecumenism
from Pope Leo XIII to Pope John XXIII


Since the Fall of Man, human sin has consistently been in conflict with the Will of God. Jesus’ prayer for the unity of Christians has not been exempt from this unending struggle. The consequence of this strife is that Christianity is separated into three major sections: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. Schism, heresy, and as always, sinful pride are the reasons for these divisions. Yet in every age there are Christians sincerely seeking to follow their Lord’s commands; thus, each fissure of the Body leads some to seek a reconciliation. Believers come together to fulfill this desire: this is the ecumenical movement. The present century has seen arguably the greatest number of Christians who have recognized the terrible scandal of disunity and attempted to reunite what has been divided. Protestant institutions have especially involved themselves with this movement, resulting in the creation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. On the Catholic side, one major result of the modern ecumenical movement was Unitatis Redintegratio, a decree dealing with ecumenism handed down in 1964 by the Second Vatican Council. This was the first conciliar document ever to deal explicitly with Catholic ecumenism towards both Orthodox and Protestant brethren.

However, Unitatis Redintegratio was not the start of Catholic ecumenism; in fact, it was not even the first official Vatican statement on the matter.(1) The modern attitude of the Catholic Church toward ecumenism was inaugurated by Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903). After him, official Catholic ecumenism progressed and developed, culminating in the promulgation of Unitatis Redintegratio. The three major themes of this document, dealing with the Catholic concept of unity, the Catholic practice of ecumenism, and the Catholic view of the separated churches, had all been previously addressed by the Roman Pontiffs between Leo XIII and John XXIII (1958-1963). Therefore the document’s position on these three subjects was the result of the many years of Catholic reflection and thought since Pope Leo XIII’s ushering of the Catholic Church into this modern "ecumenical age".

Catholic Concept of Christian Unity

After being lifted up on the cross and glorified, the Lord Jesus poured forth the Spirit whom he had promised, and through whom he has called and gathered together the people of the New Covenant, which is the Church, into a unity of faith, hope, and charity... - Vatican II, "Unitatis Redintegratio", Art. 2

Throughout her history, the Catholic Church has steadfastly stressed the importance of Christian unity. Other non-Catholic believers have also affirmed the need for a united Christianity, but the concept of unity for a Catholic versus a non-Catholic is radically different. The Catholic Church teaches that Christ founded one visible Church upon the apostles, with Simon Peter as its head. Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) affirmed in Mystici Corporis this unchanging tenet of the Church:

He [Christ] entrusted to the Prince of the Apostles the visible government of the whole society which He had founded...for in virtue of the primacy Peter is none other than the Vicar of Christ, and therefore this Body has only one principal Head, namely Christ, who, continuing Himself to govern the Church invisibly and directly, rules it visibly through His personal representative on earth; so that now...that Church is built not only on Himself but also on Peter as on its visible foundation.(2)

This description of the Church is at odds in varying ways with the beliefs of all other Christian bodies. Also, the official teaching of the Church has always been that true unity can only be realized if all Christians are again united to the Roman Pontiff. This strong view heavily influenced the Catholic approach to ecumenism. Until Pope Leo XII, rarely was a praiseworthy word, or even any word, mentioned in papal documents about those Christians not in union with Rome. For example, in 1758, Pope Clement XIII wrote an encyclical entitled "The Unity of Christians" (A Quo Die). Had an encyclical been written in the 20th century with this title, one would assume that it was an ecumenical document. However, this letter deals not with non-Catholic Christians, but rather only with certain disuniting problems within the Catholic Church. In other words, it was assumed in papal documents that unity already existed with those in union with the successor of Peter, so the only discord to address would be the potential factions within the Church.

The disagreement existing between Catholics and non-Catholics with respect to unity can be divided into two categories. The first difference pertains to the governing and visibility of the Church. Both Orthodox and Catholic Christians believe that the Church is a visible entity that was established upon the apostles and has been sustained by the appointment of bishops as successors to the apostles. Whereas the dogma of apostolic succession is disputed by most Protestant Christians; on the Catholic side, popes since Leo XIII have continually defended this key teaching of the faith. Since the conviction of the Church is that Christ Himself appointed the apostles to govern her, Catholic teaching is that he who purposely disobeys them or their legitimate successors is disobeying Christ. Also, only Catholic and Orthodox Orders are recognized as valid.(3) Because of these tenets of the faith, any ecumenical dialogue in which the Church engages will find her defending the belief that true unity can only be achieved in a visibly united church under the leadership of legitimate bishops.

It is true that the Orthodox believe in the divine institution of a visible church upon the apostles. However, they and the rest of non-Catholic Christianity stand in opposition to the second foundational element of the church as Catholics see it: the primacy of Peter. "...that the Bishop of Rome", said Pope John XXIII, "as Peter’s successor and Christ’s Vicar on earth, is the focal center of the entire visible unity of the Catholic Church...is clearly supported by the evidence of the Gospels and by ancient Catholic tradition..."(4) The teaching that the visible church is governed by the bishops with the successor of Peter at the head is strongly reinforced in many papal documents.(5)

Always on guard against a false irenicism among Christians, official Vatican statements dealing with separated brethren clearly and consistently restated that the primacy of Peter is not something that the Catholic Church can compromise on: it is an unchanging doctrine of the faith. In spite of this unyielding belief, however, the Church did not fail to recognize that there were common misinterpretations of this doctrine. Thus, 20th century popes, knowing that the first stage in true ecumenism is the eradication of misunderstandings between believers, attempted to proclaim the true teaching of the primacy of Peter in such a way that all would understand. Pope Leo XIII, for example, realized that many, especially in the East, may have interpreted the doctrine of Papal infallibility declared by Vatican I as yet another step in the process of a papal monarchy. To dispel such fears, he stated:

But if the authority of Peter and his successor is plenary and supreme, it is not to be regarded as the sole authority. For He who made Peter the foundation of the Church also "chose twelve whom he called apostles"; and just as it is necessary that the authority of Peter be perpetuated in the Roman pontiff, so the bishops who succeed the apostles must inherit their ordinary power. Thus the episcopal order necessarily belongs to the essential constitution of the Church. Although bishops do not receive plenary, universal or supreme authority, they are not to be looked upon as mere representatives of the Roman pontiffs. They exercise a power truly their own and are ordinary pastors of the people which they govern.(6)

Considering that the major difference between East and West is the authority of the Pope(7) and the role of bishops in governing the Church, this statement on the authority of all the bishops was a major step toward reconciliation between the two. The road to unity cannot be traveled until key beliefs, commonalties, and differences are clearly and humbly stated.

Catholic Practice of Ecumenism

There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. - Vatican II, "Unitatis Redintegratio", Art. 7.

The rise of the modern ecumenical movement forced the Catholic Church to grapple with the issue of how to relate to Christians who are not in union with Rome. Although the Church has continually emphasized the essentiality of the union of all Christians with the Successor of Peter, the all-too-evident fact is that vast numbers of believing, faithful Christians are not within this union. With the prayer of Jesus "that they may all be one" speaking to their hearts, the popes of the past century increasingly tried to develop standards with regard to non-Catholic Christians. These attempts addressed various issues, including the relationship between ecumenism and apologetics; the proper level of Catholic involvement in Protestant ecumenical movements; and the effect reunion would have upon the Catholic Church.

The teaching of the Catholic Church has always been that she possesses the fullness of the Christian faith. Implicit in this belief is that those who do not hold all the Catholic teachings are thereby in error in one way or another. This would necessarily include all non-Catholic Christians. Thus, in order to bring people into the Catholic faith, apologetics is necessary; however, ecumenism and apologetics are rarely complimentary. Early in this century, "ecumenism" and apologetics in official Church documents still intertwined. Writing in 1894 on the reunion of Christendom, Pope Leo XIII stressed heavily the necessity of non-Catholic Christians returning to the "fold". Regarding the East’s rejection of the primacy of the pope, he stated, "But let them look back to the early years of their existence, let them consider the sentiments entertained by their forefathers, and examine what the oldest traditions testify, and it will, indeed, become evident to them that Christ’s divine utterance, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church’ has undoubtedly been realized in the Roman Pontiffs."(8) Then, addressing Protestants, he proceeded, "Suffer that We should invite you to the unity which has ever existed in the Catholic Church and can never fail; suffer that We should lovingly hold out Our hand to you. The Church, as the common mother of all, has long been calling you back to her..."(9) These apologetic statements were not uncommon in papal documents, yet have no parallel in Unitatis Redintegratio, in which the Eastern churches as well as Protestant churches were not explicitly asked to join the Catholic Church. This is not to say that the Catholic Church changed her position upon the source of true unity; no, she still proclaimed that "Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only".(10) However, in order to foster ecumenical dialogue "worthy of the name", the Church saw that apologetics and attempts at conversion were not appropriate within the context of ecumenism.

Another issue for papal consideration in the first half of the 20th century was the level of Catholics’ involvement in Protestant-organized ecumenical activities. Protestant ecumenical work was more widespread in this century than in any other. With the Edinburgh missionary conference of 1910 that included many different Protestant denominations, the modern ecumenical movement was truly born. Quickly the question arose concerning the extent of Catholic involvement in these affairs. Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) was the first to be forced to address this issue when the Catholic Church was invited to a Protestant ecumenical "Faith and Order" conference in 1919. He refused to participate in this conference; in fact, the Holy Office issued a decree on July 4, 1919 prohibiting Catholics from taking part in conferences dealing with Christian unity being held by separated Christians, unless the Holy See explicitly permitted such participation.(11) This policy continued under Pope Pius XI (1922-1939), who in response to another unity conference, issued the encyclical Mortalium Animos. In this letter Pius XI completely rejected the Protestant Ecumenical Movement of his time: "...it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ."(12)

Following this strong discouragement of Catholic collaboration in Protestant unity movements, however, slow movement toward more active Catholic participation occurred in the years preceding Vatican II. In 1949, the Holy Office issued another decree, entitled Ecclesia Catholica, that dealt with Catholic ecumenical involvement. This document, in many ways, appears as a bridge between Mortalium Animos and Unitatis Redintegratio. Seen in the light of the latter, it appears overly cautious and suspicious; yet in comparison to the former document, progress is evident. One statement in particular from the document reveals this: "They [the bishops] should therefore not only carefully and efficaciously keep this movement under vigilant observation, but also prudently foster and guide it unto the twofold end of assisting those who are in search of the truth and the true Church..."(13) This development reached its culmination with a pronouncement by Pope John XXIII, shortly before Vatican II. For the first time ever, papal permission was officially granted for Catholic participation in the World Council of Churches conference, to be held in New Delhi in 1961.(14) In fact, the Council then went a step further when it not only allowed Catholic participation, but even called such involvement "desirable".(15)

With the hopes of many running high this century for the real possibility of the reunion of Christianity, a number of Church documents addressed whether or not there would be benefits to the Catholic Church should reunion occur. In keeping with the general attitude of Rome toward any reunion is Pope Leo XIII’s statements in Praeclara Gratulationis that heavily emphasized the benefits that non-Catholics will gain if they "return to the fold they have abandoned".(16) This century, however, saw an awakening in Catholics, from the parish all the way to Rome, to the true benefits that their Church would gain by reunion. A sampling of this new development can be seen in these words from Pope Pius XI: "When individual men and whole peoples are thus perfectly reconciled, the conjunction of the Church will at once be perfected through the return of all who for whatever reasons have been separated from her."(17) The benefits to be gained by the Catholic Church from reunion with the separated brethren was explicitly acknowledged in Unitatis Redintegratio:

Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a more perfect realization of the very mystery of Christ and the Church.(18)

This realization by the Vatican that, in some ways, there is something missing from the church by the disunity of all Christians, was a major step toward reunion. For reunion is only possible after all sides realize the great scandal that exists due to fragmentation.

Catholic View of Separated Churches

These various divisions...differ greatly from one another not only by reason of their origin, place and time, but still more by reason of the nature and seriousness of questions concerning faith and Church order. - Vatican II, "Unitatis Redintegratio", Art. 13.

"Two principal types of division"(19) within the body of Christianity have existed since the sixteenth century. These two are the separation between East and West, and the division of the West between Catholic and Protestant. Since the reasons and origins of these divisions contrast so greatly, the Catholic Church has treated each major breach in quite different ways. In fact, the Church has been involved in its own "ecumenical movement" for centuries, making numerous attempts to reunite with the separated Eastern churches, resulting at various times in either success or failure. Many of the Eastern Rite Catholic churches are the successful result of these reunion movements. Two major examples of failed attempts, on the other hand, are the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438-1439). Both aspired to reunite the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and on paper, both succeeded. However, neither in practice accomplished the desired goal, as disunion triumphed shortly after each council. The long history of reconciliation efforts between East and West is demonstrated in the development of ecumenical thought in this century’s official papal documents. The churches in the East - principally the Orthodox - were the primary target of ecumenical discussion. Whereas popes before John XXIII were very cautious in statements directed toward Protestants, many times they showed for the separated Eastern churches unreserved admiration and praise that is not typical in encyclicals. This sentiment led to a greater emphasis in papal documents upon the common bonds that the Orthodox and Catholic share. Statements directed toward Protestants, however, were slow in praise as well as in attempts at ecumenical dialogue.

Separated Christians of the East

The attitude that the similarities between Orthodox and Catholic believers are to be emphasized was first strongly enunciated by Pope Leo XIII:

The difference that separates the Eastern Churches from us is not so great, nay, with few exceptions we are so entirely at one that in defence of the Catholic faith we often have recourse to reasons and testimony borrowed from the teaching, rites, and customs of the East. The principal subject of contention is the primacy of the Roman pontiff...(20)

This emphasis upon commonality continued to be heard from the Vatican after Leo XIII. Certain features of the Orthodox endeared them to the Roman Pontiffs: "They [the Orthodox] have faithfully preserved the greater part of divine revelation. Among them is found a sincere obedience to Christ, a special love of his holy Mother, and the frequent reception of the sacraments."(21) This concept found culmination in Unitatis Redintegratio’s section on the Eastern Christians, which exalted the many characteristics that the Eastern churches have in common with the Catholic Church.

The praise given to the East early this century should not suggest that ecumenical discussion between Catholics and Orthodox was fully developed. Although popes were willing to praise many Eastern traditions and beliefs, Rome did, at times, place the blame for disunity more heavily upon the non-Catholic East. Pius XI, writing in a 1923 encyclical dealing with certain non-Catholic Eastern Christians, stated, "On their side the Roman Pontiffs left nothing undone to bring back these peoples [Eastern Slavs] to the unity of the Church."(22) Also, this same pope freely used the term "schismatic" when referring to those Eastern Christians who are not in union with Rome.(23) These were hardly ecumenical statements of joint responsibility for the divisions of today. Just 42 years later, however, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) signed a joint declaration with Patriarch Athenagoras I stating the co-liability for the separation that exists between Orthodox and Catholics. This was fast development indeed within the Catholic Church.

Clearly this century was one of progress in relation to ecumenism with the East. Virtually no pope since Leo XIII was lacking in praise of the many commendable beliefs and traditions that those Eastern Christians separated from Rome still hold. To be sure, the Catholic desire for reunification had its modern origin in the work of Pope Leo XIII. His longing that the East and West might again be one set the tone for the rest of the century. As he stated, "the yearning desire of Our heart bids us conceive and hope that the day is not far distant when the Eastern Churches, so illustrious in their ancient faith and glorious past, will return to the fold..."(24) So, in many ways, the rescinsion of the excommunications of 1054 between the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople that occurred in 1965 had its conception in the labors of Pope Leo XIII.

Separated Christians of the West

Whereas Pope Leo XIII ushered in the beginning of the modern Catholic ecumenical dialogue with the Eastern non-Catholic churches, official ecumenical moves toward Protestant Christians were not quite so forthcoming in this century before Vatican II. In fact, official statements were at times so ambiguous that some Catholics as well as Protestants wondered if the Church considered Protestants truly Christian.(25) While one can see how misinterpretation in this area may arise, a careful reading of the documents and a placement of them in their historical light makes the true teaching evident. With the vast number of different doctrines and practices that are to be found among Protestants, Rome was hesitant to make any sweeping general statements in this area. However, the Vatican did issue a number of declarations during the reigns between Popes Leo XIII and John XXIII; these statements deal with a number of practical matters ranging from the validity of a Protestant Baptism to the validity of Anglican Orders. On a whole, however, most statements released by the Vatican before the reign of John XXIII did not explicitly attempt to engage Protestant Christianity in ecumenical dialogue.

Today it is assumed by all involved in ecumenical discussions that the issue of whether Catholics and Protestants consider each other Christians is resolved. However, no such assumption existed earlier this century. Many Protestants felt that the Catholic Church did not consider them Christian, and in fact, many individual Catholics agreed with that sentiment. One source of the confusion was the difficulty in some Catholic minds as to whether someone who is technically a heretic (by holding erroneous beliefs) could at the same time be considered a Christian. For example, Pope Pius XII, stating the requirements of membership in the Church, added along with Baptism and possessing the true faith, "those...who have not cut themselves off from the structure of the Body by their own unhappy act or been severed therefrom, for very grave crimes, by the legitimate authority."(26) Interpreting this statement and others like it out of context (of both the encyclical and Church Tradition) lead some to believe that Protestants are not truly Christian. This is not the teaching of the Church. However, in ecumenical discussion, it did not always matter what the official teaching of the Church was, but rather what Protestants thought the official teaching of the Church was. This was the area of development in official Vatican documents. Rome progressively more clearly stated its acceptance of a Protestant Baptism that conforms to certain guidelines. The Church has always affirmed the belief that "Outside the Church there is no salvation", but Pope Leo XIII (later restated by Pope Pius XI) clearly asserted who are members of the Church: "Those who have been validly cleansed by the waters of baptism belong by right to the Church, even if error keeps them apart or disagreement severs them from fellowship."(27) So, the question becomes, what is a valid baptism? According to the Council of Trent, it is a baptism that is performed with the intention of doing what the Church does, regardless of who administers it. The official teaching of the Church has not changed in this area; the development during the years leading to Vatican II is the explicit affirmation of this teaching and the application of it to Protestants.(28)

In reading the official documents regarding the separated Christians of the West, another shift is evident in the time from Pope Leo XIII to Vatican II. The change was from highlighting the errors of Protestants to emphasizing the common beliefs that Catholics and Protestants share. Pope Leo XIII clearly emphasized the errors of Protestantism in Praeclara Gratulationis(29), and of course, in discussing Protestant ecumenical conferences, Pope Pius XI, as seen above, wrote very few complimentary remarks in Mortalium Animos. By the pontificate of Pius XII, however, one can already see some movement toward more approving remarks about all non-Catholic Christians, both in East and West. One statement speaking of Protestants by this pope showed definite progress: "without belonging to the visible body of the Catholic Church, [they] are near to us through faith in Jesus Christ".(30) Common faith in Christ was the key subject of this shift in emphasis. With the increase of so many who are hostile to the Christian faith in the 20th century, the Catholic Church began to realize the important bonds that she truly has with Protestants. Those who have faith in Christ are, in the most important ways, more united to each other than to all those who are not followers of Christ. This increasing recognition of our already-existing unity with Protestants on this significant matter was crystallized under the pontificate of John XXIII. His concern for ecumenical issues was evident. Not only did he allow Catholics for the first time to participate in Protestant ecumenical conventions, he even permitted the presence of Protestant Christians at the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. As is evident in Unitatis Redintegratio, no longer would the Catholic Church emphasize the erroneous beliefs of Protestantism. Instead, she would primarily proclaim the common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord that all Christians hold.


The Church of God, by a wondrous act of Divine Providence, was so fashioned as to become in the fulness of time an immense family which embraces all men. - Pope Pius XI, Ecclesiam Dei, Art. 1.

The "ecumenical movement" would not have to exist if all things were in accordance with God’s Will; if not for the human sins on all sides that caused division, reunion attempts would not be necessary. But these divisions do exist, and to fulfill the prayer of Jesus to his Father, men and women have striven to reunite the separated Body of Christ. Included in those who have sought reunion is the Catholic Church and her popes, especially in the century leading to Vatican II. Recognizing the great number of difficulties that exist between believers, the Church attempted a prudent path that at times was cautious and even suspicious, but always with an eye toward a return to one fold under Christ. Also, since the divisions occurred for different reasons, popes reacted accordingly. Knowing that the non-Catholic Eastern churches are indeed very close to the bosom of the Catholic Church, Rome was quick to praise them and extend a hand of reconciliation toward them. A great love for the Eastern churches is evident in the writings of many popes this century, especially Leo XIII, Pius XI, and John XXIII, and this love translated into many attempts to lessen the distance that separates East and West.

A greater distance, however, exists between Catholics and Protestants. This obvious fact was clearly stated in many ways by Rome during the first half of this century. Though still admitting of these differences, the Church in the immediate years preceding Vatican II more deeply realized the need to strive earnestly for reunion, and thus began to acknowledge the many true beliefs and virtues that Protestants possess.

Two popes especially distinguished themselves for their willingness to initiate ecumenism. Leo XIII, in regards to the East, and John XXIII, in reference to Protestants, were pioneers in encouraging official Catholic involvement with non-Catholic Christians. The culmination of these efforts was realized in Unitatis Redintegratio. This historic document of the Church introduced a new era of ecumenism within Christianity. Much of the distrust which had existed was removed by its openness toward the separated brethren. Although many commentators believe this was the first ecumenical action of the Catholic Church, a closer look reveals that the Church, including many popes, took a keen interest in ecumenical affairs even before Vatican II. The result is that this century saw popes and the entire Catholic Church attempt to follow the prayer of Jesus that "they may all be one".


(1) Due to size constraints, this study will only cover official Vatican statements in this time frame dealing with Orthodox or Protestant Christians in general or with ecumenism specifically.

(2) Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, Art. 38.

(3) The encyclical Apostolicae Curae (1896) by Pope Leo XIII officially declared Anglican Orders invalid.

(4) Pope John XXIII, Aeterna Dei Sapientia, Art. 42.

(5) cf. Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis.

(6) The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, p. 381-382.

(7) cf. The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, Praeclara Gratulationis, p. 306.

(8) The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, Praeclara Gratulationis, p. 306-307.

(9) The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, Praeclara Gratulationis, p. 311.

(10) Unitatis Redintegratio, Art. 1.

(11) George Tavard, "Two Centuries of Ecumenism", p. 117.

(12) Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos, Art. 8 (emphasis added).

(13) Cited in Robert McAfee Brown, "The Ecumenical Revolution", p. 54.

(14) Brown, p. 54.

(15) cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, Art. 8.

(16) The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, Praeclara Gratulationis, p. 306.

(17) Pope Pius XI, Ecclesiam Dei, Art. 22 (emphasis added).

(18) Unitatis Redintegratio, Art. 4.

(19) Unitatis Redintegratio, Art. 13.

(20) The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, Praeclara Gratulationis, p. 306

(21) Pope Pius XI, Rerum Orientalium, Art. 18.

(22) Pope Pius XI, Ecclesiam Dei, Art. 5 (emphasis added).

(23) cf. Pope Pius XI, Ecclesiam Dei, Art. 9,10, etc.

(24) The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, Praeclara Gratulationis, p. 306.

(25) Gregory Baum, That They May Be One, p. 38.

(26) Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, Art. 21.

(27) Pope Leo XIII, Annum Sacrum, Art. 3; cf. Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas, Art. 18. (emphasis added)

(28) A practical example of this is the case of Fr. Feeney of Boston in the 1940’s. Responding to Fr. Feeney’s belief that only baptized Catholics can go to heaven, the Holy Office responded in 1949 with the "Boston Letter" which clearly stated the possibility of salvation to those who are not formally Catholics. cf. Baum, Appendix 1.

(29) cf. The Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII, Praeclara Gratulationis, p. 309ff.

(30) Pope Pius XII, Christmas message of 1941, cited from Brown, p. 52.


Baum, Gregory, Progress and Perspectives: The Catholic Quest for Christian Unity. Sheed and Ward: New York (1962).

Baum, Gregory, That They May Be One: A Study of Papal Doctrine (Leo XIII - Pius XII). The Newman Press: Westminster, MD (1958).

Brown, Robert McAfee, The Ecumenical Revolution: An Interpretation of the Catholic - Protestant Dialogue. Doubleday & Company, Inc: Garden City, NJ (1967).

Carlen, Claudia, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, 1740-1878. McGrath Publishing Company: Raleigh (1981).

Carlen, Claudia, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, 1878-1903. McGrath Publishing Company: Raleigh (1981).

Carlen, Claudia, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, 1903-1939. McGrath Publishing Company: Raleigh (1981).

Carlen, Claudia, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, 1939-1958. McGrath Publishing Company: Raleigh (1981).

Carlen, Claudia, ed., The Papal Encyclicals, 1958-1981. McGrath Publishing Company: Raleigh (1981).

The Encyclicals and Other Messages of John XXIII. TPS Press: Washington, DC (1964).

Flannery, Austin, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. St. Paul Books & Media: Boston, MA (1992).

The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII. Benzinger Brothers: New York (1903).

Selected Letters and Addresses of Pius XII. Catholic Truth Society: London (1949).

Tavard, George H., Two Centuries of Ecumenism. Greenwood Press: Westport, CT (1960).




Order my latest book

Order now!

Invite me to speak

I am available to speak with your group or organization on a variety of topics.

Featured Article

The Nine Levels of Prayer