Wednesday, 21st June, 2000

The following letter was written by Peter Holmes to Marco Vervoost. Peter has given it to me to reprint. I think it is an admirable statement of the problem.

[Nb. I think this is the first time that Peter rates a mention in this journal. Marco has already rated a mention (see his blog site here). At about this time, Peter joined P. and me to read the Gospel for the coming Sunday in Latin each week. Peter is now a Catholic, working for Catholic Adult Education Centre in Sydney. Marco, as you will already be aware, is an Anglo-Catholic Anglican priest. Both Peter and Marco were still Lutheran pastors when this letter was written].


Dear Fr Vervoorst,

I've been thinking through the 'catholic' thing. I assume of course that you realise by 'catholic' I mean the one true, genuine. orthodox, faith passed down from the apostles.

Follow me here for a few lines:

If we are in the Lutheran church there are three main ways we can talk of the 'catholicity' of our church:

1. We ARE the true catholic church on earth (Proposed by most dogmatics texts I've read by Lutherans)
2. Being Lutheran is the best way to BE catholic
3. Who cares about catholicity, we decide what is true anyway!

I used to be pretty stuck on the second option. But I'm thinking it through more and more now. If the Lutheran Church is the BEST way to be catholic, then at what point does it cease being the BEST way to be catholic? Women's Ordination, or long before that? And if so.. which church then 'becomes' the best way to be the true catholic church.

This presents another problem. If I can simply choose a 'BETTER' church to best be catholic, then what makes the particular group the 'right' one? My choice? My decision that they are closest to what I perceive the 'true catholic church' to be? I know I could suggest that I either create a group, or join a group that reflect what I believe is the truth. But this is basically saying I can decide what is true or not by my own understanding. If this is the case, how am I different from any of the splinter groups from the 1960's, or even the sectarian/Congregationalist groups about the place?

The apostolic succession thing doesn't seem to hold much water if it is used in isolation to communion with Rome. It is either a succession of teaching (in which case we cannot deviate from whatever is apostolic teaching - which again seems determinative) or it is a living apostolic authority passed down from the apostles time to this day.

The 'catholicity' of a succession of 'apostolic teaching' seems determinative (if that is the right word). And yet, to claim some sort of 'apostolic succession' without any real communion with the church from which it all originates makes me wonder about it's catholicity. The fact that some bishop happened to lay hands on another hardly holds any water if (for example) he has been excommunicated by the church before the event. The apostolic authority is surely void as soon as the bishop is condemned by the church which gave him that authority declares he is teaching heresy? Surely to be valid, the apostolic successor must be in communion with the church from which he claims succession?

Let me know where my arguments went off the rails please?



Monday, 20th June, 2000

Well, it’s been ten days since I wrote in this journal, and some things have happened since.

Firstly, I received a reply from G. to the email I sent him (see my entry for the 10th of June). Here is my reply to him:

Dear G.

I respect that it took you a while to be able to respond to the last email. I also am actually glad you rang P. –he and I have been close on this issue. If you want to talk about it to any of the others who know—eg. A., and my spiritual director—you would be welcome.

I can recall a letter from you about 13 years ago where you raised the prospect of becoming an RC, so your revelation is stunning, but not surprising. That was obviously before your first marriage.

Yes, you are right. This isn't a new issue. It is one that I thought I had dealt with, and am surprised to find that in fact I have not. If I don't deal with it now, I expect it will come back one day.

(1) When you say that I may become involved does this refer to me being a provider of a statement/corroborating evidence about your first marriage?

Yes, that is what I meant. You and A. have probably had the closest and longest knowledge of my first marriage. It might mean that if and when I go on with the process of annulment, you might be one of the best witnesses. Now if that were the case, they would probably want to arrange for a statement to be made, or possibly the local tribunal in your city would conduct a short interview. I don't know. Your task in this would be to tell it as you saw it, not necessarily to corroborate what I said.

(2) Does this impact your marriage to Cathy?

No—not in the sense that it calls our marriage into question. I wouldn't consider it if it did. That would not be an option. Cathy is my wife and I love her and I am married to her. End of matter. Cathy is supportive of this change, even though she is not converting. We have since discovered that Cathy's first husband had not been baptised, so their marriage would not have been regarded as binding. This will make it somewhat easier along the road to getting our marriage recognised.

(3) On December 29 1998 I was charged with assisting in the upbringing of one Madeline Rose Schutz-Beaton in the Christian faith, a role I intended to take on to the absolute best of my ability (despite leaving the country). What impact will your decision have on this?

None. You will continue in your role in this regard. And I will expect you to fulfil it. I imagine Maddy would be brought up in both churches, just as at the moment she is brought up in both St Paul's and Our Saviours.

(4) My understanding of the Reformation is that it was not just centred around the doctrine of Justification by Faith, but also around all of the other rules and regulations the church imposed on its members that appeared to have no basis in Scripture. Has the Lutheran church also been doctrinally deficient in regards to:

As far as Luther was concerned, justification by faith was the be all and end all of the matter. All the rest was incidental. Even our Confessions are set out in this way--that is: Matters we cannot give up, and Matters we can discuss. Marriage of clergy, etc. was a "matter to discuss", not a cause for schism.


I would say that on this issue, we have tried to teach the same as the RC's but with less success. Divorce is not (contrary to popular opinion) condoned by the Lutheran Church of Australia. Remarriage of divorced persons is only done when the celebrant has satisfied himself that all efforts at reconciliation have failed, and due repentance has taken place. Even then, he is under no obligation to accept to officiate at the wedding. The only difference between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church on this matter s that for us the local pastor decides, whereas for them they have a tribunal to decide if someone can remarry. I prefer their method.

Birth control

Good one! Actually, when you read our Lutheran statements on birth control, they aren't much different. There is a high degree of mutuality here. Only the predominant Catholic opinion is against "unnatural" means of preventing a conception. I have asked Fr D. about this, and he said that in the end it is a "conscience" matter--it is not a binding law that all Catholics must adhere to on the pain of eternal damnation! That is why it is better to place it in the area of Doctrinal Opinion (even with the high authority of the Papacy) rather than Dogma. Even we make this distinction. [Nb. Conversion on the matter of birth-control was a slow matter for me, but by the time of my eventual decision to enter the Church, I and my wife had fully accepted Catholic teaching on the matter as binding to conscience. We haven’t used birth-control since. – Schütz]

Married clergy

Catholic Clergy can be married, but not those of the Roman Rite. For instance, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is in union with Rome, has married priests and deacons (but not bishops). I think celibacy is, in general, a good thing. However, it is not of the essence of the priesthood, as maleness is, but is a church law that could be changed at some stage. This is why it is possible for some married clergy converts to become priests in the Roman church.

Eating meat on Friday (some RC friends of ours in the Barossa still lived by this rule when I was at school). I'm probably sounding silly here, but I hope you can see my point.

I had dinner with an auxiliary bishop of Sydney on Friday. He seemed to enjoy his roast beef as much as I did.

(5) I know that with your respective duties you and Cathy cannot always worship together, but if you and the rest of your family are of different faiths then it might become a difficult, if not impossible, situation.

Cathy and I have no intention of not worshipping together. We may (or may not) be able to commune together—this would depend on dispensations from both churches (I have heard of this happening). But the chances are we would worship together more often than we currently do. Also, I have already experienced one time at St Paul's when I went to worship with Cathy when I could not, in conscience, receive communion because I did not think it was a valid celebration. [Cathy and I do not, to this day, commune at each other’s churches – Schütz].

(6) Now, think about (5) if your annulment is not granted. You could not celebrate the sacrament of HC with your family ever again.

Ah yes, and this is something I have to think about very, very much. You have put your finger on the nub of it. The fact is that if I became a Catholic and could not get an annulment I could never receive the sacrament again ever. BIG problem. BIG sticking point. BIG reason why I have not gone ahead and done it.

Two words have come to mind: the first is "selfish" - selfish from the point of view of your parish/congregations, your family, your present church. But at the same time the other word that came to mind was "noble" - noble for having the guts to stand up for what you believe in. It was good for me to hear some of the same sentiments expressed by P. - it assured me that it was not just a Heinrich thing. [Nb. “Heinrich” was a nickname for me at Sem – after Heinrich Schütz the composer – Schütz]

I am glad you spoke to P. for exactly this reason. You are not the first one to ask the "selfish" question. My spiritual director has put it on the list of things I must consider as well. You will be pleased to know that I have, in the last week, determined not to act upon this matter until: 1) my first marriage has been annulled and Cathy's marriage declared not binding, so that we can both receive the blessing of the church on our marriage, 2) I have a job to go to, preferably a ministry position (lay) in the RC church, 3) our next child has been born, 4) the three congregations of Knox, Frankston and Casey have sorted themselves out a little more than currently is the case. Hence, we are probably talking at least 2 years here.

The Southern Baptist Church here (the second biggest Protestant church in the USA) has just completed their synod where they voted overwhelmingly against the ordination of women. Even within the Lutheran Church,  the WELS and the LCMS are pretty much against women's ordination, yet the ELCA (who have established close ties with the Episcopalians) are in favour of it and have been for some time.

Women's ordination itself is not the issue. My seminary mentor thinks that I am "jumping the gun". HOW we decide the issue, that is the important point. I don't think we can determine church doctrine on a show of hands. That doesn't seem at all right to me.

Thank you for this. We will continue the dialogue. Anything you think of, send my way to help me.


The other major event is as follows:

We went away to Bendigo with my pastor friends B., S. and A. and their families. On the second evening, after B.’s wife had been talking about their future plans, I decided it was time to share my own crisis. Of course, the guys already knew about this, but their wives were fairly shocked. It must have seemed to have come from “out of the blue”, since, as A.’s wife said, “You guys often talk theology together, but we are rarely aware of the issues that are going on.” The women were fairly blunt with me, I must say, raising a number of questions. Principal in their minds was what this would mean for Cathy and Maddy. They seemed incredulous when Cathy said that she thought it wouldn’t really make a lot of difference since we are already worshipping at separate congregations. It was a fairly frank talk, as I said, and the details now I cannot easily remember, but the net result is that afterwards I felt less inclined to make a sudden move, and even more inclined to take things slowly.

The next morning, I took Madeline with me up to the church on the corner (the Church of the Holy Rosary) for 9am mass. There were about 20 people there. The length of the service was just about right for Maddy—20 minutes! I showed her the statues of Mary and Jesus, and when we left she said “Bye bye Mar-mar; Bye by Chesus”. She also now knows about the water at the door of the church, and she is getting quite good at crossing herself (with just a little assistance!).

On the day we left, we went to Sacred Heart Cathedral—a beautiful building which displays the very best of ancient and modern church architecture.

During the last week, I have given further thought to what it would mean to delay action. On Thursday night, I went around to P’s place. We sat outside and smoked our pipes (in rather cool temperature) while talking. Both being convinced that there is no longer any good reason to remain out of communion with Rome, we believe that the only way we could really justify our continued existence in the LCA would be if the LCA were to adopt a clearly “pro-Rome” attitude, and put re-union high on the list of priorities. We prayed together for the first time about this. I think that prayer will form a greater part of our sharing on this issue in the future, since there seems little more to discuss. It is now only a question of God’s guidance and of our mutual support. Prayer will serve us well.

Today was unusual too. A local Uniting Church minister came to see me about possibly becoming a pastor in the Lutheran Church! Although he is also considering Anglicanism, our discussion soon strayed to the Catholic Church. It seemed that there were very similar issues for us both. One of his main concerns is the functional view of the ministry and the confusion of ministry and laity. I may spend more time with him in the future.

I have been thinking a number of things.

First of all, I really like the basic genius of Lutheran theology, and can’t see myself giving it up. When interpreted squarely within the Catholic tradition, Lutheran theology has a great deal to offer. But cut loose from that tradition, it can lead in ways that I am sure Luther himself never intended. Hence, I am very comfortable with a Lutheran theology, but not so comfortable with a Lutheran denomination. It is not the theology I question, but the denomination.

Secondly, I have been wondering how possible it would be for a Lutheran Church to be received into communion with the Catholic Church and still retain its Lutheran character and liturgy (eg. as with the Orthodox Uniate churches)? I expect that over time such a church would not look much different from the Roman church, but it would still be interesting as a experiment.

I am looking forward to meeting with my District President, but don’t quite know what I will say to him.