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The following is the introduction to the book Saint Peter Lives in Rome, by Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, who will discuss the book on EWTN on Monday, July 7, at 8 p.m. EST. Dr. Stackpole, who writes the popular Q&A column on this website, is the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, a lay apostolate of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD

This book addresses the most contentious issue in Christian ecumenical dialogue: the role of the papacy in Christ's holy Church. As a matter of fact, I was once something of an ecumenical wanderer myself. Born the son of a Protestant pastor, I became an Anglican as an undergraduate, and later pursued a vocation to the Anglican priesthood. I will always be sincerely grateful for all that I learned about God and His love, and about His Son Jesus Christ, through the years of my Protestant upbringing and Anglican formation.

Nevertheless, I always felt that something important was missing from what had been given to me. Several times, I almost became a Catholic — a sign of my inner restlessness — but then drew back. The distinctive Roman Catholic doctrines about Mary, the saints, purgatory, and the Eucharist were never the most serious stumbling blocks. After all, I could accept those doctrines and remain a "High" Anglican, or even become Eastern Orthodox. It was the doctrine of the papacy, the Petrine Ministry, which really stood in the way.

After much prayer and study, I found it no longer stood in the way. This book explains why.

I know from the outset that many readers will be disappointed by what I have to say. I would guess that what many would want me to write, what they would hope I would write, is that from a Catholic perspective, there is an ever increasing possibility for ecumenical reconciliation among the Christian churches regarding the proper role of the papacy.

Sadly, I do not believe that to be the case. To be sure, we are much closer together on this issue than we were a century ago. One can certainly try to clarify the dogmatic foundations of the papacy in Scripture, Tradition and Reason. All this I will try to do, from a Catholic perspective, in the chapters that follow.

In the end, however, I believe sincere Christians are still faced with a choice. This is not one of those issues that can be dismissed as a mere ecumenical misunderstanding or semantic disagreement. Nor can it be relegated to the area of dogmatic inessentials. As the whole history of the Church shows, the unity of the Body of Christ, and the means our Lord has given to us to secure that unity in truth and love, are vital and essential to the whole mission of the Church. Christian unity is not an "optional-extra" to the Church's mission; rather, it is the supreme manifestation of the grace of Christ in the world, without which the task of evangelism is largely crippled. Jesus Himself taught us this in St. John's gospel, chapters 10 and 17:

And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd (10:16).

I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they all may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (17:20-23).

Commenting on these passages, the Catholic apologist Stephen Ray has pointed out:

A sheepfold provides a distinct enclosure whereby the sheep are protected, kept together, and fed. ... Jesus never meant the Church to be rent by divisions, torn asunder into competing denominations and sects. He prayed that the Church, His flock, would be one and perfected in unity. This cannot be relegated to an "invisible" unity, for only a visible and organic unity can be seen and observed by the world ["that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe ..."]

I trust that all Christians, whatever church body we may belong to, believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. All of us want to accept everything that God has revealed to us through Him, and want to follow Him with faith and love. This is our great and inspired "common ground," and thanks be to God that in our ecumenical age we finally recognize that fact, and can pray together, and cooperate in many areas, more than ever before.

Again, all of us want to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, to believe what He reveals, and to follow wherever He leads. But I have become ever more convinced that to do so fully, completely and unreservedly, means to do so in communion with, and in obedience to, His Vicar on earth, in the See of St. Peter.

This is not "triumphalism"; in fact, the sixteenth century theologian who helped clarify this aspect of Catholic teaching, St. Robert Bellarmine, was himself one of the early advocates for true religious tolerance. What we are up against here is not "triumphalism," but a definitive conviction: a conviction that has always, implicitly or explicitly, defined and distinguished the great Catholic Church throughout the world. You may come to hold this conviction someday, or you may not. Whatever you and I decide, of course, must always be done with prayer and charity, as Christ Jesus bids us to do in all things. My task in these chapters is to present to you, as clearly as I can, the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the papal ministry, to help you make an informed and prayerful choice. Certainly I hope and pray that your choice will not be based on my presentation alone — and I doubt, in any case that it would. My task is but to clear away misunderstandings, to clarify foundations, and to explain as best I can, why Catholics hold this "definitive conviction."

Order a copy of Saint Peter Lives in Rome.

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

True Believer - Jul 30, 2008

In Jesus the only begotten Son of God, Love and Obedience are one. How can a soul be in Christ if he can not obey? Satan can pretend to be like Jesus, but if you ask him to obey the Catholic Church this is an impossibility for him because of his aucratic pride. Grace is receiving God from God and not from our own man made counterfeit fabrications primordially rooted in Satan's original lie. As Catholics, we can only pray and hope that God will be merciful to all especially those who do not know what they are doing to Christ, to themselves and to others. God have mercy on all His children especially those whose hearts are unknowingly and grievously close to Him.

Ray one - Jul 18, 2008

T.J.;I am not Seamas but hope you will read my respond to your question...The problem with the so called Orthodox Faith Churches is that they are not orthodox scince they differ from each other on matters of faith not unlike that of Protestantism does being over 125 types and new ones born every year. On their side unlike Protestantism,their prieshood is workable,even so ,they are outside of the Body of Christ since they are not in union with Peter.I view them as the woman whom beg Jesus to allow her to eat the crumbs from the table fallen off of the isralites and therefore because of her resolve did received.They receive therefore because of the Catholic Faith Church is...was not they could not receive.There can be just one Body but this Body loves all and like a mother hen will gather the chicks in.

TJ - Jul 13, 2008

Seamas, you are right-on! And, yes, it is refreshing to read comments from a Catholic who knows the Faith. Your comments concerned the problems with Protestantism. Would you please send in some comments on the Orthodox Churches. Thank you.

Ray one - Jul 9, 2008

Seamas : good to hear from a Catholic whom know the Faith..may God keep on blessing you with His knowledge and wisdom .

Séamas - Jul 9, 2008

That there is no salvation outside the Church is a doctrine of the Catholic Faith. How this is understood requires some distinctions. It does not mean that unless you are a card carrying Catholic you are automatically going to hell. It means that salvation comes through Christ's Church--that is, it is mediated by the Church.

If someone is invincibly ignorant of the Gospel (or a Protestant invincibly ignorant of the truth of Catholicism), but nevertheless tries to live a good life and give God His due according to the light given them (through natural law and grace), he can be saved. But that person's salvation comes through the mediation of the Catholic Church, whether he knows it or not. Through the one Sacrifice of Jesus, the head of the Church, which is re-presented every day on Catholic altars throughout the world, ans through the prayers and penances of Catholics united to that one sacrifice, salvation is made possible.

I do, however, have a problem with the attitude of many Protestant converts, who claim that their former faith was a good thing, just a stage on their way to the "fullness of faith."

Now, I agree that most Protestants are good, sincere people who want to follow Jesus. But Protestant sects are heretical and schismatic. That is most definitely NOT a good thing. It is not merely that they don't have the "fullness" of the Faith. They deny certain truths, and hold to certain errors. That they also have certain good and true things doesn't make it good. Lots of wrong or evil philosophies have Protestant sects corrupt the orthodox Faith of Christ. Not on purpose (any more, anyway. Luther, et al are a different story). I am not saying Protestants are bad, I am saying Protestantism is bad. The apostles, the Fathers, the saints and popes throughout the ages have always held that heresy and schism are two of the greatest evils. Heresy corrupts the truth with falsehood (and our God is Truth itself, falsehood is an abomination to Him), while schism rends the Body of Christ. This cannot be good in any way.

I don't deny that many Protestants learned to love Christ, and many other good things, through their former faith, but that is not because Protestantism is good, but because God brings good out of evil. Do you think that He would not prefer you to come straight to His Church (after all, there is nothing good in Protestantism which is not already found in the Catholic Church)? But He works with you where you are.

How much are Protestants culpable? Only God knows. But I have two comments: first, many Protestants desire to follow Jesus wherever He leads... except Catholicism. When it comes to the Catholic Faith, they basically stick fingers in their ear and sing "lalalala... whore of rightuousness...lalalala...." Information about Catholicsm is widely available, and if you are open to it, God will give you the grace to see the truth. If you refuse to see, are you not culpable?

Secondly, no matter how culpable anyone is, we Catholics should assume--without judging--that unless a person is a devout, orthodox Catholic, that their salvation is in serious danger (though when they pass away we can hope and pray they were saved). That is the only safe way to act, and the only way that is in accord with Jesus' command to make disciples of all. If we assume our brother's soul is in danger, we will do all we can, out of love, to save his life. We do our Protestant brethren no favors by telling them where they are at is good. Even though we might say that Catholicism is better, they might well be content with good.

God Bless,

ray one - Jul 9, 2008

answering Mary Ellen of July 8,regarding Sandy 10 also said; You err. Trent was most emphaltic that,< there is no salvation outside the Church >. This is not heresy. Your Fr. Feenly heresy was that < there is no possibility of them being saved ever >. That is a big difference and as wrote before THANK GOD FOR PURGATORY.There their ignorance of Christ and His Church,His only Body, will be gone accepting the Truth,they shall eat of the tree <the cross> and will be raise to Heaven becoming of one mind,that of God,s.Think;there is over one million faiths in this world,being the main reason for strife;that can,t exist in Heaven,otherwise would not be Heaven. God instituted His Faith with Adam made workable by the second Adam therefore their is no other Way to the Father. Savation is sacremently receive,is the Way of Christ Jesus through a valid priesthood since what is a highpriest without a concecrated priesthood ?<Eat of me and I shall raise you up on the last day >and <..even though you die,you shall live >and <My flesh indeed is real food > and <..if you do not eat my flesh,you have no life in you >:food that raises one to Heaven .You are what you eat.No protestant faiths have a valid priesthood and are Apostalic.Them whom have a semblence of a priesthood offer themselves as a sacrifice to the Father in the name of Jesus instead of Him ,in Him and through Him ,the sacrificed One and so He us to the Father.They therefore make themselves the sacreficed ones...this to me is an abomination and devilish.Satan would have invented such .Did not Luther say his friend was Satan and who else could such faiths be invented by ? If one wants to make others beieve that their faiths has the power to save when they really have not that power what would you call it and keep the name Christ in it ? Yes ,Reform having no reform but of Satan.Like Eve millions are falling for the lie that Jesus,s Church fell.According to Jesus that is impossible and blasphemus.It is to call the Holy Spirit a liar and makes you an enemy of God .

Mary Ellen - Jul 8, 2008

Re: Sandy 10 and her comment about the church teaching on salvation outside the Catholic Church.

I grew up in New England during the fifties and went to Catholic schools and remember that there were some Catholics at that time who believed that salvation was not obtainable outside the Catholic church and a Fr. Feeney, a priest from Massachusetts, was excommunicated by the Church for teaching this heresy. He even founded an order of nuns called The Slaves of Mary. Maybe that is why Sandy believes that the Church taught that. But it is my understanding that a proper understanding of Salvation has never included condemning people to hell just because they are not members of our Church. Only those who know it is the true Church but choose to reject it anyway are putting their salvation at risk.

moderator - Jul 8, 2008

To "licia" — The program will be on again Wednesday, July 9, at 1 p.m. and Saturday, July 12, at 11 p.m.

10 Sandy - Jul 8, 2008

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is made clear what we believe on that question.

Ray - Jul 8, 2008

Enjoyed your appearance on EWTN. You credit your journey home to reading the writings of the Early Doctors such as Clement of Rome etc. I read the book, "Four Witnesses" which compiles these writings. My question is do the original writings exist and if so, where? If there are only copies, how old are they and where are they?

licia - Jul 8, 2008

will the interview be replayed? I came in late and would like to watch it in its entirety.

Pondero - Jul 8, 2008

I watched your interesting programme on Journey Home last night. While doing National service in England in the early 1950's I was an agnostic, but had attended the Church of England and Methodist churches before enlisting .

I came across a penny catechism, and read it in a British Army barrack room in Catterick camp. From then on the questions, Who made me? and Why did God make me? intrigued me and eventually at the age of 20 I converted to Roman Catholicism.

I got the basics from the priest who instructed me and have never looked back, never having difficulties with the petrine teaching at all.

ray - Jul 7, 2008

there is one body and none whom are not of this BODY of which Jesus is the head can't go to heaven at death but thank God for purgatory where one will become of one mind,that of God's.In heaven only truth is known (catholism is true)& all others are of falseness of one degree or an other.Adam would have lived forever if kept on eating of the tree of life ;today the fruit of life is Jesus on the tree of life the bread come down from heaven.No protestant can eat of this tree while on earth since they do not have access to the tree of life. They have refused and are still refusing the WAY ( Jesus )in His Chuch.My flesh indeed is meat ,and unless you eat my flesh you have NO LIFE IN YOU;that is no life that can raise one to heaven.This food only can raise one to heaven:no prayers,praisings etc...can.We are what we eat,period. These are His words,not mine.You do no good to anyone by denying the truth or keeping it as if are not.Save them from the very least from going to purgatory.TELL.

Moderator - Jul 7, 2008

Dear sandy10,

The question of salvation outside the Church is an excellent one. The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a clear answer in paragraphs 846-848:

If you want to read something more detailed, you may enjoy the following Vatican document, Dominus Iesus:

Joseph - Jul 5, 2008

I intend to get this book as I feel it has some deep insight into the reason why the Catholic Church is the one true church.

sandy10 - Jul 5, 2008

i was brought up with the belief that salvation was not obtainable outside the catholic church and i know that this doctrine is notlonger taught. when i asked a priest about it all he said was that this is no longer taught. our cathesicm is not very explicit on this subject. this is any other documents on this subject?