A really pointless debate…

AND a stupid one at that.

I am referring to the “debate” between EWTN’s Fr Mitch Pacwa and Walter Martin. I found these audios on that wonderful repository of stuff for your MP3 player, Sonitus Sanctus. But they came originally from The John Ankerberg Show, an American Protestant apologetics TV show.

What possessed Fr Mitch to accept their invitation I have no idea. I mean, what a set up. Here are the topics of the debate, folks:

  1. Peter and Papacy
  2. Justification by Faith
  3. Marian Doctrines
  4. Confession and Penance
  5. Purgatory

I mean, who’s setting the agenda here? Are these the topics you would start on to tell your friends about the Catholic Church? No, they are the favourite protestant topics when denouncing the Catholic bogey man.

Each topic begins with the host (the Protestant apologist) telling the audience what the Catholic doctrine is. His source? Guess. He quotes directly from the Council of Trent. Not once is Vatican II even mentioned. Not once is the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited. Trent. Only Trent. Nothing but Trent.

He rattles this stuff off with no understanding of what it is he is reading–he does it just because it sounds bad to Protestant ears. Then he gives his Protestant guest first bash at why these are such shocking doctrines. Walter Martin then compounds the issue by attacking the straw man they have imagined for themselves and ‘proving’ why Trent is wrong on the basis of Scripture.

Then they say: “OK, Fr Pacwa. You’re the Catholic expert. You’re the Biblical Scholar. You’re the Jesuit. Where does it say THAT in Scripture?”

Poor Fr Mitch. Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. He tries, but doesn’t succeed. How can he? The whole debate has been hijacked by the “hosts”. To make it worse, Ankerberg hardly remains an impartial umpire. He joins in the case against Fr Mitch!

The tone becomes more and more shrill, and the understanding level plummets. It ain’t hard to understand what happened in the sixteenth century judging by the high levels of misunderstanding going on in these “debates”.

What makes it worse, is that there is absolutely no intention of trying to find common ground. The aim of the exercise is to demonstrate just how far from the truth the “Roman Catholic Church” has strayed. If Fr Mitch agrees with anything his Protestant interlocutors say, they will turn around and tell him why he can’t be agreeing with them.

This is why I prefer dialogue, guys. The aim is to listen and learn. To understand. To seek the Spirit of Christ in what the other is saying.

As Papa Bear said to Baby Bear in the Berenstein Bears The Bike Lesson: “Let this be a lesson to you: That is what you must never do!” I am sure Fr Mitch won’t be doing it again in a hurry.

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5 Responses to A really pointless debate…

  1. Christine says:

    David, so true. There are certain types for whom Trent will always be the only reference point vis a vis ecumenical dialogue.

    Back in the late 80’s or early 90’s (can’t remember exactly the date) we had a wonderful gathering in Cleveland between the Lutheran and Catholic communities at the downtown Cathedral (this was before the ELCA’s “Called to Common Mission” established full communion with the ECUSA and several Reformed communities).

    The prayers reflected our common understanding of the gifts of faith given in Holy Baptism and the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. I still have the commemorative booklet that was issued at the event.

    It was a truly “catholic” moment for us all.

    Walter Martin, Ankerberg and their familiars haven’t got a clue.

  2. Victoria says:

    Peter and Papacy
    Justification by Faith
    Marian Doctrines
    Confession and Penance

    I listen a fair bit to the US radio show Catholic Answers and the above are the topics on which questions are asked time and time again by non Catholics. Fr Pacwa is not an apologist, he is unused to the cut throat nature of apologetics debates. Jimmy Akin, apologist from Catholic Answers, would have presented the Catholic point of view using terminology which a Protestant would have understood.

  3. Schütz says:

    Yes, I agree, Victoria. I was impressed by Fr Pacwa’s knowledge of scripture, which was equal to his protestant “opponent”, but had to agree that he just didn’t have a clue sometimes how to convincingly answer a challenge, or challenge an answer. As you say, he is no apologist.

    Perhaps you have to have been a protestant to understand what they are saying and what they think your saying to answer in a way that actually makes sense to them.

  4. Timothy Anglican says:

    For the most part, they are just “making radio” (or television) here in the U.S. and that means having folks shout at one another for about 30-60 minutes. It has become incredibly tiresome and predictable, but, for some reason, people still listen and watch. The program producers know exactly which “buttons” to push and, as someone said, they are the same issues over and over again.

    My personal favorite is that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary and all the Saints. That one will always “play” well because, for many Protestants, the word “venerate” is way above their pay-grade, as it were.

  5. Catholic Audio says:

    What’s disappointing to me is that it’s so infrequent that the actual theology is debated; typically, it’s the misconceptions of Catholic theology which are debated. The Protestant erects a scary straw-man, beats it to death with the Bible, the Catholic tries to explain why it’s a straw-man and not what Catholics believe, and then in response the Protestant continues the cycle ad nauseum.

    That said, there are so many misconceptions that this kind of thing is (sadly) necessary. Some are better than others, and I think you’re right in saying that this is one of the worst.

    Have you tried any of the William Lane Craig atheism debates on my site? They’re much better, IMHO.

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