VATICAN CITY – Following more than five hundred years of separation, American and European Protestant leaders met with Pope Francis last week to finalize the reunification of the two churches under the Holy See. The historic agreement is the result of a year’s worth of unpublicized talks between Protestant leaders and the Vatican.
Prominent American pastors Joel Osteen and Rick Warren, respectively, as well as Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were among the Protestant delegation that met with Pope Francis last week. Pastor Warren, founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, spoke with members of the international press in St. Peter’s Square, saying, “Protestants, as a people, have a long history of heresy. The time for reconciliation is now in order to ensure a full and dogmatic transition into the folds of the Church.”
Moments before meeting with reporters, the entire Protestant delegation, for the first time ever, entered the confessional to take part, individually, in the Sacrament of Penance. “It’s important that we participate in these sacred rituals before asking our congregation to do the same,” Pastor Osteen said, adding that his time in confession was “an immensely moving experience.”
As Protestants around the world make the transition to Catholicism, many are wondering what, exactly, that means for them. “First and foremost we acknowledge the Pope’s infallibility with regard to universal moral declarations, the authority of Church magistrate, faith, and ex cathedra,” said Father Cliff Brogan, a former Protestant pastor who was the first of the delegation to be ordained as a priest at the Vatican. “Secondly, we participate in the sacrament of the Eucharist by accepting the actual body and blood of Christ, an event known as Transubstantiation, at the conclusion of the holy mass.”
As part of their induction into the Catholic faith, all Protestants above the age of fifteen are required to undergo a Catholic Confirmation, one of three sacraments of initiation, out of seven total, which Catholics can receive. “Most, if not all, of us have been baptized,” said Father Brogran. “However, without formal Confirmation, our Protestant baptisms will be null, thus preventing us from entering the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Additionally, during the transition period, American Protestant families whose children attend Sunday School are to receive vouchers allowing them to participate in CCD programs at area Catholic churches.
In a show of support for the reunification under the Holy See, the United Kingdom announced Wednesday that it is taking steps to reunify Northern Ireland with The Republic of Ireland. The government of the UK has acknowledged the stark differences between the two countries, but according to one official, “We are, for the first time, one people, united under the Bishop of Rome, acting together as the bride and servant of Christ.”