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The Neuhaus Letter

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The following is a letter sent by Richard John Neuhaus to Lutheran friends and clergy explaining his decision to convert to Catholicism.

On Saturday, September 8, 1990, the Nativity of Mary, I was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  In the months ahead I will be preparing to enter the priesthood of the Catholic Church.  With the full support of my bishop, John Cardinal O'Connor, I will continue to serve as director of the Institute on Religion and Public Life and as a member of the Community of Christ.  This decision is the result of many years of prayer, reflection,study, conversation, and, I firmly believe, the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Especially over the last five years, I have resisted with great difficulty the recognition that I could no longer give an answer convincing to others or to me as to why I was not a Roman Catholic.  Over the last 20 years and more, I have repeatedly and publicly urged that the separated ecclesial existence of Lutheranism, if it was once necessary, is no longer necessary; and, if no longer necessary, such separated existence is no longer justified.  Therefore, cooperating with other evangelical catholics who shared my understanding of the Lutheran destiny and duty according to the Augsburg Confession, I devoted myself to the healing of the breach of the sixteenth century between Rome and the Reformation. This meant and means ecclesial reconciliation and the restoration of full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome. That is a consummation for which I continue to pray, and to which I earnestly hope my present decision will contribute. At the same time, I have been brought, reluctantly but surely, to the recognition that this understanding of the Augsburg Confession and the Reformation has been rejected--in institutional fact, and frequently in theological principle--by the several jurisdictions of the Lutheran communion. With respect to the Evangelical Lutheran Churchin America of which I was a pastor) the evidence compelled me to the conclusion that its operative understanding of the Church is in formed not by the ecclesiology of the New Testament, nor by that of the Fathers, nor that of the Augsburg Confession, but by American denominationalism. I can no longer persuade myself that Lutheranism is an evangelical catholic movement of Gospel reform within and for the one Church of Christ. It now seems to me that Lutheranism is a Protestant denomination among Protestant denominations, and is determined to remain so.  I have always understood that, as I was baptized into Christ, so was I baptized into His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It was therefore my desire and duty, as a western Christian formed by the Reformation tradition, to be in full communion with the fullest and most rightly ordered reality of that Church through time. I am persuaded that that reality subsists in the Roman Catholic Church. I can readily attest that, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, "many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside the Church's visible structure." Lumen Gentium continues, "These elements,however, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possessan inner dynamic toward Catholic unity." The inner dynamic of the catholic substance I knew in Lutheranism has compelled me to become aRoman Catholic.I know well the claim of some Lutherans that separated ecclesialexistence is necessary for the sake of the Gospel--as the Gospel is understood in terms of justification by grace through faith because ofChrist. I beg such Lutherans to consider that the Gospel can be proclaimed today in the Roman Catholic Church, and in fact is so proclaimed. Moreover, it is by no means evident that the Lutheran denomination of our time does, as a matter of fact bear witness to that Gospel.The Reformers rightly insisted that the Church lives from the Gospel and for the Gospel. Lutheranism, however, has not understood that the Church is an integral part of the Gospel. The Church is neither an abstract idea nor merely a voluntary association of believers, but a divinely commissioned and ordered community ofapostolic faith, worship, and discipleship through time.  "I delivered to you what I also received," said St. Paul (I Cor.15). Under the guidance of the Spirit promised to the Church, apostolic Scripture is joined to apostolic order in the faithful transmission and interpretation of revealed truth. The Gospel is the proclamation ofGod's grace in Christ and His body in the Church. It is for the sake of that Gospel, and the unity of the Church gathered by that Gospel, that I am today a Roman Catholic.  I cannot begin to express adequately my gratitude for all the goodness I have known in the Lutheran communion. There I was baptized,there I learned my prayers, there I was introduced to Scripture and creed, there I was nurtured by Christ on Christ, there I came to know the utterly gratuitous love of God by which we live astonished. For my theological formation, for friendships beyond numbering. for great battles fought, for mutual consolations in defeat, for companionships in ministry--for all this I give thanks and know that I will forever be in debt to the church called Lutheran. Most especially am I grateful for my 30 years as a pastor. There is nothing in that ministry that Iwould repudiate, except my many sins and shortcomings. My becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic Church will be the completion and right ordering of what was begun 30 years ago. Nothing that was good is rejected, all is fulfilled.

/s/ Richard John Neuhaus

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