The recent distribution of Anti-Catholic tracts in a Tennessee town constituted “reprehensible acts of prejudice and hatred” by people who were ignorant of true Catholic teaching, the Bishop of Knoxville has said.
Copies of a Chick Publications tract titled “The Death Cookie” were being distributed in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. by members of Conner Heights Baptist Church. The 1988 cartoon tract claims that the Church was founded by the Devil and that Catholics worship a “wafer god.”
A student upset about the tract discussed it with Fr. Jay Flaherty on March 3, the Diocese of Knoxville said. The priest then contacted the diocesan chancellor, who in turn informed Bishop Richard F. Stika about the material.
After protests from the bishop and media coverage, the Baptist pastor Rev. Jonathan Hatcher ended the distribution. He had initially defended the action, but admitted to WBIR-TV that he is “obviously not schooled in the Catholic religion.” The pastor also reported that he teaches and preaches from the King James Version of the Bible.
Bishop Stika issued a March 5 statement about the tracts, saying he was “greatly saddened by the reprehensible acts of prejudice and hatred of a few souls who, out of ignorance of Catholic teachings, have promoted the distribution of anti-Catholic tracts.”
He said the materials contained “outright lies and blatant exaggerations.”
He reported that a Baptist pastor rationalized the distribution by saying he was trying to point out the primary difference his church has with Catholics: the belief that a person does not and cannot work his or her way to salvation.
Bishop Stika pointed out that this is a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching on justification, which he defined as the cleansing of a person’s sin and the communication by grace of the “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:22)
Quoting the King James Bible, Bishop Stika said Catholics take “very seriously” James 2:24, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
“Perhaps some Christians misinterpret both Paul and James, thus concluding that their statements about faith and works contradict each other. This is simply not true,” the bishop explained. He said there are differences in emphasis but both apostles agree that faith and works are “essential to Christian life.”
The bishop cited Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25, in which Jesus welcomes those who respond to the hungry, the lonely, and the sick through works of love. However, he also condemns to “eternal punishments” those who neglect such deeds.
Turning to the “reprehensible” Chick leaflet, the Knoxville bishop explained Catholic doctrine about the Holy Eucharist and Jesus’ literal presence, “body and blood, soul and divinity,” under “the appearances of bread and wine.” Addressing Christians who believe this is “unbiblical,” Bishop Stika referred them to the verses 1 Corinthians 10:16–17 and 11:23–29 and John 6:32–71.
Acknowledging that many Christian denominations do not share Catholic beliefs, he expressed gratitude that they “deeply respect” the Lord’s Supper and what it represents.
The bishop had opened his statement by expressing “deep respect and love” for Protestants and all other faiths. He closed his statement by praying that Christian pastors develop a “spirituality of ecumenism.”