Volume 7, Issue 2, 2016
Roman Catholic New Religious Movements
Donald A. Westbrook
Vatican II and the Study of Catholic New Religious Movements
This article introduces the theological relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to new religious movements (NRMs) in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). While other articles in this special issue provide case studies of specifically Catholic NRMs, this article is predominately concerned with examining Vatican II and post-Vatican II theology that frames the church’s relationship to such groups in often problematic and unclear terms. For instance, the traditional ecclesiastical distinction between ecumenical and interreligious affairs leaves little, if any, theological room for categorizing NRMs at large and Catholic NRMs in particular. Assuming NRMs with Catholic roots have no interest in returning to communion with the church in Rome, these “sects” or excommunicated groups may be fruitfully comparable to NRMs with restorationist leanings that resemble Catholic traditionalist movements (some of which are indeed in good ecclesial standing). The relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is one comparative example. However, unlike the LDS, excommunicated Catholics would of course not be possible candidates for ecumenical or interreligious dialogue, ironically but precisely because of disputes over claims of Catholic orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Such cases may represent a liminal position, neither “intra” nor “inter” in relation to the communion of Catholic Christendom, though the point becomes moot given competing claims to ecclesial authority.