The nation's Roman Catholic bishops, acknowledging fundamentalist Protestant inroads into their flocks, called last week for new efforts to "counteract the simplicities of biblical fundamentalism."
A pastoral statement on the Bible and fundamentalism, which included direct criticism of key fundamentalist tenets, voiced fear that Catholics "may be attracted to biblical fundamentalism without realizing its serious weaknesses." It said fundamentalism's emphasis on the Bible as the sole source of religious truth is at odds with Catholicism.
"It is important for every Catholic to realize that the church produced the New Testament, not vice versa," said the 20-page statement from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The statement described biblical fundamentalists as those who "present the Bible, God's inspired Word, as the only necessary source for teaching about Christ and Christian living."
Such a view excludes the need for universal church teachings, Eucharistic celebrations, veneration of the saints and other liturgical and devotional traditions, it said.
The statement also said biblical fundamentalism attempts to find in the Bible "all the direct answers for living." This is particularly appealing to troubled people whose Catholic education, the bishops admitted, "may have been seriously inadequate" in teaching about the Bible and church doctrine.
"The basic characteristic of biblical fundamentalism is that it eliminates from Christianity the church as the Lord Jesus founded it," the statement charges. In this view, it said, "there is no vision of the church as our mother -- a mother who is not just spiritual but who is visibly ours to teach and guide us in the way of Christ."
The bishops called education the antidote. "We need to educate -- to reeducate -- our people knowingly in the Bible so as to counteract the simplicities of biblical fundamentalism."