Ecumenism is the opposite of pornography, easy to define but you are never sure when you are actually seeing it.

Last week a group of Jewish leaders were gnashing their teeth because the Church said that the one of the purposes of ecumenism is sharing the gospel.

Jewish groups said they interpret the new document to mean that the bishops view interfaith dialogue as a chance to invite Jews to become Catholic. The Jewish leaders said they “pose no objection” to Christians sharing their faith, but said dialogue with Jews becomes “untenable” if the goal is to persuade Jews to accept Christ as their savior.

“A declaration of this sort is antithetical to the very essence of Jewish-Christian dialogue as we have understood it,” Jewish leaders said in a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The signers were the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and rabbis representing the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements.

The statement fueling the tension was issued by the bishops in June to clarify a 2002 document called “Covenant and Mission.” The bishops said the earlier document mistakenly played down the importance of sharing the Gospel and was therefore misleading.

The temptation to say “so what?” is very great as the dissatisfied in this case are a perennial crop. Leaving them aside, perhaps it is time to better define ecumenism so that in the future we can recognize it when we see it. In a recent interview Monsignor Brunero Gherardini lamented a …

“misguided ecumenism, in search of what unites, rather than of what divides. … We entered into a new spirit of conciliation, adaptation, resignation, wary of other people’s preconditions, almost as though we believed, perhaps without admitting it, that the truth was on the other side.

Amen, what passed for ecumenism the last years was far from it. Right thinking ecumenism clarifies differences, it does not blur them.

Let me put it in this simple way. Ecumenism is like building bridges. When many people think of bridges they think of a support structure designed to get people from one side to the other, from their side to yours. This is certainly a key goal of ecumenism for those headed generally in the same direction. But bridges also serve another critical function. They enable those going in a completely different direction to pass under or over safely without crashing into you. This is an equally worthwhile purpose. So too ecumenism.

So that is the dual purpose of Ecumenism. To enable those headed in your direction to find their way across the divide or for those going in a completely different direction to pass by safely. Either way, it is important that everyone agree on which side of the road we should all drive.