Kenneth Copeland and a Message from the Pope

From the National Catholic Register:

…Pope Francis sent a video message to a gathering of U.S. Pentecostal leaders, voicing his “yearning” that separation between Catholics and other Christians may end.

…Pope Francis’ message was delivered to a meeting of the Fort Worth, Texas-based Kenneth Copeland Ministries by Pentecostal Bishop Tony Palmer, who had recorded it on an iPhone in a Jan. 14 meeting with the Holy Father. Palmer knew Pope Francis from his time in Argentina, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. The video was later uploaded to YouTube.

Like most people, my initial reaction was to think (like this lady): “You’re joking? The pope?”. Copeland is primarily a US Christian Right ideologue, and his “Word of Faith” Prosperity Gospel theology is to many outside observers – both Christian and non-Christian – predatory and intellectually risible. However, it’s unlikely that Francis knows much about Copeland – Francis’ message was to Pentecostals in general, rather than being an endorsement of Copeland’s controversial “Ministry”.

Copeland’s website has some background to the link with Palmer:

Over the past decade the Rt. Rev. Tony Palmer, a former director of Kenneth Copeland Ministries’ South African office and co-founder of The Ark Community, an international and interdenominational community of Christians based in the United Kingdom, has been extensively involved with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR).

In 2003, Palmer was invited by the Catholic Church to move to Europe and minister to Catholics within the CCR worldwide, as a non-Roman Catholic minister. As a result of this calling, Palmer has traveled to many countries around the world and participated in numerous meetings with leaders within the charismatic renewal.

It was during a mission to Argentina five years ago that Palmer met and soon became close friends with Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I.

…From the inception of The Ark Community, KCM has maintained a strong partnership with Palmer through prayer and by supporting his mission work. It was through Palmer’s assistance that Kenneth and Gloria Copeland were able to minister to the Roman Catholic Church in Italy for the first time ever in 2006. They have since returned there to minister.

Apparently, Copeland has in the past defended the Catholic Church against an anti-Catholic strand in Pentecostalism; according to a forum post made in 2007:

On the May 21st, 2007 edition of BVOV [Believer’s Voice of Victory], guest John Hagee began slamming the RCC with the usual anti-Catholic rhetoric. After listening politely for a couple of minutes, Copeland jumped in and began defending Catholics, stating “The Roman Church at this time is filled with people that love God with all their heart”. Copeland continued on to talk about the Charismatic Movement within the RCC, how John Paul II had been a strong proponent of the Charismatic Movement, how John Paul II had, on behalf of the RCC repented of the sins that had occurred against the Jewish people and asked for their forgiveness, etc.

(Hagee jettisoned his anti-Catholicism soon afterwards, when past comments on this subject and others caused some embarrassment and damage to John McCain; anti-Catholicism was already somewhat archaic anyway, in an age when apocalyptic Christians are more interested using the Bible to place Islam with a demonic narrative of the “Last Days”.)

Meanwhile, Palmer’s background is the subject of a recent post for Patheos by  Fr. Dwight Longenecker. The author notes that Palmer’s denomination affiliation is not quite clear, but that he appears to be “a member of the Anglican Episcopal Church of the CEEC [Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches] (Celtic Anglican Tradition).” He adds that he “suspects” this group – one of many Anglican breakaway groups – has

embraced a bogus historical theory that has been growing in popularity in Anglican circles: this is the idea that there is a pure strand of British Christianity which dates right back to the Roman times when Coptic Christians brought Christianity to the British Isles along with Joseph of Arimathea who came to Glastonbury as a missionary… The whole theory is completely and crazily bogus–rather like British Israelitism or the Mormon claim that the native Americans were the lost tribes.

In a follow-up piece, he adds:

Clearly distancing themselves from the “continuing” Anglican churches, the CEEC (here’s their website) was founded not only by Anglicans, but a whole range of Protestant leaders who see themselves as part of a “convergent church” movement… One has to ask, when Tony Palmer presented himself therefore as “an Anglican Bishop” did Archbishop Bergoglio of Argentina have any idea that this was the background and was he aware of this rapidly shifting identity of Anglicanism? I suspect he did not. How was a Catholic bishop in Argentina expected to be aware of the mushrooming complexity of Anglicanism? No doubt as their friendship developed Bishop Bergoglio became aware of the real situation.