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On Saturday night The Reverend Father John Mark Henley dons his priestly garb and presides over mass at St. Mary's Catholic Parish in Dallas, administering Eucharist to the parishioners and leading the congregation in the liturgy. On Sunday morning he is faithfully in the front pew Canal Street Presbyterian Church (PCA) intently taking notes as the church's pastor preaches the sermon.
The question as to whether one can be both a Roman Catholic and a conservative Presbyterian is difficult for some, "absurd" to others. But for Henley it is an easy question with an easy answer. He professes to be both, and for almost fifteen months now he has practiced both faiths.
Henley's "conversion" to the reformed faith occurred in March of 2006 when he attended a funeral at a Presbyterian Church for a college friend.
"I was moved by the service" said Henley. "The people were so devout and so pious. The extemporaneous prayers moved me deeply, and I felt a great sense of peace. The people seemed so certain about salvation and so confident that their friend was saved."
Since that time Henley faithfully attends Canal Street Presbyterian Church once a week and spends the rest of his time doing his Parish duties at St. Mary's Catholic Church.
"At their core they are the same" said Henley. "There's really no distinction. We both believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the death burial and resurrection, etc. Being a Presbyterian only deepens my faith."
But many see the two theological positions as mutually exclusive and incompatible.
"While it's true that there are some very basic tenants of the Christian faith that Roman Catholics and Presbyterians agree upon, the two systems of belief are very different" said Dr. Milton Hilliard, professor of New Testament at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. "For instance, Presbyterians do not believe that baptism washes away original sin. Then you've got the issues surrounding the Pope, Mary, prayers to saints and transubstantiation. Catholics also do not believe in the exclusive authority of Scripture alone, nor do they believe in God's sovereignty in salvation the way we do. And at the top of the list is justification by faith alone in Christ alone, the very issue that gnawed at Luther's heart. The two systems of belief are just not compatible."
But Henley sees no "real" contradiction between his two faiths.
"I really don't see a problem" said Henley. "Sometimes I pray to Mary. Presbyterians believe in Mary too. Yes, I might pray to saints, but Presbyterians also ask their friends to pray for them. I just think of saints as like close friends that can pray for me. The fact that they're dead is only a minor thing."
Tominthebox News Network talked with Jeff Wells, pastor of Canal Street Presbyterian Church about Henley's attendance.
"I'm glad he comes" said Wells. "I'm glad when anyone comes, but I hope he realizes that Presbyterianism and Catholicism are very different. They are not the same faith. Reformed churches hold to doctrines that are explicitly contrary to Roman Catholic teachings. The five solas of the Reformation, Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone and glory to God alone, are very much contrary to Romanist dogma."
But these issues do not seem to bother Henley.
"I look at the Reformed faith and think that it's an idea about God that draws people closer to him" he said. "I want to be closer to him too. Even though the Westminster Confession of Faith calls the Pope the 'Antichrist' that doesn't bother me so much."
Despite criticism and questions Henley still plans to continue practicing both faiths.
"I am 100% Roman Catholic and 100% reformed" said Henley. "No one can change that."
While Henley sees no problems with his practices he soon might face trouble with the local archbishop of his Parish.