He was not harsh about it, but he did speak with clear conviction: "I don't like the Catholic Church; it is mean to people. I like protestants better because they accept everyone." Hmmmm...an interesting observation; skewed, misconstrued, and confused, but still interesting! I heard this comment once many years ago, and came across someone recently who had the same perspective and it reminded me of that earlier conversation. Of course, one of the major problems in that perspective is that it makes a basic (unproven) assumption. That is the assumption that it is a virtue to "accept everyone".
The only living being I know of who genuinely "accepts everyone" who comes to him is not who you might expect. Although many (even Catholics) would quickly attribute this to God, that is not correct. It is, rather, the devil who has this trait. Yes, you heard me right: "the devil". How could we possibly imagine that God accepts and welcomes everyone without any discernment? He sends people to Hell, right? That does not sound like "accepts everyone"; not in the least. That means that He does not accept those who obstinately refuse to repent of their sin. Few would disagree with that (except maybe universalists who do not believe in Hell). It is the devil, rather, who says "yes" to anyone who comes to him. He's glad to have every soul possible (regardless of whether they are willing to serve Him or not). How can we, therefore, imagine that a trait of the devil has somehow become a virtue?
Now, having said this, I need to be clear that I am not advocating an exclusive Church of just a few perfect people; nothing of the kind. Yet, the "all are welcome" philosophy does not hold up under any serious scrutiny (and do not even get me started on that horrid hymn by the same name!). Either "all" means "all" or it means "something other than all". If "all are welcome" means that we have no boundaries on who is allowed to be an active part of the parish, then we have a problem here. I have heard (more than just a few times) comments in regard to the "all are welcome" concept that make it clear people think we should accept everyone and never encourage them to change their behavior. Those who have this opinion appear to believe that if we tell someone to change and repent, then we would be (somehow) saying that they are "not welcome" (which is not exactly accurate). The "all are welcome" philosophy is truly a dragon to be slain.
Let me ask, for the sake of argument, would there by anyone who would not "be welcome" at a Church that claims to believe that "all are welcome"? Would a suicide bomber be welcome? How about an unrepentant child molester; would he (or today "she" also) be welcome? Would anyone be comfortable with welcoming a person into their Church service who had the bubonic plague, or smallpox, or rabies? Of course not. Each of those people would be asked to make some change in their person or behavior before they would be "welcome". I am not exaggerating here. Rather, I am pointing out that everyone has some sort of a standard by which they determine who is genuinely and fully welcome in their Church.
Thus if we all have some kind of standard, what would be a good description of the basis of that standard? How about if I describe it as "those who will bring serious harm to the members of the congregation are not welcome"? Would that describe it well? I think so. Thus, here we are in a quandary. By what standard do we determine who is going to cause harm? Do we use an arbitrary case by case basis (and keep "niceness" as the underlying principle) that leaves us with no real clarity? Do we assume that it is only the extreme cases (homicidal maniacs and the like)? Or do we ignore the subject and hope we never have to deal with it (which is what many appear to do).
There must be something more solid and clear for us to use as a guide. It would seem that God's determining factor is primarily those who are impenitent (for that is who receives the discipline of excommunication). The Lord does not tell us to exclude those who struggle with their sins and are not perfect (they are precisely who the Church exists for, after all!), but He does tell us to exclude (i.e. not treat as "welcome" without their repentance) those who refuse to struggle, who give in, and then remain in their sins (cf. Matthew 18:17, Titus 3:10-11, etc.). Should that not also be our determining factor?
Therefore, I would ask once again. Who ever said that "welcoming everyone" is a virtue? I know many people who believe that, but when it comes down to it, I have never met someone who actually practises it consistently. You may ask about my own practises in my parishes. Do I "welcome" those who come to visit? Of course I do; exactly the way that Jesus welcomed those who came to Him. Which means I treat them as those made in the image of God; people who are called to turn from sin, and seek holiness (cf. Luke 18:18-25). If they are seeking penitence and want to be faithful to Christ, they are welcome (Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners -- to repentance!). If they want to stay in their sins, remain impenitent, influence others in the parish, and expect to be told all is well, then I am truly sad to say, they are "not welcome".