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Religious Tolerance logo

About the Roman Catholic Church (RCC)


Catholic views of other faith groups: Their authority
& ability to extend salvation to their membership

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bulletSt. Ignatius Bishop of Antioch: "Where the Catholic church is, there is Jesus Christ."  circa 105 CE

bulletSt. Ambrose Bishop of Milan: "Where there is Peter, there is the Church." 4th century CE.

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This section discusses the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church concerning other denominations within Christianity, other religions, ethical groups, philosophies, and spiritual paths. The main topics dealt with are:

bulletHow the Catholic Church views the legitimacy and authority of these other faith traditions, and

bulletWhether the Catholic Church believes that the members of these other groups have a chance of being saved. The Catholic Church teaches that individuals who are not saved spend eternity after death being tortured in Hell with no hope of relief.

The historical teaching of the Roman Catholic Church was "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" (Outside the church, there is no salvation). That is, for a person to be saved -- and avoid Hell -- it is absolutely necessary that they be subject to the Pope. All Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of other non-Christian religions were destined for Hell. All members of Protestant, Anabaptist, Mormon, and other Christian denominations were headed there as well.

This position was moderated significantly by two documents written in the late 20th century:

bulletThe "Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions" issued in 1976

bullet"Dominus Iesus" written by Pope Benedict XVI in the year 2000 when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

These documents state that Jesus created only a single church, now comprising the Roman Catholic Church together with a number of other Churches that also share a valid Eucharist and Apostolic Succession: 1 [Apostolic succession is the belief held by some Christian denominations that their current bishops have spiritual and ecclesiastical authority that can be traced by an unbroken chain of proper ordinations back to the Apostles, and thus to Christ, in the first century CE.] Roman Catholics recognize the validity of the apostolic successions of their bishops, and therefore the rest of their clergy, as well as the clergy of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Wikipedia also lists other churches whose apostolic succession is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church:

  • Oriental Orthodox,
  • Assyrian,
  • Old Catholic, and
  • some Independent Catholic Churches. 2

We are attempting to find a complete authoritative list.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that all other Christian denominations to not feature Apostolic Succession, and thus are not "proper" churches; they are viewed as suffering from "defects." Religions other than Christianity are considered to be "gravely deficient." Their rituals can constitute "an obstacle to salvation" for their followers. Still, the Catholic Church now recognizes that it is possible for some individuals who are not members of churches that have maintained apostolic succession to attain Heaven. 3,4

Some consider the Catholic Church's views to be extremely arrogant and their claims to Apostolic Succession to be ridiculous. However, the Catholic Church is not alone in believing that they alone have the "fullness of truth" while all other Christian faith traditions are viewed as being in error. So, any criticism of the Catholic Church for their stand concerning other faith groups must also be leveled at the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Southern Baptists, Unificationists, and countless other Christian denominations.

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Topics covered in this section:

bulletCurrent and historic church teaching
bulletChurch's teaching "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" from the 6th to 15th century"

bulletChurch's teaching in the 19th & 20 century"

bulletVatican documents of 1964 & 1976, and Dominus Iesus of 2000
bulletReactions to Dominus Iesus
bulletVatican document "Responses to some questions ..." (2007)

bulletReactions by religious leaders

bulletReactions by individuals

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References used:

  1. Joseph Card. Ratzinger, " 'Dominus Iesus' on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Vatican, 2000-AUG-06, at:
  2. "Apostolic succession," Wikipedia, on 2011-NOV-01, at:
  3. "Other churches have defects, Catholics say." The Times News Service, London. 2000-SEP-05
  4. Joseph Cardinal Retzinger, "Dominus Iesus on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. See: 

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Site navigation: Home page > Christianity > Roman Catholic Church > here

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Copyright © 2000 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-SEP-12
Latest update: 2011-NOV-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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