The Catholic Church's views of other faith groups
Current and historic Church teaching
The current views of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) concerning other
Christian denominations and other religions are explained in a Vatican declaration
issued in the year 2000 and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI during 2007-JUL.
According to the Times News Service, the declaration implies that:
"Churches such as the
Church of England, where the apostolic succession of bishops from the
time of St. Peter is disputed by Rome, and churches without bishops,
are not considered 'proper' churches. They suffer from
Religions other than Christianity are
considered to be "gravely deficient." Their rituals
constitute "an obstacle to salvation" for their
Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith said that the document was infallible
since it was "explicitly approved and confirmed by the pope."
Pope John Paul II had said that it was "his will that what it contains be
believed by all the church." 3
The Church teaches that an eternity in
Hell awaits the unsaved.
If this is true, then the adverse consequences of an individual following another religion (or following a
Christian denomination other than the RCC) are severe -- perhaps involving infinitely long painful punishment in Hell.
There is really nothing new in this document. It
reflects decades-long inclusivist beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church: that the
Church alone possesses the full truth, while all other faith groups have only
elements of truth. To a secular individual, this may seem like an arrogant stance. However, it is hardly unique. Many,
perhaps most, faith traditions also believe that they alone possess the entire truth,
and view all other religious groups as being at least partly deficient.
History of the RCC's relationship with other faith groups:
The relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and other religions has
historically been stormy and, until recent centuries, bloody:
||In the primitive Christian movement of the
first century CE, there was much animosity between the
Jewish Christians (the reform Jewish group organized by Jesus' followers under
the leadership of Mark)
and the Pauline Christian movement (the Christian churches organized by Paul, largely directed at converting the Pagan Gentiles). Some of this
is recorded in the Christian Scriptures' (New Testament's) Book of
Acts and in certain of St. Paul's epistles.
||During the second century CE, many very different Christian-Gnostic sects had formed at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
Their beliefs and practices clashed with those of the Pauline Churches.
||Pauline Christianity grew to become the Roman Empire's established
religion -- the Catholic Church -- late
in the fourth century CE. The church then attained a near monopoly within the Empire. They
followers of Judaism, blaming them for the execution of Jesus Christ. They wiped out
other competing religious voices: Gnostic Christianity, the Mystery
Religions, the various other Pagan religions, etc. They forcibly converted, exterminated,
the leaders of these and other faith groups, and appropriated their property.
||Threats to the Catholic Church in later years were typically resolved
violence. Examples were the extermination of the Cathars, elimination of the Knights
Templar, and execution by burning at the stake tens of thousands of Witches and
other persons who deviated from the Church's teachings.
||The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 declared that: "There is but one
universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved."
This is the principle, as expressed in Latin, that "Extra Ecclesiam nulla
salus" (Outside the church, there is no salvation)-- as described in a separate essay.
||The Protestant Revolution led to wars between Catholics and Protestants in
western Europe. Exhausted by decades of intra-religious warfare, political
leaders sought a means to reduce conflict. Religious tolerance
became accepted in some countries -- a new idea whereby
individuals were allowed to follow whichever religious and spiritual path that they
||Fear of the immense power of religion to generate hatred and civil
disturbance caused the founders of the United States to separate religious
power from the government's authority. The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution has
been interpreted in recent years by the U.S. Supreme Court as requiring a
of separation between church and state.
||Since the early 20th century, the RCC has promoted unity within Christianity.
In 1908, they set aside a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each year
to pray for unity through "the return of heretics and schismatics to
the Church of Rome." Unity was to be achieved by having individuals
leave their church of origin and join the RCC -- the "the one true
Church of Christ." However, in recent decades, the RCC has
conducted ecumenical negotiations with various
Christian groups (e.g. Anglicans, Evangelical Protestants, Eastern
Orthodoxy, Lutherans, Mennonites) in order to resolve past disagreements and
work towards Christian unity.
||During the year 2000, the then Cardinal Ratzinger sent a letter to bishops'
conferences throughout the world titled "Dominus Iesus."
It stated that the Catholic Church is the 'mother'
of all Christian churches. He told them to stop referring to the
Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches as 'sister' churches." 3
Many non-Catholic denominations were offended by its contents.
||During 2007-JUL, Pope Benedict XVI issued a
document that reiterated the contents of "Dominus Iesus."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Other churches have defects, Catholics say." The Times
News Service, London. 2000-SEP-5
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: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/
Peggy Polk, "Vatican declares only the Roman Catholic Church
brings salvation," Religious News Service. Distributed by pcusaNews
mailing list as Note #6183. Issued 2000-SEP-7
Copyright © 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-SEP-12
Latest update: 2007-JUL-16
Author: B.A. Robinson