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Religious Tolerance logo

The Catholic Church's views of other faith groups

"Responses to Some Questions
Regarding Certain Aspects of the
Doctrine on the Church
. (2007)

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Pope Benedict XVI published a document Dominus Iesus in the year 2000 when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It described the Catholic Church as the church that Jesus Christ established circa 30 CE. It described other Christian denominations as not "churches in the proper sense." The document had been ratified and confirmed by Pope John Paul II "with sure knowledge and by his apostolic authority." 1 It was released to the public on 2000-SEP-5. It appears to have been triggered by the growth in acceptance of "relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism." 2

Ratzinger also wrote that rituals of non-Christian religions which "depend on superstitions or other errors... constitute an obstacle to salvation." He portrayed members of other religions as "gravely deficient" relative to Roman Catholics who, alone, he believes to have "the fullness of the means of salvation."

Dominus Iesus generated a firestorm among other Christian denominations and among non-Christian religions.

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Two documents issued during 2007-JUL:

In early 2007-JUL, Pope Benedict XVI issued two documents that distressed many liberals in the Roman Catholic Church while pleasing many conservatives.


The first re-authorized priests to conduct masses in Latin -- a practice that had been almost completely eclipsed by the use of the local language since the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council (a.k.a. Vatican II).


He then approved on 2007-JUL-10 a document written by William Cardinal Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is called: "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church. 3 It restated and confirmed some aspects of Dominus Iesus. The Times Online reported that:

"Vatican sources said that the document was an attempt to resolve 'confusion' caused by the apparent conflict between the Pope’s assertion on his election two years ago that Christian unity was a priority and his insistence in 'Dominus Iesus', issued in 2000 when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – that Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox Christians did not belong to 'proper' churches." 4


Finally, he went on vacation to Lorenzago di Cadore, Italy in the Dolomite mountains.

According to the Associated Press, in Dominus Iesus, the pope:

"... reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document ... that says other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation." 5

The new document takes the form of five questions and answers relating to the status of the many denominations within Christianity. 3

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Question 1:

Q: "Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?"

A: "The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it."

Roman Catholic theologians and laity differ in their interpretations of the effects of Vatican II. Liberals tend to view the Council as having revolutionized most beliefs and practices in the Church. Conservatives view the result of Vatican II as merely restating and clarifying ancient beliefs and practices without changing them.

This document refers to statements by Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI in support of the conservative interpretation. However, after comparing church documents from the 6th to 15th century and during the 18th and 19th century with documents issued during and after Vatican II, some may detect a major paradigm shift in church teaching during the Council.

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Question 2:

Q: "What is the meaning of the affirmation that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church?"

A: " the word 'subsists' can only be attributed to the Catholic Church alone. ..."

The document equates the Church of Christ -- the church that it states Jesus established circa 30 CE and which has existed ever since with "all of the elements that Christ himself instituted" -- is the Roman Catholic Church governed by the pope and bishops in communion with the pope. It is Church teaching that the Roman Catholic Church "is present and operative" in other Christian denomination. However, the church created by Christ subsists only in the church of Rome.

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Question 3:

Q: "Why was the expression “subsists in” adopted instead of the simple word 'is'?"

A: "Subsists" emphasizes that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and truth" in other Christian denominations. However, these "gifts properly belong to the Church of Christ. ..."

The document emphasizes that non-Catholic Christian denominations "suffer from defects." However, Christ has been able to use those defective faith groups as "instruments of salvation."

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Question 4:

Q: "Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term 'Church' in reference to the oriental Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?"

A: The term "Church" is used because they have "true sacraments." Also, because of apostolic succession, they have a valid priesthood and the Eucharist.

Apostolic succession means that every priest and bishop in these churches can trace their ordination back through generations of bishops directly to the twelve disciples and ultimately to Jesus Christ in an unbroken line of valid ordinations. All, or essentially all, other Christian denominations reject the apostolic succession as a myth without historical validity.

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Question 5:

Q: "Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of 'Church' with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?"

A: "... these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession ..."

The Catholic Church believes that a break occurred in the early 16th century during the Protestant Reformation, and that all Protestant pastors, ministers, bishops, etc. cannot trace their ordination back to Christ. Thus, the Catholic Church refers to Protestant faith groups, including the Anglican Communion, as "ecclesial Communities" and not as valid churches.

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Related essays:

bulletReligious leaders' reactions to "Responses to Some Questions..."
bulletIndividuals' reactions

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "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/
  2. The term "religious pluralism" is ambiguous. It is sometimes used to refer to the fact of religious diversity in a country or in the world. Other times, it refers to the belief that all religions are true when evaluated within their culture of origin. It appears to have been used in its latter sense here.
  3. William Cardinal Levada, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Vatican, 2007-JUN-29, at: http://www.vatican.va/
  4. Richard Owen and Ruth Gledhill, "If it isn’t Roman Catholic then it’s not a proper Church, Pope tells Christians," The Times Online, 2007-JUL-11. at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk
  5. Nihole Winfield, "Pope: Other Christians Not True Churches," Associated Press, 2007-JUL-10, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

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Site navigation: Home > Christianity > Roman Catholic Church > Other churches > here

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Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2007-JUL-17
Latest update: 2007-JUL-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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