The Catholic Church's views of other faith groups
"Responses to Some Questions
Regarding Certain Aspects of the
Doctrine on the Church. (2007)
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
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."
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
generated a firestorm among other Christian denominations and among
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
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).
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
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
According to the Associated Press, in Dominus Iesus, the
"... 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
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- 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/
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- Nihole Winfield, "Pope: Other Christians Not True Churches," Associated
Press, 2007-JUL-10, at:
Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally posted: 2007-JUL-17
Latest update: 2007-JUL-17
Author: B.A. Robinson