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The Catholic Church's views of other faith groups

Official reactions to the Vatican's
"Responses to Some Questions..."

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Background:

Pope Benedict XVI approved on 2007-JUL-10 a document written by William Cardinal Levada, head of the Roman Catholic's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is called: "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church. 1 It discussed the status of the Catholic Church relative to Greek Orthodox church and other Christian denominations. It confirmed many of the points in a year 2000 document of Dominus Iesus that the pope had written when he was prefect of the Congregation. 2 For example:

bulletDecisions during Vatican II did not make any changes to doctrine concerning non-Catholic denominations.
bulletThe Catholic Church is the one Church of Christ that Yeshua of Nazareth founded circa 30 CE.
bulletIn the Catholic Church "... alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted."
bulletEastern Orthodox are called "particular or local Churches" because they have a valid priesthood, are part of the apostolic succession and thus can perform "true sacraments."
bulletProtestant, Anglican, and other non-Catholic denominations "suffer from defects" and cannot be referred to as "churches" in part because their clergy are not part of the apostolic succession.

Needless to say, such statements provoked very negative responses, similar to the ones that surfaced after Dominus Iesus.

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Reactions to "Responses to Some Questions by religious leaders:

bulletThe Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano published an authoritative commentary stating that the document was needed to protect the unity and uniqueness of the Roman Catholic Church which considers itself to be the Church of Christ founded by Jesus. This belief opposes such heretical notions as:
bulletThe "Church of Christ" is the sum total of the churches or the ecclesial communities, or
bulletThe "Church of Christ" is some future ecumenical goal of all Christian denominations.

The article stated:

"If this were the case, the church of Christ would not any longer exist in history, or would exist only in some ideal form emerging either through some future convergence or through the reunification of the diverse sister churches."

"It does not follow that the identification of the church of Christ with the Catholic Church no longer holds, nor that outside the Catholic Church there is a complete absence of ecclesial elements, a 'churchless void'."

"Despite the fact that this teaching has created no little distress in the communities concerned and even among some Catholics, it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of 'church' could possibly be attributed to them, given that they do not accept the theological notion of the church in the Catholic sense and that they lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church." 3

bulletThe Dr. Ann Riggs, staff head of the National Council of Churches USA's Faith and Order Commission took a generally positive view. She wrote:

"The issue that is at the center of these five questions is the nature of the Church. This document acknowledges there are numerous elements of sanctification and truth outside the Catholic Church and those institutions have been used by the spirit of Christ as instruments of salvation."

"For some non-Catholics, as an example, some Protestant communities say, while there are some Christians within the Catholic Church, they are being saved despite the Catholic Church. Yet other Protestant communities would ask, has the spirit of Christ used this institution as an instrument of salvation? If the answer is yes, then they must be a real church."

 "From the Catholic point of view the differences with the separated churches of the East around understanding the ministry of the Bishop of Rome is so important to Catholics. Catholics view the Orthodox lack of acknowledgment of the primacy of the Pope as a defect from Roman Catholic interpretation. From an Orthodox point of view there is more of a defect in the Roman Catholic Church. ..."

 "Even though this was written for Catholic theologians it affords us all an opportunity for more dialogue and more insight. This reaffirms that the ecumenical nature and purpose of the Second Vatican Council is still very much alive within and outside Catholic circles." 4

bulletMark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America wrote:

"The Vatican's statement ... does not appear to change previously stated positions. It does, however, restate known positions in provocative ways that are before us in the ongoing U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic bilateral dialogue.

"It is no surprise that the Roman Catholic Church asserts that in it subsists the Church of Christ; surely every Christian church body makes the same assertion, for it is only because Christ's Church survives in and lives through the community we call 'Church' that we preserve and promote the apostolic faith. ..."

"The anguished response of Christians around the world to the Vatican's statement, however, clearly indicates that what may have been meant to clarify has caused pain. Now is the time for our thoughtful and measured response. The question all Christian people should reflect on today is how best to exercise forbearance and love for one another." 5

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bulletClifton Kirpatrick, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church, USA, wrote an open letter:

"We join with other churches and ecumenical bodies in raising concern about the statement released July 10, 2007, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and ratified by Pope Benedict XVI, regarding certain aspects of the Doctrine of the Church. In seeking to clarify its understanding of the Christian faith, we are rightfully concerned that the Roman Catholic leadership has mischaracterized our own faith and re-opened questions of Christian unity for all church bodies. ..."

"Our confessions and our Form of Government continually affirm that there is one holy catholic and apostolic Church, called into being, sent into mission, and governed by Jesus Christ alone. We affirm that the Church universal consists of all persons in every nation, together with their children who profess faith in Jesus Christ and commit themselves to live together under his rule. ..."

"We are in the seventh round of dialogue with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We recognize that congregations, presbyteries, and synods throughout the PC(USA) are in dialogue and work cooperatively with their Catholic counterparts. We have made significant progress. However, yesterday’s statement by the Vatican is a reminder that there is much work before us. Our commitment is to continue to live as faithful witnesses to the unity given to us in Jesus Christ. We will neither abandon our relationships with the Roman Catholic Church, nor deny our own confessional understanding of what it means to be the church universal. We remain dependent upon the Holy Spirit to move in the ecumenical task of seeking Christian unity." 6

bulletThe World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a group representing 75 million Protestants in over 100 countries issued a press release suggesting that the new document took ecumenical dialogue back to the time before Vatican II. They stated:

"It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity. ... It makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the reformed family and other families of the church." 7

bulletTimes Online, a leading UK news source, wrote:

"Protestants at the extreme evangelical end of the Anglican spectrum accused Rome of a 'lust for power.' while welcoming the honesty of the document."

"Lambeth Palace, the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury [spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion], Dr Rowan Williams, was more diplomatic. A spokesman issued a statement that lacked any formal welcome, describing the document as 'significant'." 8

bulletCanon Gregory Cameron, ecumenical officer of the Anglican Communion said:

"In the commentary of this document we are told that ‘Catholic ecumenism’ appears ‘somewhat paradoxical’. It is paradoxical for leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to indicate to its ecumenical partners that it no longer expects all other Christians merely to return to the true (Roman Catholic) Church, but then for Rome to say that it alone has 'full identity' with the Church of Christ, and that all others of us are lacking." 8

bulletThe Rev David Phillips, General Secretary of the Church Society in the UK, said:

"Nothing new is said, but it does clarify the way in which the Vatican has torn apart Christianity because of its lust for power. They remind us that in their view that to be a true church one has to accept the ludicrous idea that the Pope is in some special way the successor of the apostle Peter and the supreme earthly leader of the Church. "

"These claims cannot be justified, biblically, or historically, yet they have been used not only to divide Christians but to persecute them and put them to death."

"We are grateful that the Vatican has once again been honest in declaring their view that the Church of England is not a proper Church. Too much dialogue proceeds without such honesty. Therefore, we would wish to be equally open; unity will only be possible when the papacy renounces its errors and pretensions." 8

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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. 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/
  2. 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/
  3. John Thavis, "Vatican congregation reaffirms truth, oneness of Catholic Church," Catholic News Service, 2007-JUL-10, at: http://www.catholicnews.com/
  4. Ann Riggs, "Vatican statement reaffirms ecumenical nature of church council," National Council of Churches, 2007-JUL-10, at: http://www.ncccusa.org/
  5. Mark Hanson, "Response of Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson to Vatican Statement "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church." ELCA, 2007-JUL-11, at: http://www.elca.org/
  6. "Stated Clerk issues statement to Presbyterians concerning latest Vatican declaration. Kirkpatrick says Catholic leadership has 'mischaracterized' faith,"  Presbyterian News Service, 2007-JUL-11, at: http://www.pcusa.org/
  7. Nichole Winfield, "Pope: Other Christians Not True Churches," Associated Press, 2007-JUL-10, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  8. 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

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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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