The Catholic Church's views of other faith groups
Official reactions to the Vatican's
"Responses to Some Questions..."
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
Iesus that the pope had written when he was prefect of the Congregation.
2 For example:
||Decisions during Vatican II did not make any changes to
doctrine concerning non-Catholic denominations.
||The Catholic Church is the one Church of Christ that Yeshua
of Nazareth founded circa 30 CE.
||In the Catholic Church "... alone are found all the elements
that Christ himself instituted."
||Eastern 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."
||Protestant, 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
"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
"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
||The Dr. Ann Riggs, staff head of the National Council of
Churches USA's Faith and Order Commission took a generally positive view.
"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
"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
||Mark 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
||Clifton 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."
||The 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
||Times 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
"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
||Canon Gregory Cameron, ecumenical officer of the Anglican Communion
"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
||The 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
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
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:
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/
John Thavis, "Vatican congregation reaffirms truth, oneness of Catholic
Church," Catholic News Service, 2007-JUL-10, at:
Ann Riggs, "Vatican statement reaffirms ecumenical nature of church
council," National Council of Churches, 2007-JUL-10, at:
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:
"Stated Clerk issues statement to Presbyterians concerning latest Vatican
declaration. Kirkpatrick says Catholic leadership has 'mischaracterized' faith,"
Presbyterian News Service, 2007-JUL-11, at:
Nichole Winfield, "Pope: Other Christians Not True Churches," Associated
Press, 2007-JUL-10, 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. at:
Copyright © 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally posted: 2007-JUL-17
Latest update: 2007-JUL-17
Author: B.A. Robinson