Failure to recognise primacy "wounds" Protestants, CDF reiterates

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a new document restating the Church's papal primacy doctrine and questioning whether "wounded" Protestant communities that fail to recognise the doctrine can legitimately be called "churches".

Catholic News Service reports that in a brief document issued yesterday the Vatican's doctrinal congregation reaffirmed that the Catholic Church is the one, true church, even if elements of truth can be found in separated churches and communities.

Touching an ecumenical sore point, the document said some of the separated Christian communities, such as Protestant communities, should not properly be called "churches" according to Catholic doctrine because of major differences over the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist.

Titled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church," it was signed by US Cardinal William J Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and approved by Pope Benedict before publication.

In a cover letter, Cardinal Levada asked the world's bishops to do all they can to promote and present the document to the wider public.

The text was the latest chapter in a long-simmering discussion on what the Second Vatican Council intended when it stated that the church founded by Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church," but that elements of "sanctification and truth" are found outside the Catholic Church's visible confines.

"Church" term misused, Vatican says

The related discussion over the term "churches" surfaced publicly in 2000, when the doctrinal congregation - then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict - said the term "sister churches" was being misused in ecumenical dialogue.

In a format of five questions and answers, the new document stated that Vatican II did not change Catholic doctrine on the church. It said use of the phrase "subsists in" was intended to show that all the elements instituted by Christ endure in the Catholic Church.

The sanctifying elements that exist outside the structure of the Catholic Church can be used as instruments of salvation, but their value derives from the "fullness of grace and truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church," it said, quoting from Vatican II's "Decree on Ecumenism."

The text said the Second Vatican Council used the term "church" in reference to Orthodox churches because, although separated from the Catholic Church, they have preserved apostolic succession, the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist. Nevertheless, they "lack something in their condition as particular churches" because they are not in union with the pope, it said.

The Christian communities born out of the Reformation, on the other hand, do not enjoy apostolic succession - the unbroken succession of bishops going back to St Peter - and therefore "cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'churches' in the proper sense," it said.

Not "backtracking" on ecumenism

An authoritative commentary published 10 July in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said the congregation had acted to protect the unity and uniqueness of the church.

The commentary said that, at first glance, Catholic ecumenism might seem somewhat paradoxical, because it holds that the Catholic Church has the "fullness" of the means for salvation, but recognises the value of elements in other churches.

The Catholic Church's teaching, it said, is that the fullness of the church "already exists, but still has to grow in the brethren who are not yet in full communion with it and also in its own members who are sinners."

US Dominican Father J Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation, said the document does not call into question Pope Benedict's pledge to work for ecumenical progress.

"The church is not backtracking on its ecumenical commitment. But ... it is fundamental to any kind of dialogue that the participants are clear about their own identity," he told Vatican Radio.

Father Di Noia said the document touches on a very important experiential point: that when people go into a Catholic church and participate in Mass, the sacraments and everything else that goes on there, they will find "everything that Christ intended the church to be."

World Council of Churches responds

Responding to the Vatican document, World Council of Churches deputy general secretary, Georges Lemopoulos, quoted an affirmation of the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which met in Porto Alegre Brazil in February 2006.

"Each church is the Church catholic and not simply a part of it. Each church is the Church catholic, but not the whole of it. Each church fulfils its catholicity when it is in communion with the other churches," the WCC affirmation says.

"To recall this statement, contained in the document 'Called to be the One Church: An invitation to the churches to renew their commitment to the search for unity and to deepen their dialogue', seems appropriate in view of the 'Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine of the church' issued by the Roman Catholic Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith today," the WCC deputy secretary said.

Vatican congregation reaffirms truth, oneness of Catholic Church (Catholic News Service, 10/7/07)
Vatican hits 'wounded' Christian churches (ABC News, 10/7/07)
Vatican repeats other Christian denominations are not true churches (International Herald Tribune, 10/7/07)
Vatican says other churches 'wounded' (Herald-Sun, 10/7/07)
Document regarding certain aspects of Church doctrine (Vatican Information Service, 10/7/07)
WCC deputy general secretary comments on the document issued today by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (World Council of Churches, Communique, 10/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Wikipedia)
World Council of Churches

Opportunity for Benedict to move out of Dominus Iesus shadow (27/5/05)
Cardinal Cassidy says 'Dominus Iesus' had 'negative impact' on ecumenism (CathNews, 21/11/00)
Benedict writes book on Jesus (CathNews, 19/7/06)

11 Jul 2007