Don't overreact, Cardinal tells Protestants

Responding to a backlash from Orthodox and Protestant groups over a Vatican critique of their communities, Holy See spokesperson on Christian unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that there was no "objective reason" to feel harshly treated.

The International Herald Tribune reports that Cardinal Kasper sought to reassure other denominations that Rome remains committed to dialogue with other Christian denominations.

Cardinal Walter Kasper said the document released Tuesday contained nothing new and that there was no "objective reason for indignation or motive to feel themselves harshly treated."

The document, in which Pope Benedict reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, said other Christian communities were either defective or not true churches and that Catholicism provided the only true path to salvation.

The statement brought swift criticism from Protestant leaders.

"It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity," said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a fellowship of 75 million Protestants in more than 100 countries.

"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," the group said.

Kasper made his comments to Vatican Radio in German, directed to an audience where Protestants were angered by the insinuation of defects in Christian denominations other than Catholicism.

He said a careful reading would show that the Vatican does not deny that Protestant churches are churches, but only stated that the Vatican definition of what constitutes a church is one that is traceable through its bishops to Christ's original apostles.

"Without doubt at the basis of dialogue is not what divides us but what unites us, and that is larger than what divides us," Kasper said.

Reactions to the document

Earlier, Reverend Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, had published an open letter dated 10 July addressed to Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Catholic News Service says.

"An exclusivist claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ ... goes against the spirit of our Christian calling toward oneness in Christ," Reverend Nyomi wrote.

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

Meanwhile Thomas Wipf, president of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, said the original characteristics of the church of Christ are preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments.

"That - and no more - is needed to be able to be seen as an authentic expression of the one church of Christ," he said.

"The Gospel, and not apostolic succession in the sacrament of ordination, constitutes the church," he said. "We recognize the Roman Catholic Church as a church. It is and remains regrettable that this is not made possible the other way around."

At the same time, Wipf said that making explicit the fact that the document represents the Roman Catholic understanding of "church" could lead to greater clarity in ecumenical dialogue.

However, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the Russian Orthodox office for ecumenical dialogue, told the Interfax news agency that the 10 July document "is an honest statement. It is much better than the so-called 'church diplomacy.' It shows how close or, on the contrary, how divided we are."

Cardinal says Protestants overreacted to Vatican document, seeks to reassure them (International Herald Tribune, 11/7/07)

Pope is Catholic, but is not the antichrist (The Age, 12/7/07)
Moscow Patriarchate: Orthodox Church is 'heir to the old, undivided Church'(AsiaNews, 11/7/07)
Protestant groups dismayed at new document on identity of 'church' (Catholic News Service, 11/7/07)
Pope restates 'defects' of other Christian faiths in document (International Herald Tribune, 11/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Walter Kasper (Wikipedia)
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Wikipedia)
Pontifical Council for Christian Unity
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Wikipedia)
World Council of Churches

Failure to recognise primacy "wounds" Protestants, CDF reiterates (CathNews, 11/7/07)
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)

12 Jul 2007