London ~~ Wednesday July 11, 2007
Dismay and anger as Pope declares Protestants cannot have churches
- · Text quotes 'absence of sacramental priesthood'
- · Declaration criticised as huge step backwards
John Hooper in Rome and Stephen Bates
Pope Benedict XVI. Photograph: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
Protestant churches yesterday reacted with dismay to a new declaration approved by Pope Benedict XVI insisting they were mere "ecclesial communities" and their ministers effectively phonies with no right to give communion.
Coming just four days after the reinstatement of the Latin mass, yesterday's document left no doubt about the Pope's eagerness to back traditional Roman Catholic practices and attitudes, even at the expense of causing offence.
The view that Protestants cannot have churches was first set out by Pope Benedict seven years ago when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he headed the Vatican "ministry" for doctrine. A commentary attached to the latest text acknowledged that his 2000 document, Dominus Iesus, had caused "no little distress".
But it added: "It is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to [Protestant communities], 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."
The Pope's old department, which issued the document, said its aim was to correct "erroneous or ambiguous" interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965. Quoting a text approved by the Council, it said Protestant churches, "because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood", had not "preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery".
However, other Christians saw the latest document as another retreat from the spirit of openness generated by the Council, which laid the basis for talks on Christian unity. Bishop Wolfgang Huber, head of the Protestant umbrella group Evangelical Church in Germany, said: "The hope for a change in the ecumenical situation has been pushed further away by the document published today."
He said the new pronouncement repeated "offensive statements" in the 2000 document and was a "missed opportunity" to improve relations with Protestants. The president of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, pastor Domenico Maselli, called it a "huge step backwards in relations between the Roman Catholic church and other Christian communities".
A statement from the French Protestant Federation warned that the internal document would have "external repercussions".
The Church of England reacted more cautiously than seven years ago when Dominus Iesus was issued and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, denounced it as unacceptable. The spokesman for the current archbishop, Rowan Williams, said: "This is a serious document, teaching on important ecclesiological matters and of significance to the churches' commitment to the full, visible unity to the one church of Jesus Christ."
The Vatican's statement had fewer misgivings about the Orthodox Church, which had "true sacraments" and a genuine priesthood. But their failure to acknowledge the Pope's authority meant they suffered from a "defectus", politely translated from Latin as "a wound".
On Saturday, the Pope freed Catholics to ask for masses to be celebrated according to the Latin rite abolished by the Second Vatican Council. This meant the reinstatement of a Good Friday prayer describing Jews as blind to the Christian truth.
The president of the Italian rabbinical assembly, Giuseppe Laras, yesterday called it "a heavy blow". He told the daily Corriere della Sera: "We are going back. A long way back."
Tuesday July 10, 2007
Pope: Other denominations not true churches
Benedict issues statement asserting that Jesus established ‘only one church’
LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy - Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says Orthodox churches were defective and that other Christian denominations were not true churches.
Benedict approved a document from his old offices at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that restates church teaching on relations with other Christians. It was the second time in a week the pope has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that modernized the church.
On Saturday, Benedict revisited another key aspect of Vatican II by reviving the old Latin Mass. Traditional Catholics cheered the move, but more liberal ones called it a step back from Vatican II.
Benedict, who attended Vatican II as a young theologian, has long complained about what he considers the erroneous interpretation of the council by liberals, saying it was not a break from the past but rather a renewal of church tradition.
In the latest document formulated as five questions and answers the Vatican seeks to set the record straight on Vatican II’s ecumenical intent, saying some contemporary theological interpretation had been “erroneous or ambiguous” and had prompted confusion and doubt.
It restates key sections of a 2000 document the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, “Dominus Iesus,” which set off a firestorm of criticism among Protestant and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the “means of salvation.”
In the new document and an accompanying commentary, which were released as the pope vacations here in Italy’s Dolomite mountains, the Vatican repeated that position.
“Christ ‘established here on earth’ only one church,” the document said. The other communities “cannot be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense” because they do not have apostolic succession the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ’s original apostles.
‘Identity of the Catholic faith’
The Rev. Sara MacVane of the Anglican Centre in Rome, said there was nothing new in the document.
“I don’t know what motivated it at this time,” she said. “But it’s important always to point out that there’s the official position and there’s the huge amount of friendship and fellowship and worshipping together that goes on at all levels, certainly between Anglican and Catholics and all the other groups and Catholics.”
The document said Orthodox churches were indeed “churches” because they have apostolic succession and that they enjoyed “many elements of sanctification and of truth.” But it said they lack something because they do not recognize the primacy of the pope a defect, or a “wound” that harmed them, it said.
“This is obviously not compatible with the doctrine of primacy which, according to the Catholic faith, is an ‘internal constitutive principle’ of the very existence of a particular church,” the commentary said.
Despite the harsh tone of the document, it stresses that Benedict remains committed to ecumenical dialogue.
“However, if such dialogue is to be truly constructive, it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith,” the commentary said.
‘Not backtracking on ecumenical commitment’
The document, signed by the congregation prefect, U.S. Cardinal William Levada, was approved by Benedict on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul a major ecumenical feast day.
There was no indication about why the pope felt it necessary to release the document, particularly since his 2000 document summed up the same principles. Some analysts suggested it could be a question of internal church politics, or that it could simply be an indication of Benedict using his office as pope to again stress key doctrinal issues from his time at the congregation.
Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the document did not alter the commitment for ecumenical dialogue, but aimed to assert Catholic identity in those talks.
“The Church is not backtracking on ecumenical commitment,” Di Noia told Vatican radio.
“But, as you know, it is fundamental to any kind of dialogue that the participants are clear about their own identity. That is, dialogue cannot be an occasion to accommodate or soften what you actually understand yourself to be.”