Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI has ignited controversy across the world by approving a document saying non-Catholic Christian communities are either defective or not true churches, and the Roman Catholic Church provides the only true path to salvation.
“Christ ‘established here on earth’ only one church,” said the document, reasserting the primacy of Catholicism.
It said other Christian communities such as Protestants “cannot be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense” since they don’t have what’s known as apostolic succession – that is, the ability to trace their bishops back to the original 12 apostles of Jesus.
The document said the Orthodox church suffered from a “wound” because it did not recognize the primacy of the pope, adding the wound was “still more profound” among Protestant denominations.
It was “difficult to see how the title of ‘Church’ could possibly be attributed to them,” said the statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, purporting Roman Catholicism was “the one true Church of Christ.”
“These separated churches and communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation,” the document read. “In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.”
The document, formulated as five questions and answers, repeated sections of a 2000 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, “Dominus Iesus,” which angered Protestant and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches and did not have the “means of salvation.”
The Vatican’s statement, signed by American Cardinal William Levada, was approved by Benedict June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul in the Catholic faith.
Protestant leaders wasted no time attacking the statement.
“It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity,” said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a group 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.”
Today’s edition of the London Times gave the story prominence with a headline reading: “If it isn’t Roman Catholic then it’s not a proper Church, pope tells Christians.”
Its online edition also features a messageboard where readers from all over the world are reacting to the pronouncement, including:
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