Pope asserts Catholic primacy
Pope Benedict XVI reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says other Christian communities...
The Associated Press
LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy — Pope Benedict XVI reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides 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 was the second time in a week that Benedict has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that modernized the church. On Saturday, Benedict revived the old Latin Mass, a move cheered by Catholic traditionalists but criticized by more liberal ones as a step backward from Vatican II.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Benedict headed before becoming pope, said it was issuing the new document Tuesday because some contemporary theological interpretations of Vatican II's ecumenical intent had been "erroneous or ambiguous" and had prompted confusion and doubt.
The new document restates key sections of a 2000 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus," which riled 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."
"Christ 'established here on earth' only one church," said the document released as the pope vacations at a villa in Lorenzago di Cadore, in Italy's Dolomite mountains.
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 — and therefore their priestly ordinations are not valid, it said.
The document said Orthodox churches were indeed "churches" because they have apostolic succession and enjoyed "many elements of sanctification and of truth." But it said they do not recognize the primacy of the pope, a defect, or a "wound" that harmed them, it said.
The document stressed 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.
Lutheran Bishop Wolfgang Huber, the top Protestant cleric in Benedict's homeland, Germany, complained that the Vatican apparently did not consider that "mutual respect for the church status" was required for any ecumenical progress.
One ecumenical scholar suggested the document is a piece of historical revisionism.
"From a careful reading of the documents of Vatican II, it is clear that the Roman Catholic Church wished to affirm the ecclesial reality of the Protestant churches," said the Rev. Vincent Cushing, former president of Washington Theological Union.
Material from the Religion News Service is included in this report.
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