Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 16, 2007
Protestants dismayed at new document on the identity of Church
By CINDY WOODEN
Catholic News Service
Several Protestant organizations reacted with dismay to the Vatican's recent document on the identity of the Church.
However, an Orthodox leader and a Swiss bishop said that by clarifying its position the Vatican actually is helping ecumenical dialogue.
The document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church, was released July 10 at the Vatican.
It reaffirmed Catholic teaching that the Catholic Church is the one, true Church of Christ, even if elements of truth and Christ's saving grace can be found in separated churches and communities.
The Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, published an open letter July 10 addressed to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
"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," 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."
Gift of God
Nyomi also said, "For now, we are thankful that our calling to be part of the Church of Jesus Christ is not dependent on the interpretation of the Vatican. It is a gift of God."
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.
Note of sadness
"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.
Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, head of the Russian Orthodox office for ecumenical dialogue, told the Interfax news agency that the July 10 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."
In a long theological reflection on the document, Catholic Bishop Kurt Koch of Basel, president of the Swiss bishops' conference, said he understood how the document could be confusing or even hurtful to Protestants and to Catholics who usually refer to the Protestant communities as churches.
The new Vatican document, he said, is looking at the term in a "strictly theological" way, explaining that if the Catholic Church believes apostolic succession and valid sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, are essential aspects of the Church established by Christ it cannot recognize as "Church" those communities who do not have them.
Koch also said the document and reactions to it underline a clear difference in the Catholic and Orthodox ecumenical goal and the ecumenical goal of the Protestants.
The Catholic and Orthodox churches, he said, aspire to full, visible unity, while the Protestant communities work for mutual recognition of the multiplicity and diversity of churches, "even with their possible contradictions."