Protestant Dismay at New Vatican Document

From Ecumenical News International, 7.10.2007.

Luigi Sandri and Stephen Brown

Rome/Geneva (ENI). A new document authorised by Pope Benedict XVI restating Roman Catholic views that Protestant denominations are not churches “in the proper sense” has been criticised as setting back the quest for Christian unity.

“An exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ, as we read in the statement released today [10 July], goes against the spirit of our Christian calling towards oneness in Christ,” said the Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The alliance groups 214 churches with roots in the 16th century Protestant Reformation.

Nyomi made his comments in a letter to Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican‘s top official for promoting Christian unity, following the 10 July release in Rome of the Vatican document, which sets down questions and answers about the doctrine of the church.

The Vatican‘s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the document had been produced to correct, “erroneous interpretations which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt”.

The document says that Protestant denominations of the Reformation “have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery [and] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense”.

In his letter to Cardinal Kasper, Nyomi said of the document, “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. It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity.”

Also in Geneva, in a response that some observers said could indicate displeasure with the latest development, the World Council of Churches spoke of “the importance of genuine ecumenical dialogue, and of common Christian witness on the problems facing the world today”.

The WCC groups 347 churches, mainly from Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox traditions. The Catholic Church is not a member but has representatives on some WCC bodies.

Using the term “catholic” in the sense of “universal”, the WCC stated, “Each church is the Church catholic and not simply a part of it. Each church is the Church catholic, but not the whole of it. Each church fulfils its catholicity when it is in communion with the other churches.”

In Paris, the Protestant Federation of France said it hoped that every church, “including the Roman Catholic Church”, would seek ways to promote dialogue, “rather than being content with repeating its own convictions”.

Still, French Lutheran theologian André Birmelé said, “It’s much ado about nothing. The text is meant for internal consumption, to reassure people.”

In Rome, Italian Protestant theologian Paolo Ricca, however, questioned whether it still made sense to engage in dialogue with the Catholic Church.

“The Vatican document is very clear: it’s the old doctrine of the return to the fold,” Ricca told Ecumenical News International. “At this point we can ask ourselves if it makes sense to continue the dialogue with Rome. With many Catholics, yes, but with the Roman institution maybe not,” he said.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict had “ratified and confirmed” the document.

In 2005, immediately after his election as pontiff, Benedict said he was “disposed to do all in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism”.

However, with the latest document, “Hopes for a change in the ecumenical situation have again been pushed into the remote future,” said Wolfgang Huber, Germany‘s top Protestant bishop.

Huber noted that the latest statements repeated those contained in a Vatican declaration from 2000, called “Dominus Iesus”, and drawn up by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope in 2005.

Some ecumenically-minded theologians had later suggested that “Dominus Iesus” was a result of carelessness, said Huber, who heads the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). “No one can speak any more of carelessness,” said Huber. “This is a premeditated act.”

    6 Responses to “Protestant Dismay at New Vatican Document”

  1. Cindy Says:

    I have been a Catholic Christian for 59 years. I remember the time before Vatican II when we were not allowed to visit non-
    Catholic churches without permission. We could attend a wedding or a funeral in another church but we could not ‘participate.’ Before Vatican II, Catholics chanted boldly, “We are the one, true church and there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.” After Vatican II we took a closer look at our church, bloated with triumphant pride, and took a more humble approach. One might say a more Christ- like approach. We did not abandon our love for our faith but we accepted the free and gracious work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all people and especially in other religious communities, Christian and non-Christian. We bowed to the Truth that stretches beyond our narrow dogmas. The movement was called ‘ecumenism’ and most of us found joy and hope in sharing with people of other faiths. The latest pronouncement from Rome, proclaiming other Christian denominations not truly ‘churches,’ offends Catholics almost more than it bewilders our Protestant brethren. It is about time that Catholics, who consider themselves grateful children of Vatican II, speak up. We need to find the courage to reject this latest statement from Rome and to proclaim publicly our respect and admiration for all the wonderful CHURCHES who continue to spread the loving message of Jesus of Nazareth. Alleluia!

  2. Kevin Connors Says:

    I am a life long Catholic. I grew up loving my Christian faith, but seriously questioning the narrow mindedness of Church leaders. Vatican II seemed to turn its back on hypocracy, and appeal to openness, collaboration, full participation by all…. It seemed like a miracle from heaven.

    The leaders of the Catholic Church failed in there efforts to make Vatican II a reality. They failed because they lacked the courage to share power. Now they want to turn back the pages of history. They want the whole world to believe that they are the sole intermediary between God and mankind. Really? No one, not even the Almighty Himself accepts this nonsense. The more Church leaders talk, the sillier they seem to be. Sadly, pronouncements such as these from the “throne of Peter” seem more like jibberish from the wizzard of OZ. Sadly, all the world looks on these leaders and their words as entertainment.

  3. Gene Horton Says:

    Jesus never said “The Roman Catholic Church is the way, the truth and the light.” But rather, “In my father’s house there are many mansions.” How sad that Pope Benedict XVI chose to emphasize that which divides Christianity rather than reaching out & building bridges with people of all faiths. This latest pronouncement from Rome will have an unfortunate chilling effect on ecuminism.

  4. Jude Says:

    It’s about time! First we get more access to the Tridentine Rite of the Mass, and now maybe we can get on track with Ecumenism of the Return. Whats next? Full churches and seminaries?

  5. Melinda McLaughlin Says:

    ‘Yeah’ to those of you who also see the light regarding the latest ridiculous proclamation by our pope. If you’d like to be part of a more enlightened ‘voice’, consider looking into The Voice of the Faithful. THe members are devout catholics, many of whom are extremely active in their parishes who want something better for our Roman Catholic church, including accountability. Joining Voice of the Faithful may give you just what you’re looking for.

  6. John D. Ryan Says:

    When I heard the news of what had been published I simply shook my head. No words could meet it. As a Catholic who took a Ph.D. from a Protestant (Methodist) graduate school in the 1960s with, already, an diverse faculty, who knew the people and learned from them, the pronouncement of the Holy Office is silly–the product of minds living in a bubble, however they might appear otherwise–except for its harmfulness (mostly to gullible Catholics).

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