CHURCH WARS 2007
Times Wednesday July 11 2007
.. Protestants accuse Rome of lust for power
.. Vatican notes 'defects' of non-Catholic faiths
Reporters - Richard Owen and Ruth Gledhill .
The Vatican has described the Protestant and Orthodox faiths as "not proper Churches" in a document issued with the full authority of the Pope.
Anglican leaders reacted with dismay, accusing the Roman Catholic Church of paradoxical behaviour. They said that the new l6-page document outlining the "defects" of non-Catholic churches constituted a major obstacle to ecumenism.
The document said that the Orthodox Church suffered from a "wound" because it did not recognise the primacy of the Pope. The wound was "still more profound" in Protestant denominations, it added.
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. Roman Catholicism was "the one true Church of Christ".
The language echoes earlier statements by the same body, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger until he became Pope. The statement appears to be at odds with attempts to soften Pope Benedict's image as a doctrinal hardliner and to present him as a more human figure reaching out to other faiths. And it risks undermining his own efforts for Christian unity. Protestants at the extreme evangelical end of the Anglican spectrum accused Rome of a "lust for power", while welcoming the honesty of the document.
Lambeth Palace, the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was more diplomatic. A spokesman issued a statement that lacked any formal welcome, describing the document as "significant".
Vatican sources said that the document was an attempt to resolve "confusion" caused by the apparent conflict between the Pope's assertion on his election two years ago that Christian unity was a priority and his insistence in "Dominus lesus", issued in 2000 when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - that Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox Christians did not belong to "proper" churches.
Father Augustine Di Noia, a senior doctrinal official at the Vatican, insisted that the Catholic Church was not "backtracking on ecumenical commitment. But 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 understand yourself to be."
Vatican officials insist that the Pope's attachment to bedrock traditional values is compatible with dialogue with other Christians. Yesterday's document said that such dialogue remained "one of the priorities of the Catholic Church".
The document said that the Second Vatican Council's opening to other faiths - including "ecclesial communities originating with the Reformation" - had recognised there were "many elements of sanctification and truth" in other Christian denominations, but had also emphasised that only Catholicism was fully Christ's Church.
The document said that other Christian faiths "lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church".
The disappointment of the Anglicans was evident in the response of Canon Gregory Cameron, Dr Williams's former chaplain in Wales and a leading canonical lawyer and scholar who is now ecumenical officer of the Anglican Communion.
Canon Cameron said: "In the commentary of this document we are told that 'Catholic ecumenism' appears 'somewhat paradoxical'. It is paradoxical for leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to indicate to its ecumenical partners that it no longer expects all other Christians merely to return to the true (Roman Catholic) Church, but then for Rome to say that it alone has 'full identity' with the Church of Christ, and that all others of us are lacking."
He said Anglican bishops had indicated in 1997 that such a position constituted "a major ecumenical obstacle".
The Rev David Phillips, General Secretary of the Church Society, said: "Nothing new is said, but it does clarify the way in which the Vatican has torn apart Christianity because of its lust for power. They remind us that in their view that to be a true church one has to accept the ludicrous idea that the Pope is in some special way the successor of the apostle Peter and the supreme earthly leader of the Church.
"These claims cannot be justified, biblically, or historically, yet they have been used not only to divide Christians but to persecute them and put them to death.
"We are grateful that the Vatican has once again been honest in declaring their view that the Church of England is not a proper Church. Too much dialogue proceeds without such honesty. Therefore, we would wish to be equally open; unity will only be possible when the papacy renounces its errors and pretensions."