From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Vatican statement on salvation is a ‘public relations disaster' for
15 Sep 2000 06:26:13
Note #6191 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Vatican statement on salvation is a ‘public relations disaster' for
by Edmund Doogue and Stephen Brown
Ecumenical News International
GENEVA -- A week after publishing a document which casts doubt on the
validity of Protestant Christianity and asserts Roman Catholic superiority
over all other churches, the Vatican continues to draw criticism both from
other churches and from within its own ranks.
The general secretaries of two organizations representing major wings of
Protestantism have publicly lamented the harm done to ecumenism by Dominus
Jesus, on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the
Church, published on Sept. 5 by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith. The document declares that churches that do not have a "valid
Episcopate [bishops] and the genuine and integral substance of the
Eucharistic mystery are not churches in the proper sense."
Another document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
published in an Italian magazine this month orders Catholic bishops not to
use the term "sister church" in reference to Protestant churches. This too
has also caused dismay in ecumenical circles.
Although many theologians pointed out that there is nothing new in the
Vatican documents, the reaffirmation that the Vatican does not consider
Protestant churches to be authentic churches has provoked widespread
irritation, especially within those organizations involved in long-standing
dialogue with the Vatican.
Commenting on the two documents, Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the
Lutheran World Federation (LWF), which represents 59 million of the world's
63 million Lutherans, pointed out that on Oct. 31last year the Vatican and
the LWF signed the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification"
which uses the word "church" in reference to Lutherans and Catholics "to
reflect the self-understanding of the particular churches, without intending
to resolve all the ecclesiological issues related to them."
In his statement, issued on Sept. 8 at LWF headquarters in Geneva, Noko
expressed "dismay and disappointment" that 35 years of ecumenical dialogue
between Roman Catholics and Lutherans seem not to have been considered in
the documents issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He
added that the impact of the recent statements from the Vatican is more
painful because they reflect a different spirit "than that which we
encounter in many Lutheran-Roman Catholic relationships."
He added that "Lutheran churches, together with other churches of the
Reformation, are not ready to accept the categories now emphasized by the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, nor the definitions and criteria
Also in Geneva, Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of
Reformed Churches, has written to Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to express "disappointment
and dismay" about Dominus Jesus.
Nyomi, whose organization represents more than 75 million Christians in 215
Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Reformed and United churches world-wide,
said in his letter to Cardinal Cassidy that the declaration is "made without
ecumenical sensitivity" and "seems to go against the spirit of Vatican II
.. and the progress made in relationships and dialogues since then."
"We in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches have attached much
importance to the dialogue we have engaged in for a long time now," Nyomi
said. "In many nations a number of our constituent members have made major
strides in relationship, often relating as ‘sister churches' in common
witness and diaconal work vis-a-vis challenges in their communities."
Nyomi drew attention to the Catholic decree on ecumenism, Unitatis
Redintegratio, approved in 1964 by the Second Vatican Council, which
committed the Roman Catholic Church to whole-hearted participation in the
ecumenical movement and was widely seen as the beginning a new phase in
By contrast, he stated in the letter to Cardinal Cassidy, slighting remarks
on other Christian communities in Dominus Jesus, coupled with the note on
the use of the term "sister churches," seem to be "part of a sustained
effort by Catholic conservatives" to deny the growing relationship and
respect between the Roman Catholic and Reformed and other churches.
By seeming "to contradict commitment to ecumenical co-operation within the
Christian family or even to take us back to a pre-Vatican II spirit," such
statements raise questions, Nyomi wrote, concerning "how we can continue in
dialogue with integrity -- trusting and respecting one another."
Ironically, Dominus Jesus was issued a week before WARC was scheduled to
begin a further session of international bilateral dialogue with the
Catholic Church. WARC considered calling off this session pending
clarification from the Catholic Church over what it has described as the
"special affinity and close relationship" binding it to Protestant churches.
WARC has however decided to go ahead with the session, but Nyomi stated in
the letter that "we will be putting on the table for discussion the
questions we have regarding how the Roman Catholic Church views the Reformed
family, and its implications for our continued dialogue."
The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the country's main Protestant
body, issued a statement Sept. 7 pointedly declaring that it wanted, despite
the statements from Rome, to improve ecumenical co-operation with its
"Catholic sister church."
The governing board of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany
(VELKD), which has as members eight regional Lutheran churches, said on
Sept. 8 that there was no biblical justification for the claim in Dominus
Jesus that only the Catholic Church fully incorporated the one, holy,
catholic and apostolic church. "To make this claim at the present time shows
a lack of ecumenical sensitivity."
The publication of Dominus Jesus on Sept. 5 took place a day after
representatives of the VELKD and the Catholic Church in Germany published a
new statement on the nature of the church drawn up by a joint working group.
The VELKD board said that it was confident that the German (Catholic)
Bishops' Conference would deal with the statements of the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith in an "ecumenical spirit" and that there would
continue to be a good partnership between Lutherans and Catholics in Germany
in further bilateral discussions.
However, in Switzerland, Heinrich Bolleter, bishop of the Evangelical
Methodist Church of central and southern Europe, said that he could not
understand "why Protestants are getting so excited about the statements."
According to the Reformierte Nachrichten (RNA), based in Zurich, Bishop
Bolleter said: "In our practical ecumenical work we have always known that
we are not of one mind when it comes to the issue of the nature of the
church. We too easily forget how in recent decades we have dealt with the
issue of mutual recognition. We have always avoided the question of the
understanding of the church. But we have constructed a common platform on
which we can have fellowship despite different ecclesiologies."
In Italy, Gianni Genre, newly elected moderator of the Waldensian Church,
said that he was concerned about the "anti-modernist accent accents being
set in recent times by the Catholic Church," RNA reported.
In Paris a prominent Orthodox theologian, Olivier Clement, commenting on
Dominus Jesus, said it was an "act of blasphemy against the church to say
that the Eucharist celebrated by Anglicans and Protestants is empty."
Asked by a Swiss news agency, Agence de Presse Internationale Catholique,
if Orthodox Christians were closer to Roman Catholics than Protestants,
Clement replied: "Of course, I'm convinced of that. But another step should
be taken -- a step which would prove that the closer relations between
Orthodox and Catholics have positive ramifications for Anglicans and
Protestants. But we can't see any sign of such a step. I would like to add
that the beatification of Pope Pius IX [in Rome early this month] is a
disaster for the Orthodox, for he is the man of the First Vatican Council
[which proclaimed] the dogma of papal infallibility, which poisoned
relations between the divided churches."
In London, the deputy general secretary of the Baptist Union, Myra Blyth,
told the Baptist Times: "We are all part of the one holy, catholic and
apostolic church. For one part of Christ's Church to claim superiority over
the other is inappropriate for the times in which we live, and is unhelpful
to the cause of mission."
In the United States, Joe Hale, general secretary of the World Methodist
Council (WMC), and Geoffrey Wainwright, the chair of the WMC''s committee on
ecumenism and dialogues, said that the WMC welcomed the reaffirmation in
Dominus Jesus of "Jesus Christ as the one Savior of the world" but added
that in its continuing dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church it looked
forward to "further explanation on the question of how each partner can come
to a fuller recognition of the churchly character of the other."
For many progressive Catholics, Dominus Jesus was at best embarrassing and
at worst offensive. The German branch of the We are Church movement, a
Catholic organization campaigning for radical changes in the church,
described the declaration as a "questionable attempt to bring back the
absolutist view of the church of the First Vatican Council with the
unlimited primacy of the Pope." The declaration, it continued, was "in stark
contrast to the hopeful endeavours initiated by the Second Vatican Council
for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue." It warned that the declaration
was putting at risk plans to hold an ecumenical Kirchentag (church
convention) in Berlin in 2003. We Are Church called for a clear statement by
Germany's Catholic bishops distancing themselves from the declaration.
Hans Kung, a prominent Swiss Catholic theologian often at odds with the
Vatican, told an Italian news agency that Dominus Jesus was "a mixture of
medieval backwardness and Vatican megalomania."
In London, The Tablet, a leading independent Catholic publication,
described Dominus Jesus as "a public relations disaster -- what a pity that
it sounds notes of triumphalism that the sympathetic style and way of acting
of Pope John XXIII [who initiated the Second Vatican Council], newly
beatified, seemed to have dispelled forever."
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