The Vatican’s top official for Christian unity has rejected criticism that an official Roman Catholic document will hinder dialogue because of its statement that Protestant denominations are not churches “in the proper sense.”
“If this declaration now explains the Catholic profile and expresses what, in a Catholic view, unfortunately still divides us, this does not hinder dialogue but promotes it,” said Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The Vatican official’s comments followed widespread criticism from Protestant leaders about the document, Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church, which was released July 10.
The document, authorized by Pope Benedict XVI, says that Protestant denominations dating back to the 16th century Reformation, “cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense.”
The general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Rev. Setri Nyomi, responded that the document created doubts about the seriousness with which the Catholic church takes dialogue with other Christian traditions.
But Cardinal Kasper maintained that the document does not “say anything new … it does not say that Protestant churches are not churches but that they are not churches in the proper sense, i.e. they are not churches in the sense in which the Catholic church understands itself as church.”
The Russian Orthodox Church called the Vatican’s position an “honest statement” that provides a “clear view” of its position. The head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox church said Pope Benedict has “made enemies” with his statement.