In the wake of a Vatican document that argued the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church, Pope John Paul told participants in a meeting with representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches that the commitment to ecumenical dialogue is “irrevocable.”
It was the first encounter between the Vatican and non-Roman Catholics since the publication in early September of a controversial document, Dominus Iesus, that seemed to cast doubt on the status of Anglican and Protestant churches.
The declaration brought strong reactions because of its assertion that only the Roman Catholic Church fully represents the “one holy, Catholic and apostolic church,” while recognizing other churches as “ecclesial communities.”
WARC representatives were conspicuously absent from an ecumenical ceremony in January that marked the Jubilee year for Roman Catholics, largely due to Vatican pronouncements on indulgences. Protestants, going back to the time of Martin Luther in the 16th century, strongly oppose the belief that the church can grant indulgences based on good works or special piety, allowing remission of the time spent in purgatory.
WARC’s theology secretary, Odair Mateus, said that theologically, there is nothing new in Dominus Iesus.
He said, however, that publication of the document had affected “the spiritual environment of the dialogue.”
He added, “We had expected that, after almost 40 years of dialogue, the Roman Catholic Church would be more sensitive to how it refers to other world communions.”
In a Sept. 18 address at the meeting, the Pope said that “within the ecumenical movement, theological dialogue is the proper setting for us to face together the issues over which Christians have been divided, and to build together the unity to which Christ calls his disciples.”
Edward Cardinal Cassidy, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, said that Dominus Iesus, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “was not addressed to the ecumenical world.”
Rather, the statement was “addressed to the academic world, to some Asian Catholic theologians, and edited by professors in a scholastic language.”