Power struggle seen in Vatican statement

Published October 1, 2000

A statement from the Vatican suggesting Anglican and other Christian churches are not “churches in the proper sense,” and certainly not sister churches of the Roman Catholic Church, is evidence of a power struggle in the Vatican, says Rev. Alyson Barnett-Cowan, the Anglican church’s director of faith, worship and ministry.

A declaration from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reprimands Catholic theologians who “have argued that all religions may be equally valid ways of salvation.” It says Catholics must “firmly believe” in the unique nature of the Catholic Church and “ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid episcopate ? are not churches in the proper sense.”

An official note from the congregation’s head, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, also warned against describing Protestant churches as “sister churches.”

Ms. Barnett-Cowan has been heavily involved in ecumenical relations. She said she was somewhat surprised by the statements “because the tenor of them goes against what our ecumenical colleagues in the Vatican are saying.”

“Vatican II opened the doors to other churches, other faiths,” Ms. Barnett-Cowan said. “Some people think that’s gone too far.”

She believes the statements are directed more at pulling theologians back from suggesting that any religious faith is equally acceptable, rather than discouraging inter-faith ecumenism.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey notes that the latest document restates the long-held view of the Roman Catholic Church on other Christian churches but does not reflect the “deeper understanding that has been achieved through ecumenical dialogue and co-operation during the past 30 years.

“The idea that Anglican and other churches are not ‘proper churches’ seems to question the considerable ecumenical gains we have made.” He added that “the Church of England, and the worldwide Anglican Communion, does not for one moment accept that its orders of ministry and eucharist are deficient in any way.”

Ms. Barnett-Cowan said she doesn’t see the statements “immediately affecting our relations with our Roman Catholic friends in Canada,” which are very positive. “At the same time, when budgets are tight, some people might say, why put money into this when it won’t lead to anything spectacular in the near future?”


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