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Cardinal criticises Vatican statement for ‘inappropriate’ language


The Vatican’s top official for Christian unity has criticised a Roman Catholic statement published in 2000 that described Protestant denominations as not being churches, "in the proper sense".

"I took exception to it – not to the document’s contents, but only to its language. In my opinion, this was inappropriate," said Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in an interview with Poland’s Catholic information agency KAI.

The declaration, "Dominus Iesus" was issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in August 2000, and signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI, and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican’s secretary of state.

It said non-Christians were "in a gravely deficient situation" because they lacked the "fullness of the means of salvation". Non-Catholic Christian communities also had "defects", the document stated.

"It’s necessary to express oneself so as to be understood well by others," Kasper said in the interview published on 24 October. "But the language of the declaration was too harsh – for many Catholics too, the same content could have been expressed in a more approachable way. This is what I have a problem with."

Some Protestant and Orthodox theologians questioned the Catholic Church’s commitment to ecumenism in light of the document. The document had been "badly understood" by other Christians, said Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

However, the claims in the "Dominus Iesus" document were reaffirmed in a Vatican statement in June 2007. This said Protestant denominations, although containing "elements of sanctification and truth," could not "be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense" because they lacked "apostolic succession in the sacrament of orders".

In his interview with KAI, Cardinal Kasper said he had "noted improvements" in the Catholic dialogue with Orthodox churches. Still, a consensus on the role of the papacy, one of the key dividing issues between the two Christian traditions was "for now impossible", he said.

"With Protestant ‘ecclesial communities,’ to use the precise theological formula, the situation is much more difficult chiefly because of their internal crumbling," the cardinal noted.

"Sometimes, it’s hard even to establish the identity of the partner in dialogue," said Kasper. "There are groups and movements within these communities who depart from their official policy and feel closer to Catholics. So we must take reality as it is and conduct dialogue on several levels. We want to make progress with it, but in truth, and maintaining realism."

(c) Ecumenical News International