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Pope’s remarks about Catholic Church cause further anger


An Italian Protestant theologian has questioned the point of dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church after Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed a Vatican statement about the nature of the Church that many Protestants found offensive.
"If we thought that all Catholics shared the pontiff’s opinions about Protestants, we would suspend any ecumenical relationship with them. There is no sense in having dialogue with those who deny your identity," said Italian Waldensian theologian Paolo Ricca.

"But," Ricca added, "we continue the dialogue with the Roman church because we know that many Catholics do not share the positions of the Pope and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith." The congregation is the body that is responsible for maintaining Catholic doctrinal orthodoxy.

Ricca’s remarks follow a speech by Pope Benedict on 31 January about a Vatican document issued in 2007 that dismayed many Protestant leaders because of its statement that their denominations were not churches "in the proper sense". This text was a restatement to a large part of another controversial document known as "Dominus Iesus". This was published in 2000 under the signature of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and is now Pope.

Many Protestant and Anglican leaders complained that "Dominus Iesus" showed that the Vatican had failed to take into account progress made towards Christian unity in talks with Rome over many years.

In his latest comment, the Pope said the 2007 document was "in full continuity with the teaching" of Catholic tradition, though he did not repeat the phrase that had upset the Protestant leaders.

"Far from impeding genuine ecumenical engagement, [the document] will be an incentive because the encounter on doctrinal issues will take place with realism and full awareness of the issues that still divide the Christian denominations," Benedict stated.

The previous week, Pope Benedict had presided at an ecumenical service in Rome to mark the 100th anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at which he referred to the need to pray "indefatigably" for full unity between the churches.

"We think that the papacy, both in terms of its origin and in its present form, is not an essential part of the Church of Jesus Christ," Ricca told Ecumenical News International. "But we do not place our perspectives on the table of dialogue in a way that prevents dialogue. We think that only God can judge whether a church is or is not a church ‘in the proper sense’."

Ecumenical News International