16 July 2007

Another letter to the editor

An Associated Press article entitled “Other Christians” published in the 10 July 2007 issue of the Effingham Daily News claimed that the Vatican issued a document that said Protestant denominations “were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the ‘means of salvation.’”

The article quoted the document Dominus Iesus (Latin for “The Lord Jesus”) issued in 2000,rather than the one released Tuesday called “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church”. Even so, the quotation offered is neither accurate nor correct. (Dominus Iesus reaffirmed that salvation is only possible through Jesus Christ and not through all of the world’s religions.)

The article is only partially correct and as a whole is quite misleading and false. The mainstream media has again proven itself utterly incapable of giving an accurate portrayal of the teachings of the Catholic Church. Such a false portrayal of the Catholic Church is tolerated – and even encouraged – throughout society, yet a similar false representation of Jewish, Islamic, Protestant or Buddhist teaching is not. Anti-Catholicism remains, as the historian Philip Jenkins – himself a Protestant - notes, “the last acceptable prejudice" in America.

To the matter at hand: the Catholic Church does not recognize Protestant denominations as “Churches” because, as the document in question states:

[T]hese Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense (Response to the Fifth Question).
It is because the Protestant denominations have not maintained unity with Peter through his successor and because they do not have a valid priesthood or a valid Eucharist that they are called “ecclesial communities” and not “Churches.” Nowhere do any of the documents refer to them as “merely” ecclesial communities, as the Associated Press article indicates. Referring to Protestant denominations as ecclesial communities is not a pejorative description but rather a recognition of reality; they have not maintained the tradition of the Apostles.

Going back to the quotation given by the article from Dominus Iesus, an accurate, correct and full quotation would have read thus:

[T]hese separated Churches [Eastern Catholic Churches] and [ecclesial] communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church” (Dominus Iesus, 17 [emphasis mine]).
From this it is plain that the article was not at all correct in its primary claim. Rather than reporting the facts its reports falsehood and lies.

While the Catholic Church teaches that she has received from Christ the fullness of the means of salvation, she also recognizes that Christ’s salvific grace is present and at work in all who seek God with a sincere heart and clear conscience, properly formed.

What is more, the document issued on Tuesday reaffirmed “that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them” (Response to the Second Question).

Furthermore, it clarified the teaching of the Catholic Church in order to foster ecumenical dialogue by stating clearly the beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church. The document has been well received by both the Russian Orthodox and the Anglican Communion (from Canterbury), as well as by many other others, contrary to the claims of the media.

Both Dominus Iesus and Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church, together with commentary, are available on the web site of the Holy See (www.vatican.va) under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. If you have questions about these documents I suggest you read them and not trust the media’s portrayal of them; the media has heretofore proven itself entirely unreliable.

The Effingham Daily News should be ashamed for publishing such a misleading and erroneous article and should apologize for the harm it has caused in the community.

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