Pope Benedict  and the True Church

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI signed on to a new document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) — the Vatican office that he headed for a long time before he became pope but now is headed by an American Cardinal, William Levada.  This new document is apparently intended to try to downplay the Vatican II statement that the Church intended by Christ "subsists in Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure" (Constitution on the Church, 8) as well as to avoid possible misinterpretations of that statement drawn from another document from that same Council which stated, that the Church recognizes "some, even very many of the most significant elements and endowments, which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside of the visible boundaries of the Church itself…(Decree on Ecumenism, 3)

        It seems that this current attempt to roll back Vatican II started in 2000, when the present pope, while still head of the CDF, had issued a document titled Dominus Jesus ("The Lord Jesus").  In explaining how these other elements are found outside of the Catholic Church, he nevertheless went out of his way to remind theologians that the other churches (here is meant the eastern "Orthodox" churches — apparently because they are not in communion with Rome) are "defective" or even in the case of many Protestant communities, not fully "churches" in the proper sense of the word (because, at least in the Vatican's eyes, they lack a valid line of succession in Holy Orders). Needless to say, this 2000 document — which was given an official seal of approval by Pope John Paul II — upset not only the very traditional Orthodox Churches, but also many ecumenically minded Protestant theologians, as well as more liberal Catholics.

        In defense of his position, at least according to an interview which Ratzinger gave while still head of the CDF: "The concept expressed by 'is' (to be) is far broader than that expressed by 'to subsist'. 'To subsist' is a very precise way of being, that is, to be as a subject, which exists in itself.  Thus the Council Fathers meant to say that the being of the Church as such is a broader entity than the Roman Catholic Church, but within the latter it acquires, in an incomparable way, the character of a true and proper subject."  In other words (at least it seems to me unless there has been a mix-up in the translation), the Church intended by Jesus is either something bigger than the Roman Catholic Church, but really shouldn't be — either that or else the Roman Catholic Church itself needs to become a whole lot more inclusive!

        But if so, why now this repeat of the same, this time using his new authority as pope to stress what he sees to be an essential difference between the Roman Catholic Church and all the others?   One would think that the Roman Church, which more than all others claims the quality of catholicity or universality, would be more concerned to promote Christian ecumenism, which has already fallen on hard times over such dicey issues as women's ordination, is stymied by resurgent nationalism in Eastern Europe, is being overrun by Islam in the Middle East, and being replaced by enthusiasts in Latin America who have little or no regard for traditional Christianity.  But instead, what we seem to be getting from Rome is a renewed obsession with episcopal pedigrees, and more rules to keep the clergy separate from the laity, despite the fact that before long the laity may be all that is left.  Instead of turning outward in its mission to the world, which is what Vatican II and ecumenism were all about, what we see is a turning inward in retreat from the world's real challenges.

        I think that we all, whether Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, have to admit that as often as there has a been division between us, we all, including Jesus himself, end up the losers.  Unless the Evangelist got it wrong (see John 17:21), Jesus prayed that all his followers be one, just as he and Father are one — realizing that his message would be effective only to the extent that his disciples remained united.   The sin and scandal of Christian disunity, while it often poses as "fidelity" to the word of God, is all too often just the opposite.  Of course, human nature being what it is, there will always be a tendency towards divisions and schisms.  But to the extent that we retreat from our responsibility to overcome this tendency, we fail to be Catholic or even truly Christian.  

                                        R W Kropf 7/17/07                      (TrueChurch.doc  07-07-17.html).