The UCC's ecumenical officer described a new Vatican document as "upsetting" and "distressing," but also cautioned church leaders to recognize the on-the-ground progress that has been established between Catholics and Protestants.
The Rev. Lydia Veliko's written remarks, prepared for church leaders, came in response to a July 10 Vatican document that reasserts the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church and calls other Christian churches defective. The papal-approved statement describes Protestant denominations as not even churches "in the proper sense."
The document has received a cold response from global Protestant leaders who have expressed sentiments ranging from quiet concern to outspoken rebuke.
"It is most upsetting to read persistent language, not new yet still distressing, characterizing the Protestant churches as not having 'preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery,' thus relegating us to a category of 'ecclesial communities' rather than 'church,'" wrote Veliko, the UCC's ecumenical officer, in a response circulated to UCC Conference Ministers. "However much we may disagree, those of us who have been involved in dialogue with Roman Catholics are quite familiar with this perspective, and understand how Roman Catholics come to this view within the logic of their own ecclesiological convictions. Nevertheless, that the Vatican again feels the need to remind us of this is, at the very least, troubling."
The Vatican statement, which was "ratified and confirmed" by Pope Benedict XVI and published with his approval, reiterates some of the most controversial ideas in a 2000 Vatican declaration published under Benedict's authority when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The four-page document purports to correct "erroneous interpretation" and "misunderstanding" of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, which paved the way for ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and other Christian churches.
Veliko, however, remained positive about Catholic-Protestant-Orthodox relationships, especially in the United States.
"We appreciate the many ways in which Roman Catholics … work collaboratively and collegially with Protestant and Orthodox colleagues, in many cases exhibiting the very best of the ecumenical spirit to which they made visible commitment in the days following Vatican II," she said. "The UCC, as well as many of our partners, have been positively impacted by the Roman Catholic Church's commitment to dialogue in the last 40 years. This work has enhanced the pastoral, liturgical, and theological life of all of our churches."
The World Alliance of Reformed Churches, of which the UCC is an active and longstanding member, offered strong negative reaction to the document in a letter of response to the Vatican.
"The statement takes us back to the kind of thinking and atmosphere that was prevalent prior to the Second Vatican Council," WARC officials said, in a prepared release.