Written by Bennett Guess
The World Alliance of Reformed Churches wrote to the Vatican on July 10, questioning Rome's clarification on the status of non-Catholic churches, saying the statement "takes us back to the kind of thinking and atmosphere that was prevalent prior to the Second Vatican Council."
The text of the letter from WARC general secretary Setri Nyomi to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council of Christian Unity, follows:
Dear Cardinal Kasper,
We have seen the statement made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and ratified and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI concerning certain aspects of the Doctrine of the Church on 10 July 2007.
We are puzzled by the release of a statement of this kind at this time in the history of the church. At a time of societal fragmentation all over the world, the one church of Jesus Christ in which we all participate ought to strengthen its common witness and affirm our oneness in Christ. The statement released on 10 July unfortunately gives an interpretation of the statement in Lumen Gentium 8 which takes us back to the kind of thinking and atmosphere that was prevalent prior to the Second Vatican Council. This is not good for the mutual trust that is being developed through our bilateral dialogues.
We especially find problematic the statement that, "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."
Since Vatican II, our dialogues have sought to understand and overcome differences we have had for centuries, and to build common agreements over things we hold dear in our common Christian faith. The outcomes especially of Reformed-Catholic dialogues on "Towards a Common Understanding of the Church" and "The Church as Communion of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God" have given hope to our journey of overcoming differences and affirming our oneness in the Church of Jesus Christ.
An exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ, as we read in the statement released today, goes against the spirit of our Christian calling towards oneness in Christ. It makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the Reformed family and other families of the church. It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity. This is unfortunate timing since we are about to release the results of the third series of our bilateral dialogues.
For now, we are thankful to God that our calling to be part of the church of Jesus Christ is not dependent on the interpretation of the Vatican. It is a gift of God. Receiving this gift, we appreciate the Roman Catholic Church as a part of this family (as affirmed in the final report of "Towards a Common Understanding of the Church" published in 1991). We pray for the day that the Roman Catholic Church moves beyond exclusivist claims so that we can further the cause of Christian unity for which our Lord Jesus Christ prayed - so that the world may believe (John 17: 21). We cherish the relationship we have with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and look forward to your explaining to us what the issuing of this statement means.
May God bless you in your ministry.
Setri Nyomi (Rev. Dr.)