There have been many reports recently about the Pope’s reassertion of the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the one true church. For example, an article posted at Forbes.com declared:
Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says Orthodox churches were defective and that other Christian denominations were not true churches.
Benedict approved a document from his old offices at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that restates church teaching on relations with other Christians. It was the second time in a week the pope has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that modernized the church.
The document referred to in the Forbes article is called Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church. It answers five questions regarding the proper interpretation of Vatican II statements regarding the nature of the church. The fifth question is, “Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of ‘Church’ with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?” The document gives the following answer:
According to Catholic doctrine, these 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.
In my opinion, such clarification by the Pope has done us a favor, and I hope he continues to assert more clearly what has always been the true position of the Roman Catholic Church on such matters. There have been far too many Catholics and Evangelicals who have been led to believe that the differences between them are really not that great after all and have involved themselves in many misguided and misinformed attempts at a unity that is nothing more than a mirage. Perhaps the most prominent such endeavor in recent years has been the astonishingly naive and foolish Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. The only way such documents can come into being and such attempts at “unity” can even be embarked upon in the first place is by either redefining or ignoring altogether what have been the actual doctrinal positions of both groups for centuries. I, for one, am glad that the Pope is clarifying anew what some of these positions are. The lines need to be clearly drawn on both sides so that Protestants can clearly see that the only way to true unity with the Roman Catholic Church is for them to admit and repent of their errors. I am not holding my breath!