Pope Benedict XVI has reminded the world that Roman Catholicism is not as quick to embrace Protestantism as many would like to believe.
According to an AP news article released today, Pope Benedict says that Orthodox churches are defective and that other Christian denominations are not true churches.
As pleased as I have been with his willingness to speak with clarity concerning his position on Islam, I suspected this was indicative of a more conservative understanding of the decisions made at Vatican II. Indeed, in this document, the Vatican is setting the record straight on Vatican II.
Whether the Pope feels non-Roman Catholics are part of the true church or not is inconsequential in the mind of the Protestant. It surely doesn’t bother me to be part of the Protestant Reformation — in fact it pleases me. But it’s important to understand that Roman Catholicism teaches that salvation comes through “The Church.” Thus, when one says, “You are not part of the true church” he is saying “you do not have access to the medium of salvation — The Church.” The AP article indicates that this is in keeping with earlier writings of Pope Benedict.
The Rev. Sara MacVane of the Anglican Centre in Rome, is right — this is nothing new. But so many Roman Catholics and Protestants alike long for a union with one another, that they’ve forgotten this important distinction. It’s a distinction worthy of note to Pope Benedict and it is the same for Protestants. The issue is the understanding of how one is “saved.” Does salvation from through the Roman Church or through Christ alone?
The AP article notes that there was “no indication about why the pope felt it necessary to release the document.” However, I think part of it is to combat the “inroads” (Pope John Paul II’s word) that Protestantism is making into Roman Catholicism, especially in Latin America.