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Dismay and anger as Pope declares Protestants cannot have churches

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  • Dismay and anger as Pope declares Protestants cannot have churches

    Declaration criticised as huge step backwards

    July 11, 2007 -- Protestant churches yesterday reacted with dismay to a new declaration approved by Pope Benedict XVI insisting they were mere "ecclesial communities" and their ministers effectively phonies with no right to give communion.

    Coming just four days after the reinstatement of the Latin mass, yesterday's document left no doubt about the Pope's eagerness to back traditional Roman Catholic practices and attitudes, even at the expense of causing offence.

    The view that Protestants cannot have churches was first set out by Pope Benedict seven years ago when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he headed the Vatican "ministry" for doctrine. A commentary attached to the latest text acknowledged that his 2000 document, Dominus Iesus, had caused "no little distress".

    But it added: "It is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to [Protestant communities], given that they do not accept the theological notion of the Church in the Catholic sense and that they lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church."

    The Pope's old department, which issued the document, said its aim was to correct "erroneous or ambiguous" interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965. Quoting a text approved by the Council, it said Protestant churches, "because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood", had not "preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery".

    However, other Christians saw the latest document as another retreat from the spirit of openness generated by the Council, which laid the basis for talks on Christian unity. Bishop Wolfgang Huber, head of the Protestant umbrella group Evangelical Church in Germany, said: "The hope for a change in the ecumenical situation has been pushed further away by the document published today."

    He said the new pronouncement repeated "offensive statements" in the 2000 document and was a "missed opportunity" to improve relations with Protestants. The president of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy, pastor Domenico Maselli, called it a "huge step backwards in relations between the Roman Catholic church and other Christian communities".

    A statement from the French Protestant Federation warned that the internal document would have "external repercussions".

    The Church of England reacted more cautiously than seven years ago when Dominus Iesus was issued and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, denounced it as unacceptable. The spokesman for the current archbishop, Rowan Williams, said: "This is a serious document, teaching on important ecclesiological matters and of significance to the churches' commitment to the full, visible unity to the one church of Jesus Christ."

    The Vatican's statement had fewer misgivings about the Orthodox Church, which had "true sacraments" and a genuine priesthood. But their failure to acknowledge the Pope's authority meant they suffered from a "defectus", politely translated from Latin as "a wound".

    On Saturday, the Pope freed Catholics to ask for masses to be celebrated according to the Latin rite abolished by the Second Vatican Council. This meant the reinstatement of a Good Friday prayer describing Jews as blind to the Christian truth.

    The president of the Italian rabbinical assembly, Giuseppe Laras, yesterday called it "a heavy blow". He told the daily Corriere della Sera: "We are going back. A long way back."

  • #2
    Originally posted by Al-khiyal View Post

    .....On Saturday, the Pope freed Catholics to ask for masses to be celebrated according to the Latin rite abolished by the Second Vatican Council. This meant the reinstatement of a Good Friday prayer describing Jews as blind to the Christian truth.....
    July 8, 2007 -- Jewish leaders and community groups criticised Pope Benedict XVI strongly yesterday after the head of the Roman Catholic Church formally removed restrictions on celebrating an old form of the Latin mass which includes prayers calling for the Jews to 'be delivered from their darkness' and converted to Catholicism.

    In a highly controversial concession to traditionalist Catholics, Pope Benedict said that he had decided to allow parish priests to celebrate the Latin Tridentine mass if a 'stable group of faithful' request it - though he stressed that he was in no way undoing the reforms of the Sixties Second Vatican Council which allowed the mass to be said in vernacular languages for the first time.

    'What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful,' Benedict wrote.

    However, the older rite's prayers calling on God to 'lift the veil from the eyes' of the Jews and to end 'the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ' - used just once a year during the Good Friday service - have sparked outrage.

    Yesterday the Anti-Defamation League, the American-based Jewish advocacy group, called the papal decision a 'body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations'.

    'We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday mass, it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted,' said Abraham Foxman, the group's national director, in Rome. 'It is the wrong decision at the wrong time. It appears the Vatican has chosen to satisfy a right-wing faction in the church that rejects change and reconciliation.'

    Some bishops in France as well as liberal clergy and Catholics elsewhere have expressed concerns that allowing freer use of the Tridentine liturgy would imply a negation of Vatican II, the 1962-65 meetings that modernised the Roman Catholic Church. They also feared it could create divisions in parishes, since two different liturgies would be celebrated.

    The liberal French Catholic magazine Temoignage Chretien published an editorial in Latin explaining that it was not concerned about the language in which the mass was celebrated but by 'the view of the outside world held by most supporters of the traditional rite ... of a church that sees itself as the sole holder of the truth. Forty years after the Second Vatican Council, this stand is untenable'.

    Benedict has told bishops that such fears are 'unfounded' as the mass celebrated in the vernacular remained the 'normal' form while the older version was an 'extraordinary' one that would probably be sought by relatively few Catholics.

    The Vatican spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, said the new rules did not 'impose any return to the past, nor any weakening of the authority of the council, nor the authority and responsibility of bishops'.

    Benedict was acting in a bid to reach out to the followers of an excommunicated French ultra-traditionalist, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who split with the Vatican over the introduction of the new mass and other Vatican II reforms. The Vatican excommunicated him in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome's consent. The bishops were excommunicated as well.

    Benedict has been keen to reach a reconciliation with Lefebvre's group, the Society of St Pius X, which has demanded freer use of the old mass as a precondition for normalising relations. It also demands the removal of the excommunication decrees. The group said in a statement that it rejoiced over the document and thanked the pope for it.

    In one small village in western France, a church was recently occupied by Catholic traditionalists demanding a mass in Latin. A new priest, who succeeded a conservative who had served the community of 300 for 40 years, had been ordered by the local bishop to end the unauthorised but previously tolerated older rites, sparking a sit-in. Mathieu Mautin, 30, said that for him the older rite 'was very important in [his] life'.

    'I want my children to enjoy it too,' Mautin said. 'The liturgy creates a universe that makes the mystery palpable. The fact that the priest faces the altar signifies for us that he is leading the people of God.'

    Pope Benedict, who was elected in April 2005, has provoked emotional reaction from other faiths on a number of occasions. He apologised in September last year for offending Muslims after quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who said: 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'

    The Pope also sparked bewilderment when he made no mention of anti-Semitism, or the fact that the Nazis killed millions of people because they were Jewish, in a speech last year at Auschwitz. He also failed to acknowledge that there might be some degree of collective responsibility of the German people.


    • #3

      First they came for the Muslims
      and I did not speak out
      because I was not a Muslim.
      Then they came for the Jews
      and I did not speak out
      because I was not a Jew.
      Then they came for the Protestants
      and I did not speak out
      because I was not a Protestant.
      Then they came for me
      and there was no one left
      to speak out for me.

      Adapted from Pastor Martin Niemöller


      • #4
        ROME, July 11, 2007: Pope Benedict XVI has restated what he said were the "defects" of Christian faiths other than Roman Catholicism, sparking anger from Protestants who questioned the Vatican's respect for other beliefs.

        "It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity," the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which represents Protestants in more than 100 countries, said in a statement. The Vatican document repeated many of the contentious claims of a document issued in 2000 by the Vatican office on orthodoxy, which Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed for more than two decades before being elected pope in 2005.

        The document released Tuesday focused largely on the Vatican definition of what constitutes a church, which it defined as being traceable through its bishops to Christ's original apostles. Thus, it said, the world's Orthodox Christians make up a church because of shared history, if "separated" from the "proper" Catholic tradition; Protestants, who split from Catholicism during the Reformation, are considered only "Christian communities."

        The document repeated church teaching that the Roman Catholic Church alone is the mediator of salvation, though other beliefs can be its "instrument."

        "These separated churches and communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation," the document read. "In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church."

        It was unclear why the Vatican issued the document now, especially since it largely restated earlier, if contentious, statements of church doctrine. The document from 2000, called "Dominus Iesus," prompted angry reactions from other faiths, which accused the Vatican, and Ratzinger specifically, of being unnecessarily divisive.

        The stated purpose of the new document was as a "clarification" of doctrine amid much disagreement among Catholics about the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, a three-year conference that ended in 1965 and changed many church practices.

        Last week, Benedict made a similar argument in liberalizing the use of the old Latin Mass, largely set aside since the council endorsed holding Mass in the local languages of the world's billion Catholics.

        Critics said the decision could further divide Catholics and raised questions about Benedict's commitment to the changes made during the Second Vatican Council.


        • #5
          Simon Jenkins:

          July 13, 2007 -- This week's declaration by the Pope that the Church of England and other denominations are "not proper churches" was strictly for addicts. Like Dr Johnson responding to Berkeley on the non-existence of matter, I was tempted to walk round to my local St Mary's, kick a buttress and "refute it thus". Then I remembered that Pope Benedict is a theological surrealist. His church is like Magritte's pipe: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." He talks in riddles.

          Like many atheists who love churches, I am constantly diverted by the ectoplasm of religious disputes. Anthropologists may explain that when the vicar of Bootlington Parva dresses up at the altar, gestures, chants and pretends to chew the body of Christ, he is doing what was done at Chichen Itza or the Borneo jungle for centuries past. Such antics are embedded in our cultural genes. But somehow the Pope is casting aspersions on my antics and my community. A residual theological chauvinism is aroused.

          Who is this joker in Rome claiming supremacy via the greatest con in Europe's intellectual history, the 1870 Vatican council's invention of papal infallibility. Listen, Pope, I am inclined to say, two can play at infallibility. You are losing so many games these days that you have to keep moving the goalposts at your Lateran and Vatican councils. My lot were happy enough on Iona and Lindisfarne until your lot arrived at Canterbury and made a thorough mess of things for a millennium-and-a-half.

          The Pope drew a distinction between the Orthodox churches, which he calls sisters (surely brothers?), and Protestants who lack a "sacramental priesthood ... and a Eucharistic Mystery", and whom he clearly regards as little short of pagan. First of all, this is an abuse of the word church, which is from the Teutonic circe (Scottish kirk) out of the Greek kuriakon doma, or house of the lord. The operative root is kurios, a chief or headman. This is as wide a definition of a priest, and thus of a church, as is imaginable.

          If the Pope wants to try Latin, we are into ecclesia, from the Greek for assembly. This is invariably translated as a gathering or congregation of Christians, not just of those obedient to St Peter's. Augustine himself defined the word to signify both a body of believers and the place where they met, significamus locum qui continet. In other words, there is no textual justification for Benedict's exclusivity. It recalls the megalomania of Boniface VIII, who made such outrageous claims of supremacy that monarchs and even cardinals stopped listening, culminating in the schism of 1378 and eventually the Reformation. In saying that only Roman Catholicism is a "church", the Pope is merely redefining the word to suit his position. He is climbing to the top of Michelangelo's dome and beating his chest like King Kong.

          Those of us brought up in the tradition of British tolerance can let this pass. Other people who wish to order their affairs, secular or spiritual, should be left to do so provided they leave us in peace - though Blair's Britain is on weak ground here. If Islam and Shinto, Zoroastrianism and Druidism, Strict Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists want to call themselves churches, we can live with it, even if Benedict cannot.

          But if there is to be a spat with Rome over what is and is not a church, the opportunity should be taken to pull a few weeds from the path of sanity. What happens in churches may not be my concern, but I respect it as useful social bond, just as I respect the parish church as an invaluable shrine to a community's history. While Roman Catholics scurry off to their modern sheds, it is the Anglican vicar who might reasonably imitate Benedict, sit atop his gothic steeple and proclaim his to be "the one true church". He too might demand that all others worship under his aegis, or at least under his roof. To an outsider it seems ridiculous that Britain's so-called Christian community, even its Protestant parts, cannot bring itself to come together in one building. It is as if, like Welsh chapels, they would rather die apart than live together. Yet the present Church of England seems more likely to split into two than to join Methodists, Presbyterians and/or Catholics in one place.

          Last week the prime minister announced he would no longer appoint bishops but leave it to the church authorities. Why stop there? Brown should have taken the opportunity of Wednesday's "Queen's speech" to bring forward the formal disestablishment of the Church of England. This need not affect the Queen as patron of the church, but a son of the manse and head of what should be a secular 21st-century government could surely sweep away the remaining statist nonsense.

          That one religious denomination, with roughly the same number of weekly worshippers as the Roman Catholics and Muslims, should enjoy special legislative status under the British constitution is inexcusable. Whether Brown means to continue allowing church schools to prop up Anglican worship by offering it as a basis for de facto school selection remains to be seen. Anyone concerned for the cohesion of urban communities must deplore the revival of such religious segregation. Look what it has done for Northern Ireland.

          Brown is an enthusiast for the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose "religionless Christianity" was intended to refashion belief for a new humanistic age. Bonhoeffer's British champion, Alec Vidler, argued for continued church establishment on the grounds that it might allow the church to find a new and wider social purpose. This would be lost if it were "cleaned up and tidied up so everyone would know what it stood for". This historical mischief might have been plausible when Vidler wrote in the 1960s but it is absurd today, with Anglicanism lost among house churches, evangelical ranters, Pentecostalists and "churchless churches" from alpha to omega. Brown should revert to Bonhoeffer, disestablish the Church of England and let Canterbury, Rome and the rest fight it out on a level field, worshipping as and where they chose.

          This leaves the question of what happens to emptying parish churches, glories of provincial England - less so of Scotland and Wales - and museums of its history and humanity. If religious worship continues to disappear, they will still stand as the physical and emotional focus of their communities, places of civic congregation and ceremony. If "the church" collapses, uses will have to be found for churches. They need no lords spiritual, no appointed monarchs, orbs and sceptres. They can, and do, encompass places of worship as well as cafes and post offices, libraries and concerts, galleries and community centres. But they must be used.

          I would not disestablish parish churches, rather the reverse. I would "establish" them, as in Germany and other continental countries, as the formal responsibility of parishes and municipalities, a charge on local rates and a religious and secular amenity for all local people, as in the middle ages. Everyone paid to build them. They belong to everyone and should be open to everyone. They just need the product of a penny rate to prop them up - and need it ever more desperately.


          • #6


            • #7
              What a bizarre thing for a supposed Christian to say about other Christians. So much for the ecumenical spirit...



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