The Dogma Catholics Deserve

Will Catholics do more than shrug glumly at their church's bullying?

This story originally appeared on Beliefnet in 2000

Last June, according to a front-page report in the September 6 Los Angeles Times, "the Vatican ordered bishops to avoid references to 'sister churches' and instead remember that 'the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is not sister but "mother" of all the particular [Christian] churches.'"

According to the same report, entitled "Vatican Declares Catholicism Sole Path to Salvation," the June statement has now been topped by a new statement, written by one Vatican bureaucrat, signed by another, and issued in the name of John Paul II. The new statement, titled "Dominus Iesus," says that the Protestant churches aren't just daughter churches of Rome's but are not "churches in the proper sense" at all. They have been demoted to "ecclesial communities." As for non-Christians, they are even worse off, according to the new document: "Objectively speaking, they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the [Catholic] Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation."

Sentiments like these are nothing new in the Roman Catholic Church. What was new, for a short time, was the less bullying, less triumphalist attitude toward non-Catholics and non-Christians that Pope John XXIII ushered in with his Second Vatican Council (1962-1966). This latest statement demonstrates, if any further demonstration was really needed, that the Vatican II chapter in Catholic history is now definitively closed. The church is once again in the grip of the likes of Msgr. Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who signed "Dominus Iesus," and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation, who wrote it. Both are unrepentant arch-conservatives who are determined to crack down on every form of Catholic dissent and to resist all efforts to change the church.

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At any rate, the church is in their grip unless some Catholic counter-force arises to loosen it, but that prospect seems most unlikely. There are liberal Catholics, of course, even some liberal priests and a few liberal bishops, but in all likelihood they will do nothing more than shrug glumly over this 36-page slap in the world's face and try to say as little about it as they can.

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