The 36-page "Declaration Dominus Iesus" ("On the Unicity andSalvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church") expressed"sincere respect" for other religions but attacked "religious relativismwhich leads to the belief that one religion is as good as another."
"If it is true that the followers of other religions can receivedivine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in agravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church,have the fullness of the means of salvation," the Vatican said ofnon-Christian religions. It called non-Catholic Christian bodies"defective."
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for theDoctrine of the Faith, issued the document at a Vatican news conferenceas part of what appeared to be an ongoing but urgent effort by theVatican to reassert traditional Catholic doctrine.
Ratzinger said in a recent letter to bishops' conferences throughoutthe world that the Catholic Church is the "mother" of all Christianchurches, and told them to stop referring to the Orthodox, Anglican andProtestant churches as "sister" churches.
And on Sunday, Pope John Paul II beatified Pope Pius IX, aconservative 19th century pontiff who proclaimed the doctrines of papalinfallibility and the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and alsofought the unification of Italy, restricted religious freedom and lockedRome's Jews into a ghetto. John Paul held up his predecessor's spiritualvirtues for "imitation and veneration."
Tuesday's declaration raised concern among other churches.
In London, Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, spiritual leaderof the worldwide Anglican Communion, called Ratzinger's statements"unjustified" and said they did "not reflect the deep comprehension thathas been reached (by Catholics and Anglicans) through ecumenicaldialogue and cooperation during the past 30 years."
"Of course," Carey added, "the Church of England and the worldwideAnglican Communion does not for one moment accept that its orders ofministry and Eucharist are deficient in any way. It believes itself tobe a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ, inwhose name it serves and bears witness, here and round the world."
In Geneva, the World Council of Churches, largely comprised of Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox bodies, warned that the growth ofecumenical dialogue could be "hindered--or even damaged" by what itcalled "language which precludes further discussion of the issues."
But Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, a leader in the CatholicChurch's dialogue with both the Orthodox churches and Jews, saidRatzinger's pronouncement is "in full accord with what Vatican II hassaid."
Keeler, who attended the Vatican news conference, said he did notexpect the new declaration to have a negative effect on ecumenical andinterfaith dialogue.
In England, in an exercise in damage limitation, Archbishop CormacMurphy-O'Connor of Westminster, chairman of the department of missionand unity of the Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales, saidthe new document "does not attempt to change the teaching of theCatholic Church regarding ecumenism."
He said its main purpose was to warn against a tendency to regardall religions as equivalent and it was written principally for Catholicbishops and theologians.
"Certainly no slight is intended by its comments regarding otherChristian communities," he said. "As Christians we share a commonbaptism, and the Catholic Church believes this brings us all into areal, if imperfect, communion. This was made clear in the documents ofthe Second Vatican Council, where it said that other Christians `withgood reason are accepted as our brothers and sisters.'"
Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of Ratzinger's congregation,said the document carried the full authority of infallibility because itwas "explicitly approved and confirmed by the pope." He said the popehad indicated it was "his will that what it contains be believed by allthe church."
"With the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ, God has willed that thechurch founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of allhumanity," the declaration said.
"This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which thechurch has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, itrules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentismcharacterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief thatone religion is as good as another," it said.