2016-06-30
VATICAN CITY, Dec. 6 (RNS)--Tempering a controversial Vatican declaration on salvation, Pope John Paul II said Wednesday that all who live a just life will be saved even if they do not believe in Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church.

The pontiff, addressing some 30,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square for his weekly general audience, strongly reasserted the liberal interpretation of the Bible's teaching on salvation that emerged from the Second Vatican Council.

"The gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes--the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life--will enter God's kingdom," John Paul said.

"All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of this kingdom," he said.

The pope appeared to take a far more inclusive approach to salvation than the declaration "Dominus Iesus" issued Sept. 5 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which serves as the Vatican's guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy.

"Dominus Ieusus" caused dismay among non-Catholics involved in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue by asserting that their rituals, "insofar as they depend on superstitions or other errors, constitute an obstacle to salvation."

"If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking, they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation," the document said.

While giving his full support to the declaration, John Paul has been at pains since it was issued to reiterate his commitment to dialogue and his respect for members of other religions.

Meanwhile, in an official response to "Dominus Iesus," the (Anglican) Church of Ireland said that, though it might be "strictly correct" to say the new statement changes nothing in the Roman Catholic Church's official stance, it does nevertheless raise the question of "the adequacy of the use of doctrinal statements as effective tools for ecumenical relations."

The Anglican statement said churches with confessional statements and historical formularies dating from the Reformation often find the terminology and the tone of their own statements "unhelpful" to modern theological dialogue.

Thus, the Anglicans said, it should be asked whether the documents of Vatican II, framed in the "very early days" of the Roman Catholic entry into the modern ecumenical movement, really provide an adequate basis for dialogue 30 years later "in the light of the way that the Roman Catholic Church has moved in its relationships with all major Christian traditions, especially at the local level."

It said another disturbing element was the way in which the term "church" was denied to some Christian communions and given to others.

"Ecumenical study in ecclesiology [church structure] involving all our churches approaches ecclesiology from an understanding of the whole people of God rather than with definitions of hierarchy," the Irish statement said.

"The basis for this work is the sacrament of baptism rather than the validity of ordained ministry," it added. "'Dominus Iesus' reverses this process by its negative conclusions based entirely on issues of holy

orders and the eucharistic theology of one tradition."

In conclusion, the Irish statement said the tone of "Dominus Iesus" reflected little of the journey on which Anglicans believe God is bringing the two churches together. "Though we can understand it from a merely academic point of view, we would wonder what it will achieve for the healing of the divisions of the church," it said.