A Vatican statement about the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church has upset some Protestant leaders who say that it could set back ecumenical progress.

The declaration that non-Roman Catholic denominations are not "proper churches" was included in a document released yesterday that also rejected "religious relativism" that promotes the idea that all religions are equal in God's eyes.

The pronouncements were made in the 36-page statement, "On the Unity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church," from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--the Vatican body that guards Catholic beliefs.

Though Christ is present in churches not in "full communion" with the Catholic church, these were "not churches in the proper sense." People baptized into these churches were "in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Catholic church" said the document.

The position statement seemed to "question the considerable ecumenical gains we have made," said Anglican world leader George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury. His denomination "does not for one moment accept that its order of ministry and eucharist are deficient in any way," he added. The World Council of Churches said that it would be a "tragedy" if Christian cooperation were "obscured by...dialogue about their relative authority and status," reported "The Washington Post."

Vinson Synan, dean of the school of divinity at Regent University and a noted Pentecostal scholar, told Charisma News Service today that he hoped Protestant Christians would focus on the positive aspects of the Vatican announcement. They could agree that salvation is to be found through Jesus Christ.

"But the Catholic church has a PR problem because there are documents going back for centuries stating it is the one and only church, and yet since Vatican II it has opened up to recognize the validity and authenticity of non-Roman Catholic communities. There's a kind of double view that the church has to deal with."

Father Killian McDonnell, president of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, and a recognized Catholic authority on Pentecostal issues, said that he thought Protestants "will disagree, and possibly take offense." He added: "But I don't see this as a rolling back of the ecumenical cause. I think that the statement is just wanting to reaffirm those kind of basic truths which in an ecumenical context sometimes might get lost."

The document-called "Dominus Iesus"-was produced because of the "rapid spread of the relativistic and pluralistic mentality," reported the Catholic news agency, Zenit. The statement said that while Christ's "unique mediation" did not exclude "forms of mediation of various types" from other religions, these "cannot be understood as parallel or complementary." It added that "it cannot be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they follow from superstitions or other errors, constitute an obstacle to salvation."

Zenit reported that in introducing the declaration, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican body, said that relativism and a false idea of tolerance had led to "marginalizing those who are determined to defend the Christian identity and to spread the universal and salvific truth of Jesus Christ." He added: "This false idea of tolerance is linked to the loss and renouncing of truth, which is regarded by many as a second class, irrelevant question."

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