View Full Version : Vatican document does not diminish other faiths

07-20-2007, 08:43 PM
Vatican document does not diminish other faiths, states doctrine congregation chief
By Dan Morris-Young
Catholic San Francisco (www.catholic-sf.org)

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (Catholic San Francisco) - The recent Vatican document emphasizing that only the Catholic Church possesses the “fullness” of the means for salvation was created primarily as an instructional tool for Catholics and should not be read as a diminishing of other faith communities, according to the churchman who signed it.

On the contrary, said Cardinal William J. Levada, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) which issued the document July 10, the narrative itself points out that “outside the Catholic Church elements of holiness and truth do exist and that the Holy Spirit is working in those other communities and churches as well.”

During a July 17 interview while visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, Cardinal Levada commented on his congregation’s work, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent instruction on the Tridentine Latin Mass, themes of the young papacy, and challenges facing the universal Church today.

The cardinal was quick to describe as “purely coincidental” the fact that his congregation’s document on the nature of the Church was made public only three days after the pope’s announcement of his decision to allow broader use of the Tridentine liturgical rite.

Many commentaries have linked the two. “”Many have tried to see it as some kind of one-two punch,” Cardinal Levada laughed, “but the truth is that it is simply a coincidence that they were published in such proximity.”

In restoring easier access “to the principal way of worship in the Church for more than 400 years,” the pontiff “expressed a great generosity” toward persons intensely devoted to the Tridentine Latin Mass, the cardinal said.

The papal directive “was not primarily aimed at the United States,” he said, adding that he feels it will have more impact in France, Germany and Switzerland and little effect in Latin America or Italy.

Turning to the doctrinal congregation’s recent commentary, “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church,” the cardinal said it grew out of extensive conversation and collaboration with theological consultants to the CDF and others, as well as a broad review of published materials.

The document addresses five questions about the nature of the Church “and all five are a commentary on Vatican II documents,” the cardinal said, adding, “It has the advantage of collecting all that has happened since Vatican II up to the present time” and explaining how Church articulation of its own nature as well as its views of other Christian communities have developed.

He said he has been “somewhat surprised” at the amount of “ecumenical commentary” the document has generated. “It is primarily a document addressed to Catholics as believers and teachers and is intended to clarify the teachings of the Second Vatican Council,” he said, “especially the teaching on the nature of the Church.”

That teaching, he said, has been skewed by those who argue “that the Church of Christ can subsist in churches outside the Catholic Church, but that is not the case.”

Response to the CDF statement “has shown how much that is misunderstood,” he said. “Even many Catholics are fuzzy on it.”

“That is not to say that we deny that the Holy Spirit who guides the Church is also working with his gifts of grace and truth in those other communities and churches,” he said.

Recalling the heady days of the 1962-65 Vatican Council, Cardinal Levada said there was “a certain novelty” created by the council’s exhortations for Catholics “to see the Holy Spirit at work” in Christian denominations outside the Catholic Church, especially in view of what had been “almost a stance of hostility and opposition” to the non-Catholic religious world for some time.

“It was quite a striking insight to see recognized in official Catholic teaching that outside the Catholic Church there are elements of holiness and truth” in other congregations, he said.

Reaction to the document on the Church’s nature in the United States where many religious persuasions exist side by side clearly reflects the nation’s “egalitarian approach to society and therefore to churches,” he said, “where for you to say that your church is the one true church of Christ, and that another’s is not quite, is considered not to be the American way.”

“Being an American,” he continued, “I am sympathetic to that. We get along by saying, ‘You have your ideas and I have mine, and while we might not agree we can explain ourselves, and we can be friends even if we are not in agreement on every thing.’”

“Underlying a typical American idea of what a church is,” he said, “is the idea that we are the ones who make the Church, we create the Church. There is the slogan, ‘We are the Church.’ And, of course, there is the sense of the Church being made up of all the baptized. But we do not make the Church. God makes the Church. We receive the Church as a gift. And we receive the elements of grace and holiness and truth from God as a gift. They are part of God’s revelation.”

While “anyone in this country can hang up a shingle and say, ...

‘This is the Church of God on Post Street,’ for example,” he said, “the Catholic view is that the Church is not our creation. It’s a gift from God. And we have to accept that gift. We have to accept the elements of that gift. Take the Eucharist, for example. Not optional. Apostolic succession is not optional.”

“We don’t decide what it means to be a disciple of Jesus,” he said. “Jesus first laid down what his disciples should be and how they should follow him.”

He said the CDF document could be “very helpful to Catholics in the United States who are culturally conditioned” to accepting self-organized groups of worshippers as “churches”.

“It seems to me that the ecumenical vision of some is: ‘Well, we are all searching for one great united church that is still yet to be found.’ Catholic teaching is: Christ’s Church has never disappeared. It has been fragmented, wounded, broken apart but it has not disappeared,” he said, then added, “It is not that Catholics should be proud of being members of this Church. It is not because we are good that we receive the gift of Church. It’s God’s gift. And it is a gift that we very willingly hope to be able to share one day with everybody.”

In its emphasis on Vatican II teaching, the CDF document was in step with what Cardinal Levada said is one of the clear themes of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy -underlining that the Council represents a continuity of Church life, not a point of discontinuity.

At the time of Vatican II, there was a temptation and a tendency to place Church practices and teachings in pre-conciliar and post-conciliar “baskets,” he said. “I know I did it. There was a kind of ‘throw this out, here’s the new stuff’. I think many of us regret that. ”

Describing Pope Benedict as “a very God-centered man,” Cardinal Levada said the pope “wants us to see the beauty of God’s handiwork. I think his encyclical letter ‘Deus Caritas Est,’ God is Love, is a great example of that.”

Cardinal Levada said the pontiff “wants us to understand that God is not remote. That is the whole point of the Incarnation of Christ.”

The doctrinal congregation head praised Pope Benedict’s preaching and teaching skills. “On Sundays St. Peter’s Square is almost full of people just to hear him talk for about five minutes… and then pray the Angelus. He is extraordinary, and we are learning a lot about him.”

Interestingly, Cardinal Levada said, “I am quite confident that he never expected to be pope. And so he is learning how to be pope. But he is a quick study and of course had so much experience at the side of John Paul II. I think you can say he represents a great gift of God to us at this time.”

Challenges facing the universal Church include “the disconnect between faith and reason in the modern world” cited by the pope in his address in Regensburg, Germany last November, Cardinal Levada said. He said the pope “rightly identified as a very significant challenge” a growing view that modern civilization “makes religion no longer necessary, or some would say, even possible.”

Another challenge, he said, is to infuse “into the body politic” an active “love of neighbor and the service we are called to give each other” by Christ to address global issues of war, starvation and disease. The pope, he said, “often returns to this theme” and exhorts Christians “to use our human ingenuity and creativity to overcome these evils.”

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of Catholic San Francisco (www.catholic-sf.org),official newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Calif.