Catholic News Service reports “Protestant groups dismayed at new document on identity of ‘church.'”
In its analysis, the CNS (the official news agency of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops) says:
The Protestant communities, however, are not churches because they do not have apostolic succession — the unbroken succession of bishops going back to St. Peter, it said.
CNS mentions, among others, a letter written to Cardinal Walter Kasper by the Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (emphasis mine):
An exclusive claim that identifies the Roman Catholic Church as the one church of Jesus Christ, as we read in the statement released today, goes against the spirit of our Christian calling towards oneness in Christ. It makes us question the seriousness with which the Roman Catholic Church takes its dialogues with the Reformed family and other families of the church. It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity. This is unfortunate timing since we are about to release the results of the third series of our bilateral dialogues.
For now, we are thankful to God that our calling to be part of the church of Jesus Christ is not dependent on the interpretation of the Vatican. It is a gift of God. Receiving this gift, we appreciate the Roman Catholic Church as a part of this family (as affirmed in the final report of “Towards a Common Understanding of the Church” published in 1991). We pray for the day that the Roman Catholic Church moves beyond exclusivist claims so that we can further the cause of Christian unity for which our Lord Jesus Christ prayed – so that the world may believe (John 17: 21). We cherish the relationship we have with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and look forward to your explaining to us what the issuing of this statement means.
Georges Lemopoulos, deputy general secretary of the World Council of Churches, said:
“Each church is the Church catholic and not simply a part of it. Each church is the Church catholic, but not the whole of it. Each church fulfils its catholicity when it is in communion with the other churches.”
This affirmation, made by the 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which met in Porto Alegre Brazil in February 2006, reflects the common struggle of the 347 WCC member churches in fellowship as they seek to make visible their unity in Christ….
As was stated in 2000, when the declaration Dominus Iesus was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the WCC affirms the importance of genuine ecumenical dialogue, and of common Christian witness on the problems facing the world today.
I’d suggest a different tactic, perhaps. Since the Vatican is choosing to tell others, “you are, in our estimation, not churches, but ‘ecclesial communities,'” maybe the others could say, “OK, well, from now on we’ll talk about churches (meaning us) and ‘ecclesial communities’ (meaning those who don’t think we are churches).” It’s all a silly linguistic game, of course, since “ecclesia” means church and, technically, an “ecclesial community” could only mean a “church community” (which is redundant, of course, since “ecclesia,” from “ek” and “kaleo,” just means a gathering).