Vatican ecumenical officer Cardinal Walter Kasper seeks to do damage control. The CDF document, he argues, “does not say anything new. It explains and, in a brief summary, clarifies positions that the Catholic Church has held for a long time. Therefore, no new situation has developed.” If we’re going to dialogue, he says, we have to be clear of each other’s position, and one of the major differences is that Protestants and Catholics mean different things by the term, “church.”
He points out that Catholics do, in fact, speak of Protestant churches as churches at times:
… Catholics speak, now as always, of Protestant regional Churches (Landeskirchen), of the Protestant Church of Germany (Evangelische Kirche Deutschlands, EKD), of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (Vereinigte Evangelisch Lutherische Kirche Deutschlands, VELKD), of the Church of England etc. The declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does nothing else than to show that we do not use the one and same word Church completely in the same sense. Such a statement helps to clarify and to promote the dialogue.
See also the interview with Fr. Gus DiNoia, OP, of the CDF at Zenit.
Many people are wondering, though, why the Vatican chose to issue this statement now. Here’s what Catholic News Service suggests:
Those who see a grand design in Vatican actions, however, suspected it may have been another olive branch to the breakaway traditionalist followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre — just three days after the Tridentine Mass decree. In this reading, the Vatican has delivered a double demonstration, liturgical and doctrinal, that answers some of the Lefebvrites’ strongest objections about the modern church.