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Other churches not true faith, says Vatican

Pope John Paul at beatification ceremony
Pope approved report saying other churches had 'defects'  

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Religions 'not on same plane'

'Defects' of other Churches

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- The Vatican has rejected the concept that other religions could be equal to Roman Catholicism and ordered its theologians not to manipulate what it called the truth of the faith.

The Vatican's restatement of its position was outlined in a complex theological document, the English title of which was "Declaration The Lord Jesus -- On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church."

The document repeated church teachings that non-Christians were in a "gravely deficient situation" regarding salvation and that other Christian churches had "defects," partly because they did not recognize the primacy of the Pope.


The 36-page document, which has already sparked fresh debate, was prepared by the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope John Paul.

It said the clarification and restatement of the official Catholic position was necessary to contest "relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism" as a principle rather than a de facto practice. It said only the revelation of Jesus Christ was "definitive and complete." Asserting that Christian revelation could be complementary to that found in other religions was "contrary to the Church's faith."

The document was addressed primarily to Catholic theologians but it appeared destined to spark dialogue on all levels with other Christian Churches and with non-Christians.

Religions 'not on same plane'

At a news conference to present the document, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's doctrinal head, said some theologians were "manipulating and going beyond the limits" of tolerance when they put all religions on the same plane.

Ratzinger said this did not reflect what he called "an objective and universal truth."

Walking a theological tightrope, the document said the "Church of Christ" was present and operative in other Christian Churches today.

But, in the Vatican's view, it subsists fully in the Roman Catholic Church because the Pope is the successor to St. Peter, whom Christ named as his first vicar on Earth. Papal primacy was divinely willed, it said.

"Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him," it said.

'Defects' of other Churches

Some other Christian churches, while not in "perfect union," remained united to Catholics by close bonds, it said.

"The Church of Christ is present and operative also in these churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Pope objectively has and exercises over the entire Church," it said.

While other Christian churches "suffer from defects," the document said they had not been deprived of what it called "significance and importance in the mystery of salvation."

But it was the Catholic Church which possessed and had been entrusted with "the fullness of grace and truth."

It said because Christ was the son of God, non-Christians were at a disadvantage regarding salvation.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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