The Vatican set itself on a collision course with other Christian faiths yesterday, reaffirming the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church in a corrective document that it said was designed to clear up recent "erroneous" doctrine, AFP reports.
The document's central claim, that the Catholic Church is "the one true Church of Christ," is likely to revive a debate that has dogged the Vatican's relationship with rival denominations for decades.
For the second time in a week, Pope Benedict XVI has corrected what he says are erroneous interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, reasserting the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church and saying other Christian communities were either defective or not true churches.
Benedict approved a document released Tuesday from his old office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which repeated church teaching on Catholic relations with other Christians.
While there was nothing doctrinally new in the document, it nevertheless prompted swift criticism from Protestants, Lutherans and other Christian denominations spawned by the 16th century Reformation.
"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," said the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which groups 75 million Reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries.
"It makes us question whether we are indeed praying together for Christian unity," the alliance said in a letter to the Vatican's key ecumenical official, Cardinal Walter Kasper, charging that the document took ecumenical dialogue back to the pre-Vatican II era.
One of the key developments from Vatican II, the 1962-65 meetings that modernized the church, was its ecumenical outreach.
Another key change was the development of the New Mass in the vernacular, which essentially replaced the old Latin Mass. On Saturday, Benedict revived the old Latin Mass, saying it was wrong for bishops to deny it to the faithful because it had never been abolished. Traditional Catholics cheered the move, but more liberal ones called it a step back from Vatican II.
Benedict, who attended Vatican II as a young theologian, has long complained about what he considers the erroneous interpretation of the council by liberals, saying it was not a break from the past but rather a renewal of church tradition.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said it was issuing the new document on ecumenism because some contemporary theological interpretations of Vatican II's ecumenical intent had been "erroneous or ambiguous" and had prompted confusion and doubt.
The new document - formulated as five questions and answers - restates key sections of a 2000 text the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus," which riled Protestant, Lutheran and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation."
"Christ 'established here on earth' only one Church," said the document released as the pope vacations at a villa in Lorenzago di Cadore, in Italy's Dolomite mountains.
The other communities "cannot be called 'churches' in the proper sense" because they do not have apostolic succession - the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles - and therefore their priestly ordinations are not valid, it said.
The Rev. Sara MacVane, of the Anglican Centre in Rome, said there was nothing new in the document.
"I don't know what motivated it at this time," she said. "But it's important always to point out that there's the official position and there's the huge amount of friendship and fellowship and worshipping together that goes on at all levels, certainly between Anglican and Catholics and all the other groups and Catholics."
The document said Orthodox churches were indeed "churches" because they have apostolic succession and that they enjoyed "many elements of sanctification and of truth." But it said they lack something because they do not recognize the primacy of the pope - a defect, or a "wound" that harmed them, it said.