George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.

Point and Counterpoint: Abortion and Alternatives - Article 29, for Sunday, July 29, 2007


In the July 11 issue of The Day, an article written by Nicole Winfield of the AP appeared stating that Pope Benedict XVI had approved a document which she interpreted as saying that …other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and that Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation.   She went on to say that the statement brought swift criticism from Protestant leaders, who may have, like she, misinterpreted what was said and the purpose of the document. The biggest problem appears to be that they feel the Catholic Church is saying that there is no salvation outside of it.  THIS IS DEFINITELY NOT THE POSITION OF THE CHURCH! We would like to explain precisely what the teaching of the church is and the purpose of the document.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, 1994, under the imprimatur of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Presently Pope Benedict XVI), it is stated in article 847: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”  In other words the Catechism states there is salvation outside the Catholic Church – no ifs ands or buts about it. That has been and still is the teaching of the Church.  In the third section of the current document it is even stated: “In fact the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them (separated churches and communities) as instruments of salvation.”

The document which gave rise to the stir is a short statement of five questions and the responses to them representing the Church’s teaching on those issues.  Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, indicated that the document is not saying anything new, but rather is an invitation to dialogue.  The document was prepared by canon lawyers and theologians defining various terms in very precise language so that they may be clearly understood by other experts who are describing their own positions in efforts to have peaceful ecumenical dialogue aimed at understanding and unity.  For the Catholic Church to describe a religious community as a Church, it must demonstrate certain characteristics, e.g., apostolic succession (the handing on of apostolic preaching and authority from the Apostles to their successors the bishops through the laying on of hands, as a permanent office in the Church).  Otherwise, it would be called an ecclesial community.

Peter Moore, PhD                                 George A. Sprecace, M.D., J.D.

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