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But an unheralded three-page document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) with the vague title, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church" created a pastoral brouhaha that is still reverberating.
In truth, it was not the document itself. Rather, it was the overheated and undernuanced media coverage of the document, particularly a story by The Associated Press that created the firestorm of commentary.
The AP's lead sentence was that Pope Benedict XVI "reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document that says other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation."
We are hearing from parishes around the country about the tears and anger provoked by this story, not to mention family discord and ecumenical ire.
We encourage Catholics -- indeed all Christians -- to read the brief CDF document (www.vatican.va).
Perhaps the key quote in the document, at least in response to the misguided upset provoked by the news story, is taken directly from the Second Vatican Council: "It follows that these separated churches and communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church."
Pope Benedict has clearly stated his concern about the kind of relativism that permeates society and even sectors of the church today, and he has also made it clear that he wants to affirm what the Second Vatican Council really taught, not what people think it taught. This document is clearly intended to accomplish both goals.
If ever Catholics needed a reminder of why they should not get their news about the church from the secular press, The Associated Press has provided us with exhibit one. The Catholic media is, unfortunately, ignored by most Catholics today, who get their Catholic news from non-Catholic sources. The fact that so many Catholics seem surprised by this unassuming document's claims is evidence of the ongoing catechetical crisis we find ourselves in, and a further affirmation of the value of sound Catholic media.
If we may be permitted one complaint, the Vatican should have been better prepared to handle the pastoral confusion this document's release unfortunately created. Slipping it into the public domain on the eve of the Roman summer holidays without commentary, indeed with no visible effort to "control the spin" that would have been easily predicted, was not helpful.
We continue to be impressed by the intellectual vigor of this pontificate, but in the modern media age, it is not simply waging battle over theological abstractions. It is engaged in a struggle for hearts, minds and souls. The very problems that provoked this document should have been warning enough that its dissemination would demand pastoral as well as theological acumen.
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