Vatican, Jul. 10 ( – The Vatican has issued a new doctrinal statement confirming the essential role of the Catholic Church in God’s plan for salvation.

The short document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), presented in question-and-answer format, addresses questions about the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that the Church founded by Jesus Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church.

The CDF affirms that while other Christian bodies can play a role in bringing people to salvation, it is in the Catholic Church that “the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.” The Vatican document makes a further distinction between Orthodox churches that have preserved valid sacraments, and should be recognized as “sister churches,” and Protestant groups that have not preserved the Eucharistic presence.

The document, entitled “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church,” is approved by Pope Benedict XVI and signed by Cardinal William Levada and Archbishop Angelo Amato, the prefect and secretary, respectively, of the CDF.

The document opens with the observation that the teachings of Vatican II “contributed in a decisive way to the renewal of Catholic ecclesiology.” The teachings of the Council encouraged still further reflection on the nature of the Church, the CDF notes. However, in some cases these reflections have been marred by “erroneous interpretation which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt” about the Church’s teaching.

In the first of 5 questions posed and answered, the CDF document asks, “Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?” The answer begins with a straightforward statement: “The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.”

Questions #2 and #3 address the teaching of the conciliar document Lumen Gentium (#8) that the Church of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church. The CDF document explains: “It is possible, according to Catholic doctrine, to affirm correctly that the Church of Christ is present and operative in the churches and ecclesial Communities not yet fully in communion with the Catholic Church, on account of the elements of sanctification and truth that are present in them.” Nevertheless, only the Catholic Church is characterized by identifying marks of Christ’s Church: being one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

The Christian communities separated from the Catholic Church, the CDF continues, “though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation.” These communities can act as instruments of salvation, because of their partial participation in “that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.”

In the 4th and 5th questions that complete the document, the CDF draws a clear distinction between the Orthodox and Protestant denominations. The Eastern churches, the document notes, “have true sacraments and above all – because of the apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist.” They are therefore sister churches, even if they fall short of universality because of their separation from the Holy See.

The Protestant communities, on the other hand, “do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders.” Because these communities “have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery,” the CDF writes, they “cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “churches” in the proper sense.

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