VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -- The Vatican on Tuesday said Christian denominations outside the Roman Catholic Church were not full churches of Jesus Christ.
A 16-page document, prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Benedict used to head, described Christian Orthodox churches as true churches, but suffering from a "wound" since they do not recognize the primacy of the Pope.
But the document said the "wound is still more profound" in the Protestant denominations -- a view likely to further complicate relations with Protestants.
"Despite the fact that this teaching has created no little distress ... it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to them," it said.
The Vatican text, which restates the controversial document "Dominus Iesus" issued by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2000, said the Church wanted to stress this point because some Catholic theologians continued to misunderstand it.
Ratzinger was elected Pope in April 2005. The document is his second strong reaffirmation of Catholic tradition in four days, following a decree on Saturday restoring the old Latin Mass alongside the modern liturgy.
The document stressed that dialogue with other Christians remained "one of the priorities of the Catholic Church".
The document, issued by Benedict's successor in doctrinal matters, Cardinal William Levada, complemented the Latin Mass decree in aiming to correct what it called "erroneous or ambiguous" interpretations of the Second Vatican Council, which took place from 1962 to 1965.
Church modernisers interpreted the Council as a break from the past while conservatives, like Benedict, see it in continuity with 2,000 years of Catholic tradition.
The document said the Council's opening to other faiths recognised there were "many elements of sanctification and truth" in other Christian denominations, but stressed only Catholicism had all the elements to be Christ's Church fully.
The text refers to "ecclesial communities originating from the Reformation", a term used to refer to Protestants and Anglicans. Father Augustine Di Noia, Under-Secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the document did not alter the commitment for ecumenical dialogue, but aimed to assert Catholic identity in those talks.
"The Church is not backtracking on ecumenical commitment," Di Noia told Vatican radio.
"But, as you know, it is fundamental to any kind of dialogue that the participants are clear about their own identity. That is, dialogue cannot be an occasion to accommodate or soften what you actually understand yourself to be."
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